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I knew I couldn’t let this day pass, unrecognised. This is the day when, exactly a year ago, my son-in-law Phil died. I want to remember that. But I also want to remember how proud he would be of the way his family has made a go of their unwanted new lives together, despite the grief, the empty place at every family gathering. Ellie’s successfully relaunched their business: the new website went live late yesterday. The boys started at high school, and are doing well – they’re sporty and busy. Ellie’s out to prove that she’ll see her own cancer kicked conclusively out before the end of 2017, and she’s got the bald head to prove it. Brian the dog declines to grow up,and recently ate his bed – again. Luckily, he’s lovable with it.

Phil would be proud of all they’ve achieved. I am too. They’re doing well. But there’s still a Phil-shaped hole at the centre of their family, and I guess there always will be.

Fanny the Champion of the World

Death in a digital age is a funny old business. On Facebook Memories, a photograph has just flashed up to tell me that three years ago today, we were on a family day out to Liverpool, which we all enjoyed, save for the gnawing feeling in my stomach that my husband’s difficulty swallowing was not good news. Two years ago this week, or so it tells me, our little family was on a wonderful holiday, which we’d booked to celebrate our wild assumption that the whole shitty cancer thing was behind us. One year ago this week, my husband was lying in a hospice bed in our sitting room, dying.

Messages, wall posts and photographs have popped back up on my phone from this day last year. We’d told our wider circle of friends, through Facebook, a few days after my husband had been given a couple of weeks left…

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The pirates return

Music

It’s time to leave Phil Sayer in peace. My daughter gave him a glorious send-off last Monday, with a funeral attended by nearly 400 people, celebrating his life with tears certainly, but also, nostalgia, humour and even laugh-out-loud moments. When were you last at a funeral which began with Monty Python’s ‘Galaxy Song’? Just before we try to resume normal service, here’s a post I wrote two years ago, celebrating Phil’s time on the pirate ship Radio Caroline.

Rest in peace, Phil.

From Pyrenees to Pennines

Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship. Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship.

This post probably won’t make much sense if you’re not from the UK.  It won’t make sense even if you’re British if you’re not at least in your mid- 50’s.  You won’t know of a world where your radio listening choices were limited to the Home Service (much like Radio 4), the Light Programme (much like  Radio 2) and the Third Programme ( much like…. yes, Radio 3).  What’s missing from this list?  Yes, indeed, Radio One.

If you were a teenager before the mid 1960s, you weren’t going to get much joy listening out for a diet of pop music by choosing the BBC.  The only option was to tune in to the commercial Radio Luxembourg.  The amount of music it offered grew rapidly throughout the ’60s, but anyone from my generation will remember the commercials too…

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‘Mind the Gap’

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'Mind the gap' (Wikimedia Commons)

‘Mind the gap’ (Wikimedia Commons)

Many of you know already that Phil died on Thursday.  Though the news couldn’t be surprising, somehow the reality is shocking.  We mourned the man we knew and enjoyed spending time with: the family man, a husband, father, grandfather and uncle.  We remembered his wit, his generosity, his Sunday roasts, his techie skills and strongly-held opinions.  We wept.

Knowing that he’d been on regional radio and TV back in the ’70s and ’80s – before we knew him, Malcolm and I thought he’d qualify for a mention in the local press.

I first heard he’d made the national news when fellow-blogger Agnes Ashe told me.  I googled him. Over the next hours, articles from the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Daily Star tumbled into the search engine.  Then Spanish media.  Then sites in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, even the USA.

And all because this was the man whose voice any visitor to London will know.  The voice that admonishes you to ‘Mind the gap’ as you step from the platform onto the London Underground.

Ten years ago, just as Ellie was giving birth to their twin boys, the couple’s voice-over business won the contract to do a huge number of station announcements for the London Tube, with Phil’s deeper, masculine tones being required for the all-important ‘Mind the Gap’.

Phil followed this up by winning contracts to do similar announcements for South West Trains, the Southern Network and Northern Rail.  As we take the train on journeys through the UK, and in London, we’ll listen out for Ellie’s voice, or Phil’s, and excitedly text our friends when we hear them.  In the early days, when it was all very new, I accosted a porter on Wimbledon Station on hearing Phil’s voice announcing the arrival of the next train. ‘That’s my son-in-law, that is’.

So though he was never spotted in any visits to London or as he travelled round the country, his voice was known by millions.  That’s why he made the cut in the BBC Radio 4 and TV national news, and on BBC One’s North West programme yesterday, as well as further afield.

And just for a while, I found that my pride in his achievements, and the knowledge that his work would live on as a memorial for Ellie and the boys cut through the grief and brought a smile to my face.

Finally, for a bit of fun, here’s why Ellie and Phil are sometimes dubbed ‘Britain’s most apologetic couple

You’ve seen a picture of Phil in a previous post.  And as he’s known for being in a certain sense unknown, I thought this image of Ellie and Phil, take from their website, would be appropriate.sayer hamilton

 

Irritatingly, both German and Dutch reports use video of the only station in London, Embankment, that does not use Phil’s voice to advise people to ‘Mind the gap’.  This is in deference to the widow of the previous ‘voice’ who regularly uses this station.

The one and only Phil Sayer

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Phil, Ellie, Ben and Alex - a recent photo.

Phil, Ellie, Ben and Alex – a recent photo.

This seems the time to come clean about what’s really happening in our lives.

My son-in-law Phil – the husband of my daughter, and father of those twin boys – has been given only days – at most a week or two, to live.  He’s never had much of a mention on this blog and it’s tough that this is how he’s introduced to you.

We hadn’t been back in England long when he was diagnosed with cancer.  With a mixture of surgery, treatment, chemotherapy and sheer bloody-mindedness he kept it more or less at bay, though never defeated it.  Suddenly last week, cancer took over, irrevocably.

He and my daughter have – or had till yesterday – a respected and successful voice-over business, which they’ve temporarily closed with immediate effect, though my daughter will relaunch it.

There’s plenty to say about Phil and his life and times.  But not today.  Ellie has said it all so much better than me, on Facebook.Capture.JPGB

Capture.JPGC

The pirates return

England
Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship.

Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship.

This post probably won’t make much sense if you’re not from the UK.  It won’t make sense even if you’re British if you’re not at least in your mid- 50’s.  You won’t know of a world where your radio listening choices were limited to the Home Service (much like Radio 4), the Light Programme (much like  Radio 2) and the Third Programme ( much like…. yes, Radio 3).  What’s missing from this list?  Yes, indeed, Radio One.

If you were a teenager before the mid 1960s, you weren’t going to get much joy listening out for a diet of pop music by choosing the BBC.  The only option was to tune in to the commercial Radio Luxembourg.  The amount of music it offered grew rapidly throughout the ’60s, but anyone from my generation will remember the commercials too.  Hands up anyone who can remember Horace Batchelor’s ‘Infra-Draw’ method for winning the football pools, turning the previously obscure Bristol suburb of Keynsham, ‘spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M’ into a household name?

I’d listen whilst allegedly doing my homework, but in 1964, along came another listening choice, broadcast, for goodness’ sake, from a ship anchored four miles off the coast of southern England.  This was Radio Caroline.  By broadcasting from the waters, it avoided the need to be licensed, and that’s why it quickly became known as a ‘pirate’ radio station. The single southern ship was augmented by others broadcasting from around the British coast .  The tag-line was ‘Your all-day music station’, and like Radio Luxembourg and certain American stations, the top 40 was the usual diet, presented by names who later became the mainstay of mainstream radio:  Tony Blackburn, Simon Dee, Johnny Walker……..

By insisting that the broadcasts potentially interfered with radio messages to shipping, legislation succeeded in making the pirates illegal in 1967.  They continued nevertheless, but their hey day was over, because the BBC gave in.  Radio One was born (and Two, Three, Four, and later Five), and most young people exchanged patchy reception from the pirates for the more certain transmissions of the BBC.

Why the history lesson?  Because this last month celebrated the 50th birthday of Radio Caroline.  It still broadcasts via the internet, but up in Liverpool, for one month only Radio Caroline North set itself up on Lightship LV23, in Albert Dock, for a 1960s and 1970s nostalgia-fest.  DJs from the era were wheeled out to have fun and give listeners fun too, playing old favourites and patently enjoying themselves as they chatted over the airwaves.

And one of those presenters was my son-in-law, Phil Sayer.  If you lived near Manchester in the 1980s, you might remember him as one of the presenters  of BBC North West, and later he was on radio stations such as Piccadilly Radio and Smooth FM.  These days he and my daughter run a successful voice-over business, but both still enjoy a chance to do a spot of work on the radio when the chance arises.

We all made a trip to Liverpool on Radio Caroline North’s last Saturday: daughter Elinor, the twins, Malcolm and me.  On the way over in the car we demanded, and got, a mention on air. Once on board ship we clambered up narrow stairways  to get to the cramped studio with its blast-from-the-past transmitting equipment, and found ourselves in the company of radio-geeks and nostalgia seekers from all over the north-west .  Fun all round.  And here are some pictures as a souvenir.