Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
14 January 2016updated 03 Aug 2021 8:55am

Remembering David Bowie on air

How radio presenters across the country shared anecdotes in memory of the singer.

By Antonia Quirke

“His music will be played in a thousand years’ time . . . the light of Lou Reed’s life . . . Even his death was a work of art . . . It’s appropriate to cry . . . I’ve touched the sun . . .” Phrases from PM, Today, BBC 6 Music, Radio 1 and Radio X in the hours after David Bowie’s death, an announcement that so shook the Heart FM newsreader Fiona Winchester that she briefly reported the death of “David Cameron”.

On 5 Live Nicky Campbell allowed for long moments of paper-shuffling dead air, and a confused Marc Riley on 6 Music confessed that he had gone to sleep innocently tweeting favourite pictures of the singer the previous night (Bowie on stage in LA, a schoolboy Bowie in Bromley).

Martha Kearney on World at One (Radio 4) broke from her unusually long script to interview the keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who simply described him as “a doer. If he wanted to experience something he just did it.” Wakeman recalled how Bowie went to live above a post office in Berlin to “understand communism”, only to come back a couple of weeks later blithely declaring, “Well, that’s not the answer either.”

These sorts of comfortingly familiar stories were traded all day on Radio 4, definitively asserting that, to Bowie, the point was not only metamorphosis, but that things should be done fast, be caught on the wing. Not until The World Tonight (10pm) was other news reported first, by which time Bowie’s unifying quality had been ­established to an almost embarrassing degree. That and the ineffable sense that, despite his shy childhood and suicidal half-brother, and more savage albums like Diamond Dogs, this was (irresistibly) not someone with a terrible wound, a mortal injury to be salved by his art.

In 1975 Lester Bangs (who had sat behind a fangirl at a Bowie gig in Detroit, listening grim-faced to hours of: “Daaaaaaay-vid! Daaaaaayvid! Ooh, when he comes out I’m just gonna . . . touch him!”) memorably praised the singer’s voice as a “trilling limey warble”. But for your correspondent it was the dainty faux-fey of his speaking voice in The Man Who Fell to Earth that remains ­inimitable: the quintessence of detachment. A quality that few managed on Monday.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

This article appears in the 13 Jan 2016 issue of the New Statesman, David Bowie