One for the road?

7:17pm Monday 25th February 2008

By Darren Slade

FOR millions of people, it was as much a part of summer as ice cream and sunburn.

If the names Smiley Miley and Bits and Pieces bring back memories, and if the figure 247 loomed large in your life, you probably recall the heyday of the Radio 1 Roadshow.

For the best part of three decades, the nation's favourite pop station sent its disc jockeys on the road to play to adoring crowds in seaside resorts.

It was Radio 1 controller Johnny Beerling who invented the roadshow as a way of demonstrating that the station wasn't all about London.

The first roadshow was at Newquay on July 23 1973, fronted by Alan "Fluff" Freeman.

From then on, the show visited 45 venues a year, heralded by a host of impossible-to-forget jingles ("Radio 1 on the road!", "Holiday, holiday, holiday time...").

Poole Park was among the locations for the roadshow in the 1970s, back when the operation could be contained in a couple of trailers hauled by Range Rovers.

As the scale of the enterprise grew, they were replaced by massive lorries.

By the 1980s, Bournemouth and Swanage were the regular venues locally, and crowds of up to 20,000 gathered to glimpse the biggest DJs of the day - including Tony Blackburn, Peter Powell, Steve Wright, Gary Davies, Mike Read, Adrian John, Simon Mayo, Liz Kershaw, Clive Warren and Bruno Brookes.

Regular elements of the show included the Mileage Game (in which Smiley Miley invited the audience to guess how far the crew had travelled) and Bits and Pieces (in which contestants had to recognise songs from tiny clips), as well as live appearances by some of the biggest acts in the charts.

At their peak, the roadshows were playing to eight million listeners.

Having the roadshow visit your town might seem like a godsend to the tourism industry, but controversy sometimes followed.

In 1981, a Bournemouth councillor raised concerns about Radio 1 handing out stickers and prizes on the seafront, claiming the council would be unable to stop other commercial activity there.

But Cllr Gwen Graham responded: "We need our heads examined if we turn this down."

In 1983, the borough's amenities committee denied the roadshow permission to use the Pier Approach, insisting it was safer remaining at Toft Steps, between the piers.

Within a couple of years, the roadshow had the prime location it asked for.

The Echo was there every year to photograph the crowds and chat to DJs.

In August 1987, Adrian John told how "one or two Radio One fanatics" could be spotted following the event around the coast all summer.

By the 1988 roadshow, most of the country was hearing the fun in stereo on FM, after years on medium wave (first at 247MW, then 275 and 285) - but DJ Gary Davies told the Echo that Bournemouth wouldn't be getting FM until 1992.

"There are a lot of problems. If we could wave a magic wand, Bournemouth would have FM now, but it just isn't possible," he said.

Asked which current bands would be around in 10 years, he suggested Level 42, Big Country and Bros.

Bros were at least still going strong the following year, when 15-year-old Bourne-mouth girl Vickie King won a jacket worn by the band's Matt Gos at the roadshow in Weymouth.

She had to be given an escort back to Bourne-mouth to protect her from fellow fans.

It looked as though the roadshow might be around for ever.

In 1991, Danii Monogue helped draw 20,000 people to the Pier Approach.

In 1993, Bournemouth got the unlikely combination of Mr Blobby and Jack Dee, while Jason Donovan joined the show the next day in Weymouth.

In 1996, Radio 1 piloted the idea of a beach party the night before the roadshow, but after the BBC contingent left that night, local yobs lit a fire under the pier and pelted police and firefighters with bottles.

The roadshow rose above it, bringing Jon Bon Jovi, its biggest star yet, to Bournemouth in 1997, and The Corrs in 1998. But the roadshow was destined not to make the 21st century.

Radio 1 was shunning its "Smashy and Nicey" image, and the memories of Mike Read shooting autographed tennis balls into an adoring crowd now seemed a bit embarrassing.

In 2000, Radio 1 finally axed the roadshows in favour of One Big Sunday, a series of festival events, with King's Park in Bournemouth announced as one of the venues.

But the proposal provoked an outcry from nearby residents, and council safety concerns finally killed the idea - ending the town's association with a national institution.

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