Monday, 15 October 2012

A bit of a breeze

A lot of people have got their own stories of the Great Storm of '87. It was 25 years ago today that winds scythed through the UK causing incredible amounts of damage.

I was awoken by a thud that morning. Not my usual 4.30am alarm. This was a bass profundo thud that vibrated through our house in London and shook me to life. It followed a disturbed night as the winds built.

I was the Radio 1 Breakfast Show host at that time. And this was to be one of my strangest days ever.

Not able to work out what the thud was, I then panicked and remembered that, up on a flat roof, we had an early satellite system installed. Not your modern day mini-wok size Sky dish. This was a 1.5 metre motorised dish held in place by 3 kerb stones. I went downstairs and turned on the tv - dish still working and still motorised. Phew.

I gently awoke Sarah, who had so far slept through the emerging chaos, explained the noise I'd heard and said I should be setting off for work. My car was parked onstreet directly opposite the house. When I got to it, I discovered what caused the thud. A 2m tall brick wall, about 10m long had been blown over. It was almost entirely in one horizontal piece. The nearest bricks to my car were just centimetres away.

No damage to car. But no streetlights - the power to the neighbourhood had just gone down.

I set off down our street, only to have my route blocked by a fallen tree. I reversed back up the street just as a smaller, younger tree came down. I drove backwards over that and got out to the other end of the street.

My journey from home to Broadcasting House at that time of day normally took 15 uneventful minutes. No jams. Just the occasional London pigeon squatting on a manhole cover to keep warm. That morning was very different. Still no streetlights. Bus shelters shattered and spread across the road. Shop windows smashed to bits by flying debris. This looked like life after the bomb.

I eventually made it to BH and parked up. Made my way to reception where I was greeted by wide-eyed commissionaires who had been chasing around the building with torches. The whole of that part of the West End was without power. Then through the tunnel to Egton House and the welcoming sight of the studio.

My tech op had made it in and we set about doing the show. Not long after we went on-air a tech manager visited and said that BH was running on emergency power from generators. But that there wasn't enough power for all networks to stay alive. Only Radio 4 and us were able to transmit. As he left the studio he turned off the main lights and told me to just use an anglepoise, to save power. We played some strange music that morning, as the turntables tried to cope with fluctuating volts!

It became apparent that there wasn't much other broadcasting anywhere. Many local & regional transmitter masts had been blown down or had no power. Television was non-existent. So we decided to open our phone lines to the people. A lot of people were waking in the dark and wondering what was happening. The only information they could get was from us.

One angry woman came on the phone and shouted "I'm in East Anglia and all I can hear is you. Why?" I explained that we knew her local transmitter had been blown out of action. "Well - get it fixed. And quick!" she blurted as she hung up.

It wasn't until tv pictures were gathered later in the day that we all realised what had happened. Whole forests decimated. Roads blocked. Houses destroyed. People killed.

Then commerce kicked-in. I heard of several new millionaires who imported shiploads of chainsaws in the next few weeks - because that was the only way to clear the countryside wreckage.

I've never spoken to Michael Fish since 1987... :-)


  1. Yes, I remember listening to you on medium wave that morning, powered by your generator. As I recall, Adrian John wasn't able to get into the studio to do his early show, so you did his show as well!

  2. Hi Mike. I remember listening to your show that morning. Do you know if a recording of that show exists? I'd love to hear it again.

  3. Robin, I don't have it. But every BBC music show had a "PasB" tape which recorded the music played. Suspect "skipped" when Egton House emptied.