'Ow Do, Allan

An appreciation of Alan Beswick, the flame-haired radio presenter who inspired and verbally abused the masses in 1980s Britain, or at least the North West.
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An appreciation of Alan Beswick, the flame-haired radio presenter who inspired and verbally abused the masses in 1980s Britain, or at least the North West.

It’s 11.15pm; a Tuesday night in 1987. Your dad’s just watched the Horse of the Year Show and is now doing the ceremonial turning off of the telly. There’s nothing else on anyway - only four channels and three of them close down at midnight.

The radiators have started to make that clicky noise – the one that tells you that the house is about to become bloody freezing.

There’s nothing to do really, but go to bed. Not to sleep though, because sleep is followed by the morning which means: school. So you look for ways to extend your day.

It’s too late to play music, reading a book would require exposing your arms to the cold and there’s no laptop or internet – that’s another 15 years away.

So what do you do?

Well, if you lived in the North West, you’d probably spend the next three hours cocooned in your duvet, listening through a mono-earpiece to random people call Allan Beswick a fat, ginger bastard – or at least try.

This was the late 80s phenomena of The Allan Beswick Late Night Show; a radio phone-in which went out every Monday to Thursday night. It was broadcast by a Preston based station called Red Rose Radio, but you could pick the signal up in most parts of the North West.

In a place like Wrexham the reception was crap; everything was filtered through a background fuzz of white noise, electronic squeals and faint echoes of other stations. It helped add to the show’s general underground vibe. Listening to Allan Beswick felt illicit – something a dopey thirteen-year-old shouldn’t have access to.

At school you could tell who the Beswick listeners were. They’d be bleary eyed ones, muttering insults in a Lanchashire accent – “piggin’ idiot”, “daft apath”, “dozy cretin” - and swapping C60 compilation tapes of the best calls.

Beswick himself had a touch of the Colonel Kurtz about him. He sounded respectable - the kind of bloke who’d run a pub quiz league - but something had happened. He’d gone a bit funny. And he was out there, in deepest, darkest Lancashire, ranting and raging against the stupidity of his callers. Every night you could hear him howl.

He was morose, cynical and rude. He was also clever, witty and, beneath the grizzled exterior; fundamentally decent. He’d lived a life – a former soldier, trade union official, psychiatric nurse, sparky, bus driver and advice worker. To a teenage mind he was impressively worldly.

"At school you could tell who the Beswick listeners were. The bleary eyed ones, muttering insults in a Lanchashire accent – 'piggin’ idiot', 'daft apath', 'dozy cretin'."

The show itself was a fantastic, scraggy-arsed mix of the surreal, stupid and serious. For the first hour it was fairly tame; he’d play a few records, respond to letters and pontificate. Things only kicked off when he opened up the phone lines after eleven.

This was a phone-in show in its purest form.  There were no set themes or topics. No competitions or quizzes. The nearest thing to a format was Beswick’s ‘ow do’ introduction to each caller – “’Ow do, Alex”, “Ow do, Tony”, “Ow do, Babs”.

You didn’t talk to Beswick – you challenged him. He would mock, harangue and shout at callers who annoyed or bored him – which was most of them. And the ruder he was, the more popular he became. At his height he was getting more than half-a-million listeners; unprecedented for a late night show on a local station. He was particularly popular in Merseyside, largely thanks to his habit of trying to ban callers with a Scouse accent.

The show moved along at a dizzying pace. The average length of a call must have been about 20 seconds. Beswick was like a Sunny Delight fuelled kid in charge of a TV remote. He would clatter through dozens of calls - cutting people off as he went- until he found something which tweaked his interest.

Listeners adapted to this blitzkrieg approach with calls designed to last only a couple of seconds. Just daft and surreal short sound splurges: a bloke called Lou flushing a toilet, a sample from Family Fortunes, someone placing an order for a Chinese takeaway. Most of these were rubbish but you were fed enough gems to keep you addicted.

There was also the on-going battle between Beswick and the army of callers whose only objective was to swear on-air. The challenge was to find a way past his delay button; this gave him five seconds to block out any naughty words before they were broadcast.

It developed into a bizarre tactical war with callers adopting different techniques and strategies. The most successful were those ones who would gently lure Beswick into a debate, wait for his finger to move away from the delay button and then - wallop!

You’d have calls like this:

AB: ‘Ow do, John.

Caller: Alright, Allan. You had a caller on before about public schools.

AB: Yes, I know

Caller: Well, I just wanted to say that not everyone who goes to a public school has rich parents.

AB: Nobody said they had.

Caller: A lot of these kids have scholarships - they come from all kinds of backgrounds, you know.

AB: A lot of them?

Caller: Well, I don’t know the exact numbers are but there are government quotas which means that you’re a fucking fat, ginger cu-[RED ROSE JINGLE]

It was a buzz when somebody got through – it was still rare at the time to hear any kind of swearing in the media. It also meant that every call was laced with this strange underlying tension – like if they interviewed a Tourrettes sufferer on The One Show.

The general anarchy and abuse was what got Beswick talked about but it wasn’t necessarily what kept people listening. There was more to the show than that.

Beswick would always be searching for a call he could sink his teeth into. His speciality was to take somebody’s opinion – usually a rant about immigration or AIDS or something contentious – and smash it into tiny pieces with reasoning and logic.

Callers would often get so flummoxed by Beswick’s line of questioning that they would end up arguing the exact opposite of what they had called to say.

This is a daft example from a show in 1987, but it shows his style of attack:

"The show itself was a fantastic, scraggy-arsed mix of the surreal, stupid and serious."

AB: ‘Ow do, Tim.

Caller: Hello Allan. This stuff about cruelty to fishes, yeah? Well, I’d just like to say that fishes don’t have any nerve endings in their lips – you know where the hook catches on.

AB: Yeah.

Caller: Yeah. So it’s not cruel if you chuck it back.

AB: Well, just a moment. Have you got any nerve endings in your fingernail?

Caller: I have, yeah.

AB: You have? In your fingernails?

Caller: Underneath ‘em. I have, yeah.

AB: No, I didn’t say underneath. I said in the nail itself.

Caller: No.

AB: None at all?

Caller: No.

AB: Okay. You don’t have a pair of pliers handy do you?

Caller: Well, if I crushed ‘em it would hurt because it would go underneath.

AB: No, never mind underneath. Have you got any pliers handy?

Caller: No

AB: Okay. We can’t do that experiment. Have you got any nerve endings in your hair?

Caller: No.

AB: None at all.

Caller: No.

AB: Take hold of your hair...Have you done that?

Caller: Yeah.

AB: Now, pull it. Pull it bloody hard.

Caller: [YELP] That hurts, yeah. Because it’s on the scalp.

AB: Yes. And the lips, of course, aren’t attached to anything on a fish are they?

[PAUSE]

Caller: Ehm?.

AB: It’s cruel isn’t it?

Caller: Yeah.

AB: Goodbye.

A lot of the opinions I formed as a teenager were partly moulded by these kind of Beswick exchanges. It was knockabout stuff but with an underlying intelligence. He was dealing with issues like racism, abortion, capital punishment – while still managing to attract a massive audience of surly teenagers. He was a force for good.

The show only lasted for two years – running from 1985 to 1987. Things started to spiral out of control as his popularity grew. He started getting death threats, his car was vandalised and he found himself in trouble with the radio watchdog - the Independent Broadcasting Company.

Beswick started to get taken off-air for weeks on end as the station tried to resolve the complaints received from the IBA. In the end it became more hassle than it was worth and he quit. His last ever words on the show were: "I always thought masturbation was a sin. It isn't. It's the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Ta ra.” And he was gone.

They tried to replace him with an idiot called James Whale; it was never the same. Normal service was resumed on local radio: banal presenters, timechecks, wacky news, dedications, crap music, mystery voice competitions.

"Beswick would always search for a call he could sink his teeth into. His speciality was to take somebody’s opinion and smash it into tiny pieces with reasoning and logic."

I didn’t see or hear anything from Allan Beswick for years. And then he appeared on some crappy consumer programme on the telly. Here he was; a genial and good-natured presenter with a regional accent and a sensible jumper – a ginger haired Alan Titmarsh. No more heroes.

Top 5 Allan Beswick Facts

1. Merseyside Police received complaints from Beswick listeners that their walkie-talkie frequencies were interfering with the Red Rose reception.

2. Beswick once made it into John Peel’s Festive Fifty. A sample from his show was used on a dub reggae track called Lucy over Lancashire by Paul Rooney.

3. The number to call was Preston 561000 and the calls were taken by “our Alice”.

4. Despite ranting being well-known for his rants against scousers, he was himself born in Merseyside (Warrington).

5. Beswick’s favourite food was the Mars Bar; he received hundreds of them each week from listeners.

CALLER 1 - BESWICK 0

AB: Ow’ do, Colin.

Caller: Alright, Allan. Yeah, I want to talk about euthanasia.

AB: Well, why aren’t you?

Caller: Eh?

AB: Why aren’t you talking about euthanasia?

Caller: I think they take it too seriously.

AB: Take it too seriously?

Caller: I mean, there are more important things in life, Allan.

AB: More important than killing one’s self?

Caller: Yeah, I mean it’s just a game, isn’t it?

AB: What’s just a game?

Caller: Cricket. They’re mad for it - the youth in Asia.

[BESWICK CHUCKLES AND CUTS HIM OFF]

AB: Cretin.

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