11th July 1940 6th March 2005
"I'm not funny, I'm not pretty.
My whole reason for existence is that I'm a disc jockey.
My interest is in the music."
The man who started life in Oxford with no less than six names, ended it as someone so well known that he used only two initials TV.
Richard Anthony Crispian Francis Prew Hope-Weston had gained his first radio experience in the US, with stations in Washington State, using the name Rick West until he joined KOL Seattle in 1964. As has been the case with numerous DJs when they change stations, he was then obliged to adopt a new persona, to make use of station jingles which had already been recorded in the name of Tommy Vance. From there, he went to California and KHJ, Los Angeles, where he became a star jock.
The threat of being drafted into the US army prompted a swift return to Britain. In January 1966, Tommy transferred from being a top DJ earning big bucks on KHJ, to being an unknown on Radio Caroline South, braving the North Sea for a meagre £18.50 a week. Although he said he relished a challenge, he described this sudden upheaval, which occurred within the space of about five days, as the biggest cultural shock of his life. The jingles (by the Johnny Mann Singers), which had been instrumental in changing his identity, came with him to England. Although he never officially changed identity by deed-poll, 'TV on radio' was a memorable catch-phrase and 'Tommy Vance' remained his name for the rest of his life.
Tommy tolerated three winter months aboard Caroline, had a stint on Radio Luxembourg, then came back to Caroline for another six months.
In July 1967, Radio London programme director Alan Keen persuaded Tommy to jump ship to the Galaxy. He was already a regular Big L listener, having become a fan of John Peel's 'Perfumed Garden', while aboard the Caroline ship Mi Amigo. (TV and Peelie later co-presented 'Top Gear' for the BBC.) Radio London was short-staffed, because so many of the DJs were opting to leave before the Marine Offences Bill came into effect in August. Tommy was persuaded to join because at the time, there were plans for Radio London to recommence broadcasting from the continent after August 14th. Management hopes were high for the station's future, but not all the DJs shared their optimism.
Although Tommy's stint on Radio London must have been the briefest in his long broadcasting career, his place in Big L history will always be remembered. He was the last DJ to join Radio London, presenting his first show the day he arrived aboard the ship July 25th 1967. Tommy had the honour of presenting the final Fab 40 on August 6th. His last show (breakfast) was on August 7th and he left the Galaxy the following day. His voice, however, was heard on Radio London's final day. On August 14th, a pre-recorded 'Juicy Fruit Spectacular' was broadcast between 1330 and 1400, and at the end of the show Tommy (who co-hosted it with Lee Peters) said a personal farewell to his Big L audience.
Listening on shore to the close-down, Tommy said: "It was very sad because it was a part of your life. I was perpetually confused by the evolution of the medium in this country because I'd come from America, where radio was commonplace. It always struck me as terribly strange that if America had this proliferation of radio, why couldn't the UK have it?"
Of course, thanks to the influence of offshore radio, the UK eventually got a variety of radio stations, and Tommy was to work for many of them, including Radio One, Capital and Virgin. It's impossible to list everything in a career like Tommy's. He made an appearance in a Slade film and released several (unsuccessful) singles. His talents also took him into television; he hosted Top of the Pops, voiced many commercials and fronted the Friday Rock Show on VH1.
Tommy told us that people regularly presented him with copies of the final Fab 40, thinking that they were doing him a favour. But he did not really want to listen to it, as his one-and-only Big L chart presentation was not something he regarded as one of his finer broadcasting moments! The Fab 40 title was a misnomer, as Alan Keen had crammed a much larger number than 40 records into the final chart. Not surprisingly, the show overran by 22 minutes.
Tommy always enjoyed a party. He was present at our 35th Anniversary Offshore Reunion in August 2002. (His signature from the Guest Book, is below.) Sadly, a business commitment in Spain prevented him from attending the Radio London 40th Anniversary Reunion, which took place on February 26th 2005, less than a week before his untimely passing.
(Right: Tommy at the 35th Anniversary Offshore Reunion, 2002, with fellow broadcasting pioneers Johnnie Walker, Ronan O'Rahilly, Dave Lee Travis, Mark Sloane and Keith Skues.)
Students from Luxembourg, making a documentary about their country's famous radio station, arrived at the 2002 reunion and interviewed Duncan Johnson and Keith Skues. But Tommy, hiding behind his trademark dark glasses, kept well out of the way. He told us he did not want to talk to them, because he felt he had enjoyed a little too much to drink.
Perhaps Tommy's least-known (but nevertheless, very popular) role was that of 'The Thing That Ate Birmingham' from Kenny Everett's famous 'Moment Of Terror' promo, made while they were both working for London's Capital Radio. Never one to miss the opportunity of obtaining a special effect, the mischievous Kenny recorded the sound of Tommy burping. By adding an enormous amount of echo, Kenny enhanced the sound to create an audio monster. He frequently used 'The Thing that Ate Birmingham' in his space serial, Captain Kremmen.
Quotes are from Brian Long's book, 'The London Sound'.
Tommy, we are so sorry you didn't make it to the 40th Anniversary Reunion. You will be very much missed.
Mary and Chris, Radio London
Jon Myer attended Tommy's Funeral at Golders Green crematorium, Tuesday March 15th
The crematorium was packed I had to stand and some people couldn't get in at all and had to stay outside. The music played included George Martin's Radio One music, Theme One, Pink Floyd (Comfortably Numb) and Neil Young (Like A Hurricane).
There was absolutely no religion at all. Richard Skinner (a colleague from Radio One and Virgin), Tony Wilson (Tommy's Radio One rock show producer), Humphrey Walwyn (a World Service colleague) and Softly (his mate) all made very personal and moving speeches. Diane Weston, actress and former partner, read John Masefield's poem "Sea Fever" as well as making a few more comments. The end of a Tommy Rock Show was then played and we trooped out to the strains of his closing announcement and AC/DC! Then off to the pub.
It was the booziest and least-religious funeral I have ever attended. But it was also very poignant and personal. Tommy got the excellent send-off he deserved from the people who loved him. I am absolutely sure that it was the way he would have wanted it.
Among those attending: Mark Sloane, John Aston and Freddie Ryder from Tommy's Caroline days; Mich the steward from Radio London; from Radio London/One/Capital: Dave Cash and Duncan Johnson. Alan Freeman, Adrian Juste and Simon Bates, from Radio One. Plus a lot of back-stage people from Capital, Radio One, World Service, GLR, Total Rock, etc.
Photo: Tommy's friends from Radio London days. Softly (who delivered a personal eulogy), Duncan Johnson and Dave Cash. Photo courtesy of Duncan, taken September 2003.
From Steve Young, of Caroline South, pictured beside Tommy
I am devastated by this news. Tommy was a really great guy and I've always looked forward to the day when I could see him again. Having missed that opportunity I'm really saddened by his passing. Tommy was a real gentleman with a great sense of humour. He was the kind of guy you could always call upon if you needed help and would always be there to do whatever he could when asked. I can't say how sorry I am to hear of his passing.
Photo: Dinner in the mess on Caroline South for Tommy, Steve Young, Mick Ahern, Robbie Dale, John Aston and Johnnie Walker
From Peter Young, a friend from Capital Radio
I was a great fan of Tommy's style from the moment I first heard him on Caroline. He seemed a lot sharper and snappier than some of his colleagues and I liked the way he'd just bang out the records, rather than dragging things out with long links. Being about 14 at the time, I didn't realise this was because of his experience at KHJ Los Angeles, where talking over dead air would mean instant dismissal, unless there was a very good reason. He sounded very authentically American with his 'Tommy Vance plays more music' jingle, which I loved.
It was more than fitting when Tommy joined the Big L, just a couple of weeks before the end. The station format and sound seemed to suit him perfectly. Shame he didn't make the switch a bit earlier.
I first met Tom when I joined Capital Radio nearly 30 years ago, in May 1975. I was thrown in at the deep end, after receiving a call on a Thursday, to take over two late night shows on Saturday and Sunday. The shows were normally presented by TV, but he was occupied on a daytime shift, filling in for Roger Scott.
When I went in to Capital on Friday afternoon for a bit of studio time, in advance of my first broadcast, Tommy was on air. I was shown in to the live studio, as the new boy I was introduced to Tommy and he was told to show me the ropes. This he did with great charm and good humour, even though we'd never met before. He allowed me to sit in for the whole of his show and couldn't have been more helpful and friendly.
I wouldn't claim to have known him well, but he was one of this business's good people. We met again a few years after he left Capital, at Thames Television, where a lot of us had gathered to surprise Alan Freeman for 'This Is Your Life'. He greeted me like a long lost brother and said some very positive and kind things.RIP 'TV on Radio'
From Mick Luvzit, of Caroline North
I was so shocked and even got teary-eyed to hear of Tommy Vance's passing. He and I had a great chat at your 2002 reunion and even tho' he smoked a lot I thought he looked in great health. He was an awesome DJ.....full of fun and personality... A truly nice guy. I was hoping to see him in 2006.
He will be missed by all of us who worked with him....and especially his fans. Please give my condolences to his family.
(Photo: Mick in conversation with Tommy and Big L DJ and close friend, Willy Walker. Willy's own tribute is further down the page.)
From Colin Nichol, Caroline South, 208
I'm so sad about Tommy. We were buddies for quite a while, on Caroline and at Luxembourg. He lived the way he wanted, I'd say he achieved as much as anyone could have wanted. Assuming I get to the UK around this time next year, he'll be one I'll be wishing I could have looked up.
From Alan Hardy, co-organiser, 2002 reunion
Another shock and another sad loss. Tommy was a unique broadcaster something that most of the newer breed aren't. Distinctive, knowledgeable and caring about his music. And sadly another loss from the Radio London roster.
From Paul Rusling, CEO IMIBC
Tommy a real cool guy, so warm and friendly on the times I met him, and with such a powerful and distinctive voice. He will really be missed. What can one say?
Rock on Tommy.
From Chris Edwards, Offshore Echoes
Sadly another one gone. I remember interviewing Tommy some years ago, rather disappointed as he remembered so little about his 60s offshore days, the main memories being a long round of parties wine women and song!
There's a saying that if you remember the 60s, you weren't there. Tommy Vance clearly was there.
A sad loss.
Offshore Echoes tribute and interview with Tommy here.
From Keith 'Keefers' Hampshire, Caroline South
Tommy was a class act!! Sadly, because my car broke down, I missed seeing him in Florida in January, by only about three days.
From Tony Prince, Caroline North, 208
My career shadow-boxed Tommy's. From Caroline to Luxembourg to Capital. His Radio London boss Alan Keen became my boss, I even ate regularly at the White Elephant on Curzon Street when Tommy was married to the owner's daughter. I remember him selling his Merc sports to Paul Burnett when he left Luxembourg.
It seemed for a time that there wasn't a station in the world Tom hadn't graced. More than anything I respected him as a truly pro DJ with music at his helm and a voice he can now personally thank God for!
See you soon Tommy!
From Willy Walker, Radio London
And so I say goodbye to a true dear friend who opened his home and family to me on many occasions over the years, shared many adventures, together with our other close friends, and always inspired me, whilst downplaying his own importance to his profession.
Sleep well Tommy those that matter remember.
(Left): A rare shot of Tommy minus his trademark shades. He is pictured with Willy at Capt Tony's, Key West, Florida, in January 2005. (Right) A serious moment is captured in Key West!
From Jon Myer, Capital, GLRI think Tommy crammed a hundred years worth of living into his life! More wine, more women and more (very loud) song than most! And probably a lot more besides.
I used to love sitting in the pub with him in the evenings when we worked together at GLR. He might have forgotten a lot but he still had plenty of good tales to tell. Tommy was very good company and a joy to work with. I can't remember ever having a disagreement with him.
From Alan Field, co-organiser, 2002 reunion
Terribly sad news about Tommy Vance, I was really shocked. You've done a nice tribute on the website.I never did understand about the final Fab 40 Show. I'd never given it any thought assuming that it was done live onboard, like all the others until Tommy told me at the 35th Reunion that he'd taped it in advance! I assumed he'd taped it onshore, and I figured that's why it over-ran... maybe after adverts were played in and news breaks inserted. I guess we may never know for sure now.
From Tom Edwards, CarolineI was so saddened by the death of Tommy Vance. On the pirates, living in such cramped conditions, one had to get along with everybody, then be a broadcaster next. I would not have missed it for the world. What a shame that as we all went our different ways down the path of life I didn't make a pact to keep in regular contact.
From Howie Castle, aka Bud Ballou, CarolineI was very sorry to hear of the passing of Tommy Vance. I wish I had taken the opportunity to talk with him at length at the reunion in 2002. I've read most of the tributes to him, but particularly enjoyed the Q & A with Chris Edwards. And, believe it or not, I did not know until this last week that TV was the voice on the Major Minor commercials we ran on Caroline!
Tommy's contribution to the Big L '97 Christmas broadcast is here.An excellent tribute by the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame is here.