Diddy David Hamilton – A Life On Air
by Robert Veitch
David Hamilton’s broadcasting star has burned brightly for the best part of sixty years. Robert Veitch caught up with him at his Sussex farmhouse for a wander down the memory lanes of radio, television, Fulham and all things Diddy!
A welcoming woof from Amber the Spaniel preceded the arrival of a genial David Hamilton at the door of his home near Billingshurst. Tanned and healthy, his welcoming hand reached out towards me with a sense of eagerness and jollity belying his 79 years.
Sitting in the shadow of his apple tree as the remnants of summer began to fritter away around us, David was eager to tell me how he came to live in a 16th century farmhouse.
David’s grandfather, George Hamilton, owned the house during World War II so master Hamilton was evacuated from his Manchester home to the Sussex countryside. Thus began a lifelong love for the place. After hostilities ended, David would visit during summer holidays until he was about fifteen and grandfather sold the farm. There would be no return for over sixty years and a moment of serendipity.
While in Dubai in 2005, playing a charity football match for the Showbiz XI, David was chatting to Junior Campbell, who had been in the band Marmalade. The topic of conversation meandered into property as Junior described his Sussex farmhouse to an intrigued David. Back in England and invited to visit… lo and behold, it was the same farmhouse. A year later Junior wanted to sell and the Hamilton’s wanted to buy. Childhood dreams can come true, “I can walk across the fields that I walked with my grandfather’s sheepdog when I was a child and they’re just the same now.”
Lady luck would strike again. David kindled a wartime friendship with a land girl called Daisy. Remarkably in 2006, she was still living locally, and despite being in her 90’s she came to visit. A nostalgic time for both of them, reflecting on those bygone days.
After the War, David lived in South London with his mother. A teenager, his future life would be shepherded by a love for music, words and football. “Sam Bartram the Charlton goalkeeper was my absolute hero. He seemed about nine feet tall when I watched him as a boy. Today his statue stands outside Charlton’s ground, The Valley, and it is nine feet tall!”
Aged fifteen David sent an unsolicited article to Soccer Star magazine, a weekly publication that ran from 1952-1970. To his surprise it was published and he was offered a weekly column paying two Guineas a week. “I did that for two years before I finally made the trip to their Cheapside office. After realising I was fresh out of school and not a 40-year-old journalist, they promptly relieved me of my role and dropped my column.”
David’s next job came via the Fleet Street Youth Employment Bureau, as the mail boy inside the offices of Lew Grade’s Associated Television (ATV). The role offered daily opportunities to meet influential people and when asked what he wanted to do, David said he wanted to write. He became a trainee scriptwriter, working on Emergency Ward 10, before moving to Portrait of a Star. He recalled, “There was no internet back then, the hard yards were done the old fashioned way. When my first programme was broadcast I was sat on the sofa, watching with mother.”
The teenage David loved radio, “I was inspired by Pete Murray on Radio Luxembourg and in time my hero became my friend. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”
National Service commenced in Cologne, at Christmas in 1958. “I hated it. It was mostly square bashing. I went to the head of British Forces Network (now BFBS) and asked for a writing job. He offered me the job reading out the football results, which seemed to be some sort of joke. I was also a wireless operator. It all came quite naturally.”
With youthful fearlessness David informed the head of British Forces Network of the troops desire to hear rock ‘n’ roll, not Peggy Lee. Once offered a show on Sunday afternoons he played the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. “I knew the troops would love it because I was one of the troops. My show was followed by a speech from the padre to cleanse the souls of the troops. They were different times,” he chuckled.
David’s break in television came in 1961, as an announcer and newsreader for Tyne Tees TV. In 1963 he interviewed a new band few people had heard of… called The Beatles.
In 1967 as the straight man on Ken Dodd’s ITV show Doddy’s Music Box, Doddy christened him Diddy David. “Ken was about half a foot taller than me and I’m 5’6” – that nickname got me well known. It’s quite affectionate really.”
The infant Radio 1 came calling in 1967. David effervescently recalled the pioneering days of Radio 1 as good times with some great music. “We were purveyors of happiness. We were trying to cheer up the nation. It was tremendous fun.” His afternoon show on Radio 1 began in 1973 and from 1975 was simulcast on Radio 2. The audience was enormous, the biggest in the UK at eighteen million. David reminisced, “I liked broadcasting in the afternoon, it meant I could go gigging in the evening. Each gig paid the equivalent of a weeks BBC wages.” By November 1977 and nearing forty years of age, it was time to retune the dial and Radio 2 became his permanent home.
On television, David made several appearances on The Benny Hill Show. In a 1974 episode he compèred a male beauty contest called ‘Mr TV Times.’ On walks Benny in a green one-piece lycra vest and pants combo and “I had to introduce him as Ivor Biggun from Mill Hill, to which Benny responded, No, I’m Ivor Mill from Biggin Hill.”
On The Tommy Cooper Show David was tasked as the interviewer in the ‘Fez to Fez’ skits. “Tommy never stuck to the script, he was very unpredictable and I was always expected to keep a straight face.”
There were thirteen Blankety Blank appearances between 1979 and 1985. “I was usually on the top row,” David remembers with a sparkling glint in his eye. “The show was mostly ad-libbed, tremendous fun. Terry Wogan was no big time Charlie, he was always able to laugh at himself.”
As a lifelong Fulham fan, one of his greatest memories was Alan Mullery’s testimonial at Craven Cottage in March 1976. It featured most of the 1966 England World Cup team against a former Fulham XI. “Alan rang me up and asked a favour… if myself and Jimmy Tarbuck could play as last minute replacements for a couple of the World Cup XI. Jimmy was asked to deputise for George Cohen and I was supposed to be Alan Ball. There we were, in the changing room wearing England’s red and white kit, heading out to play with Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst and the rest. During the match I received a pass from Jack Charlton and made a cross that Bobby Charlton was able to score from. I have to thank Muller’s for one of the best days of my life.”
As Fulham’s match day announcer from 1996-2014 David encountered several stars. Was Jacko really wacko, I wondered? David chuckled, “Michael Jackson was over to open the Harrods sale and looked about six stone, dripping wet. We had a brief chat and he was 1970’s Radio 1 football team very pleasant. At half time I announced Michael to the crowd, but he was half way around the pitch, by the Johnny Haynes Stand before the crowd realised he wasn’t a look-a-like. Tony Curtis came another time. He chose to run up the terraces and began to kiss the fans.”
David remained with Radio 2 until 1986, moving into commercial radio with stints at Capital, Melody FM, Capital Gold, and others. He presented the first show on Worthing’s Splash FM in 2003, “I think Leo Sayer was the guest that day. I had another show called ‘David Hamilton’s Million Sellers.” Splash FM has latterly evolved into More Radio.
When Radio 1 turned 50 in 2017, David wrote a book recalling those formative years. Hot Shots, Big Shots and Potshots is an excellent read over 128 pages – a first-rate stocking filler this Christmas.
David still works in radio, but here and there, not nine to five. His love for the medium is obvious, bubbling with enthusiasm as he speaks. He does a little for a London digital station and for BBC Sussex and Surrey.
Pausing to contemplate the current crop of radio presenters, “Nick Ferrari is a really good journalist. Danny Pike is a very good interviewer on local radio who would be at home on national radio.” Harking back to ‘the golden age’ it’s the hardworking Tony Blackburn who stands out, “He’s remained a household name for fifty years and lost none of his enthusiasm He’s the ultimate survivor. He was sat under the apple tree, in your seat, not that long ago.”
Our time approaching its denouement David suggested I go home with some apples from his tree. One by one he carefully selected them. They weren’t big, they were diddy. They were also delicious.
“I’ve never worked a day in my life, I’ve always done something I love,” reflected David as we parted under blue skies and aircraft contrails. Amber the Spaniel wagging her tail blithely, barking farewell as they faded from sight in the rear view mirror.
The Golden Days of Radio One: Hot Shots, Big Shots and Pot Shots by David Hamilton, available from the Ashwater Press at www.ashwaterpress.co.uk