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Robert Brinley Joseph Harris
11 April 1946
Robert Brinley Joseph Harris(born 11 April 1946), popularly known as "Whispering Bob" Harris, is an English music presenter known for being a host of the BBC2 music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test , and as a co-founder of the listings magazine Time Out .
Harris has been broadcasting on the BBC for 50 years and has been recognised with the Americana Music Association of America Trailblazer Award, a UK Heritage Award, and a MOJO Medal, as well as his OBE for services to broadcasting.
Born on 11 April 1946 in Northampton, Northamptonshire, England, Harris first followed in his father's footsteps and joined Northamptonshire Police as a cadet for two years. Harris's father was from Pontardawe in South Wales.
He then helped found Time Out magazine, as co-editor. Years later, he still refers to himself as "a journalist who can broadcast".
He began at BBC Radio 1 in 1970 where he hosted the original incarnation of Sounds of the Seventies until 1975. Sounds of the Seventies was initially an hour long, broadcasting from 6 to 7 pm on Monday evenings. The next year, it was expanded to two hours and moved to 10 pm to midnight, still on Mondays. In January 1975, the show was axed due to BBC cutbacks.
Harris then went on to present shows for Radio Luxembourg in 1975–77. In 1977, he joined Radio 210, firstly presenting a Saturday afternoon sports show. He then presented many shows at the weekend, such as Friday nights from 9 pm and Saturdays and Sundays 10 am –2 pm and 9 pm –1 am. He left the station for a few months in 1978 due to ill health, but came back in 1979 to present a Friday evening rock show from 9 pm to 1 am and weekend afternoons 12 –4 pm. He was also head of music and presentation.
Harris also presented The Old Grey Whistle Test rock music show on BBC Two from 1972 until December 1979.His first appearance on the show was as chair of a debate on the Night Assemblies Bill, based on his experience as a journalist and at the invitation of producer Richard Williams. Shortly afterwards he was invited to be the main presenter. His velvety voice and quiet delivery earned him his enduring nickname. His hippie-style beard and laid-back presentation made him a favourite target for parody, most notably by Eric Idle on the 1970s BBC comedy show Rutland Weekend Television .
Harris later became notorious among the younger generation for distancing himself on air from Roxy Music's first performance on the show and deriding the New York Dolls as "mock rock".In the summer of 1974, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood included Harris ("or the Sniffing Whistler as we know him") on a "Hates" list on their "You're going to wake up one morning and find out which side of the bed you've been lying on" T-shirt. In early 1977, at the Speakeasy (a London nightclub popular with rock stars of the day) Sex Pistols' fan and subsequent bass player Sid Vicious threatened Harris over whether the Pistols would appear on the Old Grey Whistle Test.
1981 saw Harris move to BBC Radio Oxford, presenting the weekday afternoon show 3–5 pm taking over from Timmy Mallett. He remained there until 1984. He then joined London's LBC Radio Station, presenting a weekly half-hour music review and also joined GWR, where he did shows on Saturday lunchtimes and Sunday afternoons.
From October 1984, Harris was heard on Norwich's Radio Broadland, presenting a Saturday evening show, and on a Sunday afternoon show on Hereward FM in Peterborough. At the same time he was still continuing with his half-hour music review on LBC and was recording shows for GWR. In 1986, he was offered the Weekend Nightline phone-in on LBC every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 10 pm –1 am, which he hosted until 1989. He was heard on BFBS from 1986 to 1998 and on the UK Independent Local Radio sustaining service, The Superstation.
Harris rejoined BBC Radio 1 in 1989, standing in for Richard Skinner for two weeks on the weekday 12 –2 am slot, before being offered his own weekly show on Sunday nights from 11 pm to 2 am later that year following the death of Roger Scott. Harris then took over the weekday 12 –2 am slot from April 1990, which then became 12 –4 am when Radio 1 started broadcasting 24 hours a day on 1 May 1991.
Harris left Radio 1 in October 1993 as he, along with many other Radio 1 DJs, was felt not to fit in with the changes being made by new controller Matthew Bannister. Lynn Parsons took over his 12 –4 am slot, but Harris continued to do the occasional documentary for the network for some time afterwards.
In summer 1994, Harris moved to BBC Greater London Radio, presenting a three-hour Saturday night show from 10 pm to 1 am, then additionally on Monday to Wednesday evenings from 8 pm to midnight. He later left the Saturday night show to concentrate on GLR's Monday-Wednesday evening shows.
In spring 1997, Harris returned to the national airwaves, this time on BBC Radio 2, where he took up an 11 pm –1 am Saturday night slot. He still continued to present on GLR, but at this stage he quit the Monday to Wednesday evening shows and presented a Saturday afternoon show from 2 to 6 pm.
Harris eventually quit GLR in late 1998 as he took over another show for Radio 2, Bob Harris Country, (previously David Allan's Country Club) on Thursday evenings from 7 to 8 pm, from 1999, and his Saturday night show then went out from 10 pm to 1 am. From April 2006, his Saturday show moved to an 11 pm –2 am slot, and moved back another hour from 4 April 2010, meaning it aired early Sunday mornings from midnight to 3 am. From October 2014 till January 2017, the show was on from 3 am to 6 am on Sundays. In February 2017, his Sunday show moved back to midnight to 3 am. However, on 26 March 2017, Harris presented his last weekend Sunday early morning show on Radio 2 due to major changes to the weekend schedule. The final song played was When You Come To The End Of A Lollipop by Max Bygraves. Bob Harris Country continues on Thursdays currently 9 pm.
— Henry Yates, Classic Rock .
In addition to his Radio 2 programmes, in 2002 Harris became an original presenter on the newly launched digital station BBC Radio 6 Music, presenting a Sunday-evening show from 5 to 8 pm. He left 6 Music in 2004 to rejoin Radio 2, to present a new show which broadcast on Friday nights/Saturday mornings from midnight to 3 am. He was replaced in this slot by Mark Lamarr, but returned to it temporarily, when Lamarr left the BBC at the end of 2010. The end of the Friday show has allowed Harris to concentrate more on producing one-off shows such as the Maple Leaf Revolution under the auspices of the Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company.
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 2003 when he was surprised by Michael Aspel at BBC Broadcasting House.
Harris was heard covering for Chris Evans on Radio 2 drivetime over the festive holiday 2007–08 and 2008–09.
Harris has presented the C2C: Country to Country festival live from the O2 Arena in London every year since its inception in 2013 and simultaneously broadcasts over BBC Radio 2 Country which was first established in 2015, the same year when Harris was given his own stage to present at the festival. This stage, the Under the Apple Tree stage, formed the basis for his own Under the Apple Tree festival which will first take place in 2016.
Harris has been credited by John Thomson as the inspiration for his The Fast Show character Louis Balfour, who comperes "Jazz Club"and whose softly spoken delivery echoes Harris' "unshakeable enthusiasm" on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
In 2018 Harris made a cameo appearance in Tom Harper's country music drama film Wild Rose .
In 2018, Harris joined 26 other celebrities at Metropolis Studios, to perform an original Christmas song called "Rock With Rudolph". The song was released in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital and was released digitally on independent record label Saga Entertainment on 30 November 2018. The music video debuted exclusively with The Sun on 29 November 2018 and had its first TV showing on Good Morning Britain on 30 November 2018. The song peaked at number two on the iTunes pop chart.
Harris has eight children and six granddaughters. Harris married Trudie, who is also his manager, in 1991. She is the mother of his three youngest children.Harris lives in Steventon, Oxfordshire.
In 2007, Harris was diagnosed with prostate cancer, for which he was treated with hormone therapy and radiotherapy.
In May 2019 it was announced that Harris would take a break from his BBC Radio 2 presenting for a while, after suffering an aortic dissection (having undergone a tear to his aorta while walking 10 days previously). He returned to Radio 2 on 19 September 2019.
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