There is uproar across social media platforms at the fact that the “Tribute to John Peel”, as it is oft referred to, which had adorned the underside of an East Belfast flyover has been painted over by workers from the Department for Social Development.
The graffiti mural (pictured below) has been there since immediately after the death of John Peel in 2004 and, until Friday 21st June, had survived untouched and unblemished for almost nine years.
The BBC, in light of allegations by Jane Nevin who alleges a sexual affair with Peel when she was just 15, was sufficiently worried by the revelations that it has put on hold its plans to name a wing of its headquarters after the DJ.
Additionally there is the worrying frankness of comments attributed to the late DJ in a 1999 article Rakes progress in which he is quoted as saying that girls “used to queue up outside oral sex they were particularly keen on, I remember one of my regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13, though she looked older.” the article, unchallenged and uncontested as far as I am aware, makes for sober reading.
That people should seek to eulogize individuals who apparently openly acknowledge that they have engaged in such behaviours is beyond belief. Are the citizens of Belfast, the arts funding junkies and music tourism opportunists so desperate to have some sort of “cred” for their music “scene” past and present that they positively need a graffiti mural tribute to someone who apparently engaged in such illegal sexual activities?
Should we turn a blind eye to the alleged behaviours of John Peel simply because they challenge our collective perception of him as the coolest DJ ever? I think not. We owe it to the victims of sexual abuse to hold to the highest standard their rights to be protected.
The lyric itself “A teenage dream, so hard to beat” is certainly aspirational and worthy of celebration however, in light of the above, one would have to question if the attraction of the lyric to Peel was for the same reason.
A nation, not a city, was so outraged by the posthumous revelations about Jimmy Savile (another BBC employee) to the point that they removed / destroyed tributes that had been paid to him. Today even the whereabouts of his grave is unmarked. Savile never spoke about his sexual activities with children and he is rightly regarded as a monster. Peel boasted of his and he is hailed as a hero worthy of online petitions to have his “tribute” reinstated.
Stuart Hall (again a BBC employee) was recently jailed for similar sexual indiscretions which he initially denied but eventually admitted to. The ongoing investigations into Savile and other “celebrities” will surely bring more salacious revelations for the nations red tops to feed off and, undoubtedly, more unwelcome attention to the BBC and its past inaction.
What next? Should we pay homage to Savile and Hall and replace the mural with a giant “Jim fixed it for me” or “Here come the Belgians”?
Those caught up in the train wreck revisionism of what Belfast offered the world musically (and Peels part in it) would do well to do take a moment to think as to whether a tribute to the man is an appropriate reflection of the city of Belfast. That aside, neither the song writer nor the Undertones were from Belfast – they hailed from Derry.
In the interim we should be careful who we champion as heroes for their reality is, more often than not, very far removed from our (public) perception of them. Of course we should celebrate the lyric but any association with someone who relates so candidly their sexual experiences with thirteen and fifteen year old children is best avoided.
Here comes the summer.