Brian Matthew RIP: farewell old mate, you got me through Sunderland matchday mornings

Brian Matthew: picture from the BBC


A few days ago, the BBC announced that Brian Matthew, owner of one of the great radio voices, had died. It was their Dave Swarbrick moment for he had not died after all but was critically ill. In the meantime, Pete Sixsmith had written this superb tribute … and now Brian has passed away, it is time to publish it


Recently I have been suffering from illness and fatigue in that I am sick and tired of Sunderland AFC. The abysmal home draw with Burnley confirmed relegation number 9 (for me) and the subsequent hoo-ha over the managers comments to Vicki Sparks made me squirm with embarrassment for the club that I have stuck with for 50+ years.

I haven’t even listened to the commentaries from Watford or Leicester knowing that it would unnecessarily distract me from the games I was watching at Spennymoor and Tow Law. The return journey to Sixsmith Towers in the limousine was particularly painful as every flaw (and there are quite a few) in our team was ruthlessly dissected by Gary Bennett and Nick Barnes.

I have reached two decisions about next season in the Championship.

I have moved my seat from a full price one to a concession, being of the age where I can do such things and saving a fair amount of money in the process. And my trips to away games will be reduced next season as I concentrate on ticking off all the grounds in the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Saturday Section.

Instead of the Emirates and the Etihad it will be Esh Winning Pineapple and Evenwood Coke Works Reserves, Stanley United Old Boys rather than St James’ Park, Witton Gilbert Rechabites not White Hart Lane.

Another reason for reducing the number of away games is that my staple Saturday morning listening diet has been reduced by BBC Radio 2 messing around with Sounds of the Sixties. For 20 years the mellifluous tones of Brian Matthew accompanied me as the coach rolled across the flatlands of Lincolnshire, the Badlands of Greater Manchester and the scenic delights of the a A42(M).

Brian was ill for three months and Sir Tim Rice, the only Sunderland supporter to write a musical about Evita and squeeze a reference to Claudio Marangoni into it (listen to the third verse and Julie Covington distinctly warbles Don’t cry for me Marangoni) the Beeb switched the schedules. The programme would start at 6am instead of 8am and would be hosted by professional grinning oaf Tony Blackburn. I stopped listening.

Now the news has come through that Brian Matthew has died at the grand old age of 88 and yet another link with my youth , and I suspect that of many others, has been broken.

He hosted Sounds of the Sixties (henceforth referred to as SOTS) for the best part of 30 years.

He had a voice that was a mix of old school BBC pronunciation and the new “d-j” style that came in from the States in the late 50s and early 60s and he always seemed to be more at home with Billy Fury, Helen Shapiro and The Beatles rather than Buffalo Springfield, Love and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Every show was a treat and filled in two hours while The Guardian was read. On went the earphones and I barely spoke until he said “see you next week” and The Shadows (another BM favourite) played Foottapper for the millionth time.

During those years he played some absolute classics. The ones I looked forward most to were, in no particular order, Something’s Got A Hold of My Heart by Gene Pitney which I consider to be the consummate pop record, Jacky by Scott Walker which introduced me to the works of Jacques Brel, Going Back by Dusty Springfield – although I would settle for Son Of A Preacher Man with those wonderful Memphis Horns – and My Brother by Terry Scott, a great piece of comedy which included the sound of somebody vomiting.

Every track was treated with respect by Brian. He told you where (if anywhere) it got in the charts, who wrote it and what the back story to the piece was. If the artist was well known he would usually have an anecdote about them. If unknown, he would tell you something about them thanks to his excellent producer Phil Swern.

The whole programme was a delight and made me remember travelling to away games in the 1960’s with John Tennick’s bus and listening on the coach radio to Saturday Club introduced by, yes, you’ve guessed it, Your Old Mate, Brian Matthew. He sounded impossibly old then (he must have been in his mid to late 30s) as he introduced a mixture of records and live bands on the Light Programme.

The BBC had something called “Needle Time” which restricted the number of platters that could be spun so bands were brought into the studio. The Beatles played live as did The Searchers,

The Hollies and (less appreciatively) Freddie and the Dreamers. Cliff Richard, Del Shannon (once refused entry to New Shildon Club because he did not have his club cards), Matt Monro and Kathy Kirby all gripped the microphone and gave us their latest hits backed by John Barry or Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers. It was part of growing up and survived the switch to Radio 1 although Brian was more of a Radio 2 man.

And now he has gone to that great studio in the sky where he will already be telling Saint Peter about the times he had with John, Paul, George and Ringo and how he joked along with Tommy Steele and Dickie Valentine.

He was a unique voice, a great link with then and now and will be sadly missed. Saturday mornings are just not the same without My Old Mate, Brian Matthew

4 thoughts on “Brian Matthew RIP: farewell old mate, you got me through Sunderland matchday mornings”

  1. Great article. I do hope you get over the SAFC “lovesick blues” soon. We need your unique link between the real world and that of The Lads to cheer us all up.

  2. Brian Matthew is the best of them all. He has been the voice of music for me for fifty years and I miss him greatly. His voice threads through my life since the sixties.

    Tim Rice did an admiral stand-in but the programme time shift and appointment of Tony Blackburn shows that the BBC don’t have SOTS anywhere on their priority list.

    Saturday mornings will never be the same. Bless you Brian.

  3. I am probably just a few years behind sixer and company, but relate to his memories of Brian – as a kid trying to catch up on being a bit too young to own original Beatle singles when they came out….so while his voice was always “there”in background BBC radio land, a bit like David Jacobs on tv with jukebox jury, what I remember most is the BBC radio documentary serial of the Beatles around 1972 which drew heavily on interviews with them by Brian throughout the 60s, and not just the moptop days.

    He obviously felt comfortable enough with them when discussing the release of I Feel Fine and saying (to John and Paul) “I prefer the b-side” – which was Paul’s superb rocking She’s a Woman,” to which John said, in typically acerbic Lennon style but knowing that Brian was right…..”err you’re not meant to say that Brian!”

    And any article that revives memories of my childhood laughter on first hearing “who put a real live toad in the hole? My bruvva!” deserves a response.

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