John Walters Column Peel's Armpits!
Every issue, trakMARX brings you a snippet from the monthly Zigzag column of John Walters, Peel's long-time producer and probably the bloke who knew him better than anyone apart from his wife. Our way of an affectionate regular tribute to both great men...
This one appeared in the August '78 issue of Zigzag, which also featured the Rich Kids, X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, John Otway, Rezillos, Suicide and some new band called the Human League. The accompanying photo-booth pix showed Walters laughing at Peel, who is sporting a large comedy beard. Walters is nursing a hangover from the previous day's Sire Records launch party but starts by declaring, ‘Well, it's quite a summer through which we are living...’
Shortly afterwards, the text takes an unexpected turn. Maybe even too much information - but a lovely illustration of the relationship between the pair. Here Walters is dealing with Peel's supposed mid-life crisis...
'When I say "quite a summer" - I mean what with Dylan, Bowie, Knebworth, Blackbush... but what has set the rock world abuzz? Why, the strange case of Peel's armpits!
First let me make it clear that by the time this gets out to you, Peel and I should both be in the last year of that which even by the wildest stretch of imagination anyone could call youth. In other words we'll both be thirty-nine... Anyway, Peel seems to be entering a strange kind of male menopause. He burst into the office the other day, while I was trying to decide on which side of the Teenage Jesus and the Jerks single to play that particular night and said ‘could I smell his armpits’. I thought at first he had said ‘would I smell his armpits?’ Immediately, I was on my guard. These public school chappies get some funny ideas and you've only got to get your nose under their armpits and then: SNAP!
Then the next day would be rape, sodomy and incest, or some other American soul group with a CBS contract. Anyway, he seemed to feel that, because of the hot weather at the time, his bodily odours filled the room like the perfumes of Shalimar. Now I happen to have an unusually sensitive nose - and assured him that this was not the case. He became obsessive about it, however, and borrowed the office scissors as he said that if he could snip off the hair from under his armpits all would be well. This seemed to calm him down and I happened to mention the incident, casually, in conversation to a few people. He then accused me of "putting it about" that he was shaving his armpits. Well, you know me. A good old-fashioned, laissez faire moderate liberal. If a man feels an urge to shave his armpits - then shave away... I mean, it's not as if it were eye shadow or something. I mean, nobody would notice as long as he doesn't walk along Oxford Street flapping his arms up and down.
Course, you know him, it works away at the back of his mind then suddenly it's public confession time and all hands have to go down with him. Apparently, he sometimes writes for a pop paper called Sounds, and in it he owns up about all this shaving business but insists on telling the world that I'd asked him, next time he was in the chemist, to get some ointment called Preparation H, which happens to be recommended for sufferers from piles. Now, good grief, there's nothing funny about piles...
Course he puts two and two together. It just happened that while we were in the office listening to the Moody Blues album I had happened to mention certain symptoms and he offered to buy me some of this stuff as he had used it for his own piles! I could have got it myself...but the point was he offered! I mean, I probably don't even have piles. But all this Preparation H business was hardly worth mentioning. After all it's his armpits - and he's suddenly shaved his beard off. Okay, so he's nearly forty and making a last despairing grasp at a lost youth...but armpits, beard and now I'm told that his children call him Fifi. He claims it's some sort of pet name but I suspect that he may have called in at Lovecraft [sex accessory shop] and picked up a French Maid's outfit and be prancing around the cottage in it. If I find out anything else I'll certainly let you know but for God's sake if you see him don't say anything as it's obviously a sensitive time for him.'
After further wanderings, Walters signs off with 'a final word on the Preparation H saga...As a result of Peel's column, EMI promotions dept sent me a tube of the stuff for my birthday. The moral obviously is - if you're ever short of something to stick up your arse, don't hesitate to call EMI records division.'
Kris Needs/John Walters tMx 20 07/05