The voice of the Island

By Richard Wright

Thursday, April 17, 2014


The voice of the Island

Radio interviewer and showbusiness writer John Hannam. Picture by Jennifer Burton.

WHEN a teenage John Hannam was tucked up in bed listening to the Pete Murray chat show he could but dream that one day he would have much in common with the radio legend.

Murray was at the cutting edge of radio broadcasting and John inhabits the local airwaves, but he has talked to the same celebs as the great DJ — and that’s an achievement much against the odds.

Behind John’s silky, self-assured, tones lies early insecurity.

A shy teen developed into an introvert, who really didn’t like meeting people. Eating in a restaurant was torture.

In fact, he struggled to such a degree with his confidence that it brought him to tears.

"Sometimes, even now, I come back from meeting a famous person in London and wonder just how I managed it," says John.

"Getting to know Craig Douglas as a personal friend was such a help and I did meet famous people through him. Gradually I became more confident.

"My late wife, Heather, was a great inspiration to me and my parents always gave me such constant support."

It was a great boost to his confidence when, in the late 1960s, he got a job as a salesman for United Biscuits, which involved talking to people — all the time. These days he thrives on meeting people.

He now gets that adrenalin rush combination of nerves and excitement that has allowed him to later this month enter his 25th year of his Sunday lunchtime John Hannam Meets on IW Radio.

"I began interviewing famous people for IW Hospital Radio in 1974. The dream had come true.

"Twenty years earlier, I had often waited at stage doors for autographs of stars and celebrities. Now I was being invited into their dressing rooms and their homes.

"The first interview was with the Bachelors — and they gave me a rough time. I did get my own back years later, though...

"Joining the old Weekly Post in 1975 and to be given a Stage Talk column was one of the great moments of my life.

"Over its 15-year history, I interviewed many famous names, including Frankie Howerd, Eartha Kitt, Donald Pleasence, Matt Monro and Arthur Lowe. I owe founding editor Keith Newbery such a lot."

Another boost to his confidence came in 1978 when he interviewed his hero, Michael Parkinson.

"He was kind to me and told me I was a good interviewer — and the reasons why. That moment still makes me tingle."

One of the ways he shines is researching his subjects, something he has done painstakingly for 40 years, the workaholic often trawling the net and scouring reference material into the wee small hours.

The result? Many of the 4,000 celebrities among his 5,000 interviewees will tell you John knows them better than they know themselves.

They include Hollywood stars Charlton Heston, John Mills, Michael York and Jeremy Irons, personal sporting heroes like Roger Bannister, Stirling Moss, John Snow and Gordon Greenidge, former Prime Minister Edward Heath, Prince Edward and many personal pop favourites like Neil Sedaka, Duane Eddy, Martha Reeves and David Gates.

Cliff Richard achieved a bigger listener response than any other subject.

John’s trademark is to treat all subjects in the same way, whether mega-star or humble caulkhead.

He is, largely, repaid in kind with candour, honesty and good humour.

As a genuinely nice man — in the nicest sense of that word — it would take a tough and nasty nut indeed to be unkind to John.

John’s nothing if not persistent. He tried to get Ronnie Corbett and Richard and Judy six times each. It took him 18 years for Gene Pitney and he waited 40 for Tommy Steele. Afterwards Steele wrote him a letter to say how much he enjoyed it.

His biggest regret? Interviewing Gary Glitter.

Eighteen of his rare interviews have been heard on Radio 2 and he hosted more 100 chat shows on TV12 and Solent TV to boot.

John has written for The Stage for 38 years, has been raising money for the St Mary’s breast care nurses since 2002, when Heather was first diagnosed with breast cancer, and is the backbone of the IW Amateur Theatre Awards, now in their 16th year. As award adjudicator, he gets to see Island am-dram at its shining best, and grisly worst, most weeks of the year.

His son, Sean, is the editor of a national magazine and his daughter, Caroline, a West End wardrobe mistress and supervisor, both areas with which John is most familiar. Neither is on the radio — airwaves remaining dad’s element.

He said: "Reaching my 25th year has long been my dream.

"I have been lucky to have taken a commercial radio show into a 25th year — and am very grateful to IW Radio for that."

He pays all his own expenses for face-to-face interviews all over the country.

But, as he says: "My life has not been about money. My interviews provide great personal satisfaction and motivation. And I look forward — to every one."

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