Friday, 5 August 2011

The After-Midnight Club by Tony Murphy


You think you know the score. When you marry someone famous I mean. You go through it all in your head beforehand. You know you love the person, but still wonder about spending the rest of your life with them. So you weigh up all the pros and cons, and try to create a picture of your future through a million questions.

How will you handle the late night showbiz parties? You picture yourself a few years down the line; at home surrounded by dirty dishes and wet nappies. Will you survive the gossip columns and the tabloids? How will you react when you hear he’s being linked with some stick insect with pert boobs and a “stage presence”? You know that you will go through all the normal ups and downs of married life with the whole world looking on, and wonder if love can ever survive such scrutiny. All these things go through your mind before you commit. But you do commit. In spite of it all, you do commit.

Because you love him. You love the real person, not just the radio persona. Everyone loves the voice that reaches into their homes and touches their lives every day. They hear the compassion and empathy in his voice and they think they know him. And maybe in a way they do know that part of him. But you know the whole person, not just the public facade. You know the bits he would prefer to keep hidden. We all have huge parts of our personality that we keep to ourselves, and it is so much worse when your every move is made in public eye.

But you’ve met his shadow side. And still you love him. You love the person who comes home after a bad show or a row with a producer and sits brooding with a can of beer while you try to keep the kids quiet. You love the person who gargles so loudly at an un-godly hour before heading out to do the morning show, oblivious of the fact that his slamming door has woken the baby again.

And you stand in his shadow, his biggest cheerleader when he makes the bold move to the new station. Prime morning slot. Picture on the side of buses all over the city. A cheesy grin that masked the terror he was going through at the prospect. You give him the encouragement he needs to go for it, because you know the confidence is the blood in his veins. You have been with him through the times when it was missing. The times when he cried before the show, convinced that he was worthless and an industry joke. And then you’ve marvelled at the upbeat breezy voice that came back from the radio at you, and wondered which was your true husband.

Of course, for all your married life you’ve had to share him. With the stations and the listeners. With the public who thought they owned at least a part of him. You’ve shared him in restaurants, as people ignore you completely while they interrupt your precious time together to ask for an autograph, or a request for a loved one. You’ve marvelled at the patience he shows on those occasions, and wondered how he managed to be polite in the face of bad manners and rudeness.

But of course you understand that this is just who he is, and if you are going to share his journey with him, then you must accept this as part of the package. So you accept it and you share him, and you smile politely at the autograph hunters and bite your tongue.

And then one day, you find yourself sitting in front of a computer. Alone.  Kids are gone, living their own lives. And you are sitting, listening to that voice you have lived with, argued with, loved for most of your life. And you wonder, how many of the people you have shared him with over the years are doing the same thing.

Now that the fuss has all died down, and his face is no longer appearing in the media. Now that he is gone and apparently forgotten, you wonder, does anyone else listen to the radio on the internet, tuning into shows that are two or three years old, just to hear his voice. The website has forty-four of his ‘After Midnight’ shows from over a three year period. God knows how they chose which ones to keep. They certainly were not chosen for the quality because some of it is bordering on the lower side of average. Funny but you would not even have dared to think such a thought a few months ago, let alone utter it aloud.

My God but he cursed when he was given that slot. Called them all the names under the sun. Who did they think he was, sending him from a prime-time slot in the early afternoon to the middle of the bloody night when the only people listening were insomniacs, taxi-drivers and weirdoes?

And yet in the end, when he looked back, they were the people he remembered most; those late night odd-balls. It was almost as though he was freed to be himself when he thought those were the only people listening. He was more real, and they loved him for it. They were his little club. The After-Midnight Club. There were lots of them that he knew well, or at least he felt he knew them, probably in much the same way that they thought they knew him. The emailed him, and texted him on a nightly basis, sharing the ups and downs of their lives with him.

Not that it happened straight away. It took him a while to find his feet, to adapt from his upbeat afternoon tempo and to get to know his audience. It took a while for them to get to know him too.

Tune in to some of those early shows now and you can sometimes hear the emotion in his voice. The anger and frustration that he thought he was masking. Of course he probably was masking it from everyone except you. If you listen to each show in sequence, you can probably hear the change in his voice, as he moved from frustration, to resignation, to acceptance, to contentment. But it’s nicer to dip in to different shows at different times.

In the later shows you know what to expect. The voice became more mellow, as did the music. And the texts became more and more of a feature. You got to know the rest of the After-Midnighters, and hear bits of their story. The truckers, driving through the night, playing requests for their wives or girlfriends. The under-the-covers listeners, who played requests for lovers far away. The night-shift workers who texted in with requests for each other and the occasional joke. The friendly banter about football, especially when his beloved Ipswich Town had a bad result.

Of course this was not the most successful period of his career, but it was definitely the most rewarding. Through all the heady success days, when he had been all over the papers and when there had been talk of a TV contract; through it all, he had never seemed as content as he was with the After-Midnight slot. He did not have to be bright and breezy. He did not have to play the latest hits. He was given pretty much a free rein, and he loved it. And they loved him.

Gradually you have come to understand that these were the closet friends he had. Certainly more loyal than the pals in the industry who came to the funeral to see and be seen, sobbing gently so as not to smudge the make-up. The After-Midnight club were different. Even though they had never met face to face, they had become his genuine friends, so that when they approached or wrote after the funeral, it did not seem strange at all.

And yet now, a few months later they have all gotten on with their lives, and you are left here, living in a time warp. Now that he is gone you finally get to have him all to yourself. You share evenings together at last; free of interruption and intrusion, listening to different shows depending on the mood you are in. Tuning in to show from the 28th of November 2006 most nights. It’s almost at the stage where you could recite the entire show. All the cosy chat, every text, the news on the hour. There was nothing special about that date, and yet it remains your favourite. Perhaps because there was nothing special going on. The very normality of it all is its appeal. 

You listen to it as you lie in bed at night, something you never did when he was alive. But now he’s not there, you would do anything to hear his voice. And in the morning, when you’ve gotten over the shock of his absence, you might tune in to one of the earlier shows, maybe May 2004, when he had just started the show.

The only show to be avoided is the one from May 15th 2007, the day he found out about the cancer. He had been upset going on, and it came through on the show. Not that he had shared the news with the listeners. But still, they knew something was up. There were a few texts, which he did not have to read out but did anyway, asking if he was ok. There was more music than usual, and none of it as mellow as usual. Something was up, but only two people knew what it was.

And now, now that he has gone, that is a comfort. A strange comfort, but still, a comfort. That at that stage, when he was at his lowest, he chose to share it only with you. And now, as you sit and listen to him again, there is a part of him that does not belong to anyone else. It is a sad part. A dark part. But it is the one part that he kept for you. And that makes it precious.


  1. Cheers Tony for your kind words, and yours is a very sad and 'precious' story which I must say I enjoyed very much. Glad you've started the writing and blogging and I look forward to many more.
    Take care sir, Bobby.

  2. Hello Tony, I've found my way over here from your comment on Bobby's blog.
    This was just great - drew me in and kept me reading. I'd love to read more of your writing.