Nina, The Alien Next Door, tagged me with an Eight Random Facts meme the other day (8th September). It’s had me thinking hard ever since! Why’s it so difficult to come up with just eight — hopefully interesting — facts about myself, considering I’ve been around for 52 years? Surely I must’ve achieved something noteworthy during that time? Hmmm. Well, let’s see …
I’ve driven an underground tube train. It was part of my training to be a guard on the London Underground in the early 1970s, when tube trains still had two-man crews (a motorman — that’s the driver — and a guard). For two weeks of my eight-week training course I had to learn to drive one of these behemoths, shadowed by a motorman. After years of travelling on the underground as a passenger, it was very exciting being able to see what was actually up ahead down in those dark, forbidding tunnels. The trains were equipped with responsive, electrically-controlled pneumatic brakes that were quite effective at stopping these lumbering beasts quickly, but they were also equipped with an older-style, slow-response Westinghouse braking device as a sort of fail-safe which had to be tested at the last station platform of each run. As the brake was applied, air could be heard rushing through the pipes, but nothing would happen for maybe ten seconds or more, so the trick was to apply it long before the point where the better brake would normally be used. I never got the hang of it and always either overshot the platform by half a train or more, or pulled up way too short, throwing the passengers all over the place as the train juddered to an ungainly halt. I wrote a poem inspired by riding on the back of these trains late one night in 1974 — The Nightmen is in my Writing Archive.
I taught myself to play guitar – upside-down. Not literally, I don’t mean I was playing it while hanging from the ceiling lights — but being left-handed, and with guitars generally being made for right-handed people, I didn’t bother to re-string it but learnt the finger positions for most of the basic chords upside-down. This worked for a while, but when I eventually bought a better quality guitar and started trying to learn more complex chords, the whole business fell down as my fingers became tied in impossible knots. So I had it properly re-strung for a left-handed player (which involved repositioning the bridge) and then went through the process of teaching myself the chords all over again, this time using the correct finger positions. Unfortunately my teenaged fingers took ages to unlearn the upside-down chords and my ability to develop into the next Paul McCartney (another left-hander) was hopelessly compromised.
I founded and edited a crop circle magazine. In 1989, I became fascinated by crop circles, having visited a number of them around Wiltshire and Hampshire. In July 1990 I stepped inside a pictogram that had appeared in a field at Alton Barnes, Wiltshire (pictured right) and spent the afternoon measuring every aspect of it. I wasn’t alone — there were several people wandering around with notebooks and measuring tapes all doing the same thing. I thought, “Why are we all duplicating this work? Surely it only needs to be done once.” It was from this visit that I had the idea of creating a crop circle magazine which I called The Circular. The first few home-spun editions featured most of my own articles and diagrams, but with the help of a friend I soon expanded it into a properly printed journal that included contributions from many other enthusiasts. It continued under my editorship for several quarterly issues until my obsession with the phenomenon waned in the wake of the Doug and Dave hoaxing fiasco and I handed it on to the Centre for Crop Circle Studies (CCCS), who continued to use it as their in-house journal. I’m not sure if the CCCS is still going. Amazingly, there’s a crop circle article of mine still available on the web — The Earliest Crop Circle was written in 1994, concerns a possible crop circle reference I found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and is the only thing I’ve ever written that’s earned me money: an abridged version of the article was used in a crop circle calendar published in the USA some years after it appeared in the CCCS’s version of The Circular. I received the princely sum of $50.
I’ve been the first on-air voice on three UK commercial radio stations. After beginning my professional radio career in the Commercial Production Department at Pennine Radio in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1979 and covering some weekend breakfast shows there, I was then offered a job as the breakfast DJ on a new station, DevonAir Radio (now Gemini FM) in Exeter, Devon, which I opened as the first on-air voice in 1980. In 1992 I was once again in the hotseat as the first DJ on air for Spire FM in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and then, in the early 1990s, I opened Gold Radio (now Vale FM) in Shaftesbury, Dorset.
I’ve been lucky enough to have met some memorable people.
Sir Patrick Moore is the UK’s most beloved amateur astronomer who’s made his subject accessible to so many people during fifty years of passionately presenting The Sky At Night every month on BBC TV. (He’s missed only two programmes in all that time.) I went to his home in Selsey on the south coast in the 1990s and spent a few very happy hours there interviewing him. He showed me his refractor in the shed in his back garden, and then he entertained me by expertly playing his xylophone for me. Magical.
Sir Cliff Richard joined me on my breakfast show at County Sound Radio in Guildford, Surrey, again in the 1990s, to be present as we split the FM and AM transmissions for the first time (the first station in the country to do so) — the FM side became Premier FM, while AM continued with a separate schedule as County Sound Gold. We each played a different Cliff song on our respective transmitters.
Rolf Harris was another visitor to my breakfast show at County Sound during the 90s. He dashed off a number of caricatures of our staff with that amazing artistic talent of his and was a delight to interview. A wonderful man — polite, friendly and very funny.
Michael Bentine was in town to give a talk about crop circles, so we grabbed him for my County Sound breakfast show. He was most famous for being a member of The Goons, a sort of forerunner to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and for inventing crazy television shows such as Potty Time and It’s A Square World. He was also very interested in paranormal phenomena and as such he was a fascinating person to chat with — read what happened when I ran him back to his house in my Writing Archive post Noises Off.
I clocked up 186,000 miles in my previous car, a Toyota Carina II, before it finally gave up the ghost. It took me fifteen years. Light covers the same distance in one second. 186,000 miles is about seven and three-quarters times around the Earth’s equator, or about three-quarters of the way to the Moon. It took the Apollo spacecraft about three days to travel to the Moon. If I’d attempted the same journey in my car (assuming a speed of 70 miles an hour), it would have taken about five months. Not including comfort breaks. At 40 miles to the gallon, I’d need about 12,000 gallons to make the round trip at a cost today of around £55,000. I think I’ll leave it to the NASA boys …
I’ve earned £732,838.74. It’s taken me nineteen years. I started keeping track of my income in November 1988 when I became a full-time voice-over man (with occasional forays back into radio presentation). That’s an average of about £38,570 a year — before expenses and taxes, mind you — and of course some years have been very good while others have been very poor. As I’m now 52, and with over £250k to go before I hit the million mark (and now bringing in a rather more modest 12k a year before stoppages), I think I can safely say I won’t make it before I either retire or drop dead.
I am not really who you think I am. Bob Kingsley is not my given name. I changed it by Deed Poll in 1990, though I adopted my BK moniker much earlier than that, while still a schoolboy. From the age of 12, I was determined to get a job as a radio DJ when I grew up. Fortunately, there was another boy at my school who felt as passionate about the subject as I did and we soon gravitated toward each other — particulary as he’d built a “radio studio” in his bedroom out of radiogram parts and old tape recorders. We worshipped the 60s pirate radio DJs and wanted to be like them. Since most of them had changed their names, either because their given names didn’t really sound very DJ-ish, or because having a different name from their DJ names on their passports meant they didn’t get stopped going through customs, we decided we had to change our names too. (It also helped that we both disliked the names with which our parents had saddled us.) So one day we picked up a Record Mirror, turned to the letters page and scanned the names of the contributors. We chose a couple — Bob Laine and Dave Kingsley — and swapped them around. From that point on, he became known as Dave Laine and I became Bob Kingsley. Dave never made it into the radio business, deciding instead that a life as a conductor on the London buses was for him — though he did change his name by Deed Poll, and much earlier than I did. I’ve no idea what he’s doing now, as we lost touch years ago. So what was my given name? Ahh, sorry — I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Just call me Somerset Bob and have done with it.
And that concludes my Eight Random Facts About Me. Thanks, Nina. That was a really brain-frying (though ultimately satisfying) experience!