Hanging Up The Headphones
Following 18 years presenting on BBC Radio Lancashire, John ‘Gilly’ Gillmore has moved on to the next chapter of his impressive broadcast career. He discusses his radio journey, favourite moments and future plans with Alma Stewart. Photography: Michael Porter
It was in November 1967 when John Gillmore, a young chap from Prescott, listened to the first broadcast of Radio Merseyside and decided his future career – a radio DJ.
Though receiving no encouragement for this career at school, John was determined that no matter what, he was going to present on the radio. Over a cup of tea at a café in Preston, John explained: “The school career advisor asked me what ‘real’ career I was going to pursue, but I wasn’t dissuaded by this – I knew I would find a way.”
Once he left school in 1971, John started work at the Co-Op and when Radio Piccadilly, Manchester’s first independent radio station, started in 1974, John recorded himself reading advertisements from his local paper and submitted the tapes to them. Next thing he knew, he had a job reading ads for the station. “I used to work at Piccadilly on my day off from the Co-Op and earned more in one day at the radio than I did all week at the shop!” he said. He would later go on to cut a deal with the Co-Op where he could continue his radio work as long as he would host the shop’s events and talk on the Tannoy. Eventually, John read their adverts on radio too.
Later that decade, John volunteered at Whiston Hospital on their hospital radio programmes where he met fellow DJ Derek Webster. In the Eighties, Liverpool’s Radio City ran their ‘Give A Jock A Job’ competition, asking would-be presenters to send in a demo tape. John got down to the final five but didn’t win. Derek Webster, now working at Preston’s Red Rose Radio, mentioned John for some freelance slots. His one shift in 1985 grew to regular weekends (still keeping his job at the Co-Op each Saturday) and became full time in 1987.
“It was a rule at the time that the presenters had to live in the area of the station which was at St Paul’s Square, just outside Preston city centre, so we moved to Lea where we have remained ever since. I had various slots at Red Rose – news programmes, lunchtime slots and evenings and of course, the mornings with Geoff Carter with Gilly and Carter’s Breakfast Show. We even had a column in the Preston Citizen newspaper called Gilly and Carter’s Words of Wisdom, where we would reflect on the programme’s highlights and run competitions.”
A shake up at the station in 1998 saw the end of John’s Red Rose Radio slots so he found a place at The Bay radio in Morecambe: “I’d always love The Bay,” he said, “so I was delighted to get the chance to work there. I really enjoyed it and the listeners were great.”
Having always wanted to work for the BBC, John got the chance in 2005 when managing editor at BBC Radio Lancashire, John Clayton, contacted John with an opportunity which led to an 18-year stint at the Blackburn-based station. “We had so much fun at Radio Lancashire,” he said, “with so many highlights. The 30 days of Summer was a series of outside broadcasts across Lancashire and that was a great experience as was covering the TT Races in the Isle of Man. We also used to broadcast live from the Harris Museum before Covid put an end to it. Sometimes I have had to pinch myself. I’ve interviewed icons such as Michael Parkinson, Michael Caine and Buzz Aldrin and all of them were very generous interviewees. But some of the best interviews were with the ordinary Lancashire folk. It really hasn’t felt like work at all.”
More recently, John has manned the evening show broadcasting across both Lancashire and Cumbria. Following a change to the station’s schedules that now combine other BBC broadcasts, Gilly’s last show at Radio Lancashire was on 5th October where a number of invited guests joined in the last broadcast from the Radio Theatre studio on Darwen Street.
Over his 38 years in radio, John has won a number of awards. In 2014 he broke the Guinness World Record for the most face-to-face radio interviews in 24 hours – 239 people. He’s been Marketing Lancashire’s Tourism Superstar and a Lancashire Ambassador. His latest award came as a bit of a shock: “I have been presenting BID Preston’s High Street Heroes Awards since 2012 and in October’s ceremony, I was taken aback to be presented with The High Street Heroes Proud Preston Ambassador Award. I was really happy to receive it as I had no idea I had won.”
Though he may have hung up his headphones for now, there are many plans for the next chapter. John concluded: “Radio presenters never retire. I have had a lot of offers of freelance work to compere events and am even hosting a coach tour from Blackburn to Morecambe. I am lucky that I have worked in radio in its best times and have had the greatest listeners, who I have viewed as friends. The secret, I have found, to get the best interviews is to really listen to the guest to create the next question and bring out the best in them. I have absolutely loved talking to the wonderful people of Lancashire over the years. Thanks so much for listening.”