Incredibly, it's 30 years ago this week that ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood was banned from the BBC playlist, with the enduring back story that one DJ was responsible for its veto, and thus for millions of titillated listeners buying it in bucketloads, too.
The myth goes something like this… that Mike Read, then sitting on what was basically the throne of BBC pop – host of Radio 1 Breakfast Show, TV’s 'Saturday Superstore', Saturday evening’s 'Pop Quiz' AND regular 'Top of the Pops' duties – was playing the record live on Radio 1 in January 1984 when he suddenly lifted the stylus from the vinyl, pronounced the lyrics “obscene”, banned it from his playlist and then watched in horror as it stormed to the top of the charts, and went on to sell two million copies in the UK.
In truth, it's nothing quite so dramatic, sadly. Mike Read can recount with impressive accuracy the true events as they occurred that day…
“There were just two of us in the studio, myself and Adrian John,” he remembers. “We were planning our usual chart rundown for the week. We had to drop one of the records for timing, and we only had the 12” inch version (that means a longer play, 21st-century people) so it was always going to be that one we dropped.
"Then Adrian happened to remark on the phallus that he’d spotted on the back of the record, and started reading out the lyrics, but we’d already agreed to drop the record for timing.”
When Frankie then headed to the top of the charts, the myth grew, and has somehow endured, that somehow Mike Read had been defeated in his quest to keep the station innuendo-free.
“It was already at number three, it was always going to go to number one,” he explains now.
“Paul Morley, who managed Frankie, capitalised on it very well, made me the face of the opposition, but I’m a BBC employee, I can’t go around banning records."
Although Frankie, with their charismatic showman Holly Johnson at the front, were an openly gay-friendly band, the song itself, with its stunning bassline production crafted by Trevor Horn, is not gay-orientated, just explicitly sexual, with lyrics explaining graphically how to delay orgasm, point 'laserbeams' and the like.
“It’s a great song, no doubt about it, brilliant dance track,” says Mike Read today.
“It was more the video that was the problem. My producer had gone home to discover his two young daughters rewinding Frankie’s graphic video, showing buggery and people urinating on each other, and Chris Bellinger, then head of Children’s Entertainment, decided this probably shouldn’t go anywhere near our programmes. And the song got lumped in with it.”
How much have we changed in the three decades since then, I wonder. The most recent record to get the thumbs-down in certain parts was Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, with institutions such as London University vetoing its blatant sexism – a much more politicised, intellectual reaction than Frankie caused.
Mike Read acknowledges, too, that the BBC’s influence is not what it was when he was hosting three TV pop shows a week, and speaking to 14 million viewers a day from his Radio 1 perch.
However, he doesn’t think Frankie’s original video would get through now any more than it did then…
“I think we’ve gone full circle to more prurient times,” he reflects. “Back in the 90s, it would have been ‘what was all that fuss about?’ but now we’re more careful again. With all the latest hoo-ha, from the BBC’s point of view, I think they’d make the same decision again.
“In the meantime, so many other records have been banned, but everyone still remembers Frankie saying ‘Relax’.”
So what would Mike ban instead? “Oh, definitely some of my own records, not Frankie.”
Mike Read now broadcasts for BBC Radio Berkshire. WATCH: Frankie's 'Relax' - the inoffensive version of the band in action below...