“I've always loved music, it had been a long-held ambition to have my own radio show.”
Back in 2021, we interviewed resident John Flanner MBE for the Abbeyfield blog. Since then, John has published a new volume of his autobiography. We caught up with him to hear about his recent passions.
John’s story is truly remarkable. Having suffered a hearing impairment since childhood and going blind at 19 years of age, he went on to forge a successful career in the civil service, learn new skills as a motivational speaker, and has even authored five books since turning 60, the most recent of which, ‘Striding Forward’, was published in November 2023.
“My love of writing started many years ago as a teenager, when I went to matches to watch my beloved Aston Villa. I kept a scrapbook and wrote up my own reports, which I always thought were much better than those in the Sunday newspapers! When I had to give up my original dream of being a professional footballer, becoming a sportswriter was my next choice. However, the prospect of another year at school and further academic qualifications was enough to scare me off.
“Much later, in my late 50’s, when I started going around the country giving motivational speeches for the civil service, I received over 400 emails from people who had enjoyed my talks. Around a hundred of them said I had so many great stories that I should write a book. I heeded their advice, and within a year I had finished the first volume of my autobiography, Fear, Fun & Faith. I published it in 2009 and took it with me to my talks; it was so popular that I couldn’t keep up with the demand!”
John has since written three further volumes – Bitzaro to Buckingham (2015), Beautiful Game, Beautiful Memories (2017, about his love of football), and Striding Forward (2023) – alongside The Well Overflows, a collection of 55 articles around positivity and hope, first posted on Facebook during the 2020 lockdown.
“I thought Fear, Fun & Faith would be my first and only book, but interesting things keep happening in my life, good and bad, and I love to try to draw the positives from every situation. I realise now that people find that inspirational and encouraging, and if it’s helping people then I’m happy to keep on writing.”
John found a new way to reach an audience when, in the spring of 2022, he took notice of an advert reading ‘New radio station for Solihull’.
“I have always loved radio and music, and it had been a long-held ambition to have my own show. The new On Your Radio Solihull station was looking for volunteers to be presenters, so I called them up immediately. Despite unconventionally leading with ‘I’m 75 years of age, completely blind and severely hearing impaired, but I am passionate about radio!’, I was offered a weekly slot playing 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s music.
“I approached my good friend, Allan Davis, to be my co-presenter and provide some crucial sighted assistance on the tech side. ‘Flanner & Allan’ was the name that Allan had always used for the two of us, as it reminded him of the old music hall act, Flanagan & Allen, so it naturally became the name for the show.
“I’m delighted to say it’s one of the station’s most popular programmes. We like having guests on to pick their own favourites, we have a music-themed game for our listeners, and a segment when Allan quizzes me on a particular artist or band. I also take the opportunity to tell the odd story when I can too.”
“I very much enjoy my life here. I love the fact that I have people around to talk to and I try to pass on my positive attitude as much as I can.
“The staff are also incredibly helpful. I got a bit too hot in the garden one day and felt a bit disorientated when I tried to find my way back to my first floor flat. One of the carers offered to help me and I told her that, if she could sing, I could follow the sound of her voice. By pure chance, she began singing You Are My Sunshine, which was an especially significant song for Sylvia and I. Sylvia was absolutely my sunshine and hearing it again at Abbeyfield made me feel like I was somehow nearer to her and completely at home.”
John is still a season ticket holder at Aston Villa with his son, Ian, and also enjoys reading autobiographies, a particular favourite being Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘I Am Ozzy’.
“I don’t care for his music much, but Ozzy received the first star on the Birmingham Walk of Stars, and I found out that he grew up in a nearby street from me in Aston! We eventually went down totally different paths in life – he is a multi-multi-millionaire, whereas I went blind – but I think I got the better deal in the end. He is still searching for the meaning of life, whereas I feel absolutely fulfilled and at peace as a Christian.”
John’s radio show, Flanner & Allan, is live on Thursdays at 7pm and on demand at onyourradio.co.uk and on your smart speaker.