Remembering Alan Jensen (‘Big Al’ And The ‘DJ’).
Having recently written a long-overdue tribute to The Record Shop’s Jack London and re-visited my days as a DJ at the Speakeasy Club in Kings Rd, I would now like to remember one of Hastings most charismatic characters –Alan Jensen.
In the early 1970’s a local businessman-Johnny Hodson, owned a record shop in the Old Town of Hastings entitled ‘The Disc Jockey’. The shop was doing very well but Hodson had other business interests (like the promotion of bands on Hastings Pier) and these were beginning to take up more and more of his time. Johnny decided to put an advert in the local paper for someone to help him run the shop. Alan Jensen (at this point working for Courts) applied for and got the job. Hodson and his wife (who ran a hairdressers shop in the Old Town) were well known locally and Johnny had political ambitions. In 1972 those political ambitions became a reality when Johnny was duly elected as a Hastings Councillor. Seeing his chance, Alan Jensen offered to buy Johnny out of the shop. His offer was accepted and the pair went their separate ways.
A larger than life character and a born showman, Alan soon managed to make a success of ‘The DJ’ (as it became more commonly known) and swiftly set about moving premises to a more central position in Hastings at the bottom of Queens Rd. For a short time, the shop was renamed ‘The Disc Jockey +1’ but Jensen had another way in mind about how to stamp his personality upon the shop… the invention of ‘Big Al’ - a caricature ‘mascot’ of Jensen himself (the medallion around the ‘creatures’ neck featured the words ‘I Like Big Al’).
‘Big Al’ was a massive success and gave the shop a unique (and very memorable) image. ‘Big Al’ appeared in all the shops newspaper advertisements and on all of the shops printed bags. With his beautiful and glamorous wife Sue at his side, Alan swiftly established ‘The DJ’ as the most popular and trendy place to buy your records in Hastings. A chart of the DJ’s best selling singles and albums appeared weekly in The Hastings Observer and regular ‘competitions and give-aways’ ensured that another smiling picture of Alan (along with the latest winner/s) was frequently in print. In short, Alan Jensen was not just a flamboyant and confident character he was a fine businessman.
Then of course there was the shop’s staff. As conclusively proven by his wife Sue, Alan was definitely a man with an eye for the ladies and invariably the shop would have a bevy of beauties behind the counter.
While in today’s day and age such a practice might be frowned upon, (like the similar period practice of offering ladies free entry to nightclubs) it certainly ensured that the DJ was frequented by most of the young male record buyers in the town… including me!
It is worth mentioning here also that in the 70’s and 80’s competition to The DJ was fierce and there was at least 8-10 places (not including second hand outlets) in Hastings town centre alone where you could buy records, tapes (and latterly cd’s). In fact, with the recent loss of Woolworths and the news that Zaavi have gone into administration, it is sobering to reflect on just how music and record shops importance to the nation has diminished in recent years. Should Zavvi close, only WH Smiths and Morrison’s will now remain in Hastings as places where full price chart products can be purchased.
I have to confess at this point that I did not know Alan or Sue particularly well, but as a regular to their shop (along with a friend of mine Simon Griffiths – a man known to ALL record shop owners from the period) am writing this piece with genuine fondness for The DJ was the focal point for most music lovers in Hastings at the time and the DJ sale truly a monumental event!
It is no exaggeration to say that some would even queue OVERNIGHT outside the DJ to be first through the doors on the first day of the sale. Alan would offer crazy promotions like for instance the new Duran Duran album for 10p to the first 10 people to ask for it. There would be literally hundreds of incredibly cheap items and you could fill as many carrier bags as you could carry for a nominal fee if (like me) you were prepared to ‘take a chance’ on cheapies that you hadn’t heard. How many of you recall the DJ’s ‘Mystery Bags’? A bag full of 12’’ singles for a £1, to me they were simply heaven and I would spend hours and hours going through the records I got playing them and swapping with friends that had also ‘gone mad’ on them.
Other memorable moments associated with Alan Jensen and The DJ include when Alan insisted on displaying John Lennon’s ‘Two Virgins’ record sleeve (features John and Yoko Ono naked) on the walls of the shop despite a number of complaints. The shop also drew up a petition regarding the controversial film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ campaigning for it to be shown in local cinemas. Alan Jensen was quite obviously a man that liked to get his own way then? Maybe so, but as a man so ahead of his time in his thinking, should we perhaps be surprised that he was also ‘ahead of the game’ as a businessman? Quite simply, ‘The Disc Jockey’ remained the most successful record shop in Hastings for some 23 years.
Tragically, the Alan Jensen, ‘Big Al’ and the DJ story was not to have a happy ending however.
With the boom in the national consumption of records and music in the 80’s, so more ‘multiple’ shops like Virgin, HMV and Our Price began to appear all over the country. In 1984 (while working at Stylus Records – one of the town’s other record shops) I heard it rumoured that the Our Price chain was looking to open a shop in Hastings. This was quite simply BAD news for all of Hastings independent shops as with large chain stores inevitably come large discounts and ‘under cutting’. As with all large businesses, the ability to buy in bulk gives them the power to push manufacturers for big discounts, this in turn allowing them to undercut rivals prices. However well established and loved the DJ’ was, Alan Jensen knew that the arrival of an Our Price in the town could put him out of business. When then the Our Price group expressed an interest in buying the DJ (VERY reluctantly) Alan decided to sell.
The decision to sell however was heavily influenced by Alan’s failing health. In December 1984 Jensen had gone into hospital for an eye operation. Sadly, the operation had not been a success and in July 1985 Alan Jensen lost the sight in his right eye. Worse news soon followed and he was told that he could soon lose the sight in his other eye to.
On August 7th 1985 (just after the closure of the DJ) Alan attempted to commit suicide using car exhaust fumes. Though he was found and rescued on that occasion, after a period of treatment in Hellingly hospital a few days later at 8am Alan told staff that he was ‘going for a walk’. A woman out walking her dog found his body hanging by a belt from the branch of an apple tree, several crates having been stacked underneath. A note saying ‘Can’t function without DJ’ was found nearby and the Alan Jensen success story was over aged just 51.
Through the pages of this magazine and the words I have written in this article, I should like to say a big THANK YOU to Alan, Sue and all of the former employee’s of The Disc Jockey. I (like so many people reading this I am sure) have so many happy memories of them and the shop to cherish from my youth and music and the pop charts REALLY meant something to us all in those days…happy memories for an obsessive music lover like me.
Antony May 4/1/09 Amended 17 and 18/01/09
Yes, great to read all about it. Like so many others I have very fond memories of DJ & 'Big Al' and buying my first albums & singles there.
I am sorry to say I was unaware of the sad ending to 'Big Al' as around that time i was away in the Middle East for long periods of time.
Greatly missed and the modern shops are not a patch on the great DJ. Comment: Glen Piper.
(Mar 8, 2014) Lucy Pappas said:Goodness, that brought back a few memories. Always went to the Disc Jockey on a Sat afternoon. I gave my extensive singles collection to one of my sons recently, many of the 45s still in Disc Jockey bags.
(Mar 8, 2014) Lynny Aldridge said:I remember sitting in one of the booths at the back of the shop with headphones listening to whatever LP we wanted to listen to, lovely memories 🔊💿🎸🎤🎵🎶
(Mar 8, 2014) Alun Hoskins said:What a man and what a shop. Bought all my singles and LP's there in the 70's. I'll always remember his distinctive voice and whenever he didn't have what you wanted in stock, after looking out the back, he would always start with "I've just looked...." It would be in within a few days. Happy memories and a very sad end.
(Mar 7, 2014) Anonymous said:I remember alan, in the 1970s I worked in Chelsea girl,that was right opposite disc jockey,was allways in there buying records.
(June 14, 2013) BrendaBlythe said:Thanks for writing this down. Brings back happy memories. I went out with Alan around 1965 and he was a really lovely guy I was besotted as one is at 18. Remember his car registration number OPM 630 Think it was a Morris Oxford remember gigs around town and out in the country.
(Apr 15, 2013) Roger Hewett said:I remember Alan J well, in the 1960's would buy most of my records from him [then leg it to the in-place The Pamdor for a coffee and a burger!!] Didn't know him well but he was always friendly and polite. I was a projectionist at the Gaiety cinema and we would advertise his shop onscreen in return for an LP each month which we would play during the intervals. Happy, simple days, but a sad end for Alan.
(Feb 25, 2013) Andre Palfrey-Martin said:Well spotted lloyde, but in fact I would say that the dates should be from the late 1950s, the shops [all FOUR] originated in late 1950s in High Street Hastings, also in Queens Road and Kings Road. By about 1964 the main operations were run from Quuens Road, the 2 Queens Road, next to Wards and almost oposite the PAM DOR was from ealry 1968. AJ was very much involved with running dances etc within the town and many local groups started with his assistance. John Hodgeson was 3 times Mayor of Hastings and served the town as a councellor for many years.Both the wives - Sue for AJ and Rita for John worked in the show at different times and were well know my youngsters alike.
(Feb 25, 2013) Andre Palfrey-Martin said:Well spotted lloyde, but in fact I would say that the dates should be from the late 1950s, the shops [all FOUR] originated in late 1950s in High Street Hastings, also in Queens Road and Kings Road. By about 1964 the main operations were run from Quuens Road, the 2 Queens Road, next to Wards and almost oposite the PAM DOR was from ealry 1968. AJ was very much involved with running dances etc within the town and many local groups started with his assistance. John Hodgeson was 3 times Mayor of Hastings and served the town as a councellor for many years.Both the wives - Sue for AJ and Rita for John worked in the show at different times and were well know my youngsters alike. flag like
(Jan 19, 2013) Lloyd Johnson said:Shouldn't that be the early 60s???...
(May 13, 2012) D Howells said:This is the carrier bag featuring the Big Al logo .. c/o 1066 Onlinepic60.picturetrail.com/VOL1730/11038906/20874948/395261681.jpg
(Dec 15, 2014) I worked at the disc jockey in the sixties it was an amazing job for a young girl to be in, I really loved going to work, and alan was a great boss, lots of very happy memories that will never leave me, and so many characters that frequented the shop, it was more like a never ending social life than work, always laughing and having fun, I was so lucky to be a part of it.
Jackie Glover (was Clayton)
I came across this site looking for old record shop, to, which this story has filed in a few gaps about the life and times of the Disc Jockey. It was a very sad end to a great shop and people. In my late teens, if I was in town, I would go into the shop and more times than not, buy something. I was very particular about the condition of the pressing and on many occasions would be back exchanging them! I remember once Sue going through all the pressing of an album, everyone had the same mark, hence what was common in those days, a pressing error. The young ladies were also great and up for a chat on the latest release, what ever happened to them? I still have a LP bag framed on the wall of my study, been there for over ten years now. My sister in law found it when she moved, it was deep in an old box and she knew how much I loved the shop, which was also the the people.
So sad to see what is happening to the music market now, just faceless MP3, no lovely album art work and anymore and people to talk to about your love of music! Thanks for the trip down memory lane : )
I so remember The Disc `jockey and "Big Al". In 1979 and 1980 I always had Saturday off and so I would take the bus from Northiam to Hastings. The first place I would always, always head for was The Disc Jockey.. That shop was one of a kind. You don't get record shops like this any more. When I left the area. If ever I visited the town I would always fo back and say hello. The last rime I visited was 1983. The next time I visited was December 1985. By then, yes, it had been taken over by Our Price. Very very sad to hear of "Big Als". tragic passing. RIP.
I remember buying God Save the Queen by Sex pistols at Disc Jockey in 1977. Then years later I ordered a completely different type of music.I ordered Gong L.P. called Flying Teapot, and Opium.for the people.
Karen Riggs (2023)
Image Colin Rattue (Pastic Cover)
1975 Music Week. I worked at the DJ for 2-3 years in the mid 70’s. Alan was the most fun boss any teenager could wish to work for. I would get complimentary tickets for gigs on the pier and even in Alexandra park. Again every young girls dream. By the way I am standing next to sue in the photo with the horse and yes Sue was and still is beautiful. Another memory was being photographed with the luxembourg 208 dj Tony Prince when he came to the store. Made front page of the local paper the Observer.