Peter Oakley, the “Internet’s Grandad,” didn’t let his 86 years prevent him from living as he pleased. The British retiree and World War II vet joined The Zimmers — the “oldest rock band in Britain” — and charted with a cover of The Who’s “My Generation.” He collaborated with a company called “You Are Never Too Old” to encourage seniors to learn new tech. And in 2006, Oakley started a YouTube channel under the tongue-in-cheek handle “geriatric1927” — 1927 being, of course, the year of his birth.
Oakley went on to become one of YouTube’s most charming personalities, competing — with his side-parted white hair and gnarled old sweaters — against a host of fresh-faced, digitally savvy punks young enough to be his great-grandchildren. For a one-month period in 2006, his channel was the site’s most popular.
“I would find it difficult to tell you what I do here as it doesn’t fit into any one genre,” reads Oakley’s improbably enticing bio. “I might cook a meal or read you a story or tell you what has been happening during the week in which I upload the video. It is kind of like ‘shooting the breeze’ so come in for a chat.”
Oakley would go on to film hundreds of short videos — some silly, some profound, most of them monotone and sweetly ordinary. He usually opens with an accented “hello YouTub-ahs!” and closes, smiling, with, “Until next time, goodbye!” He frequently discusses his childhood in Derbyshire, his experience as a World War II radar mechanic and a public-health inspector, and his thoughts on modern culture. (Too many curse words, too little courtesy.) Most of the videos are filmed in what appears to be a cluttered home office, books and papers and photographs piled on a desk behind him.
“There are millions of people without grandparents who find small comfort in old, simple, stories,” he explained to The Independent in 2012.
Oakley wasn’t the only famous grandparent on the Internet, of course — but his age and candor did make him an outlier on YouTube, where the average age skews closer to 16 than 60 and the top-trending videos often involve teenage pranks or pint-sized pop idols. In fact, the “Internet’s Grandad” frequently encouraged other seniors to get online, and he championed the web as a balm for the loneliness and isolation many experience in old age.
It makes sense, then, that Oakley also delivered his final goodbye on YouTube, in a Feb. 12 video simply titled “Series 2 — In Conclusion.” Oakley was moved to a nursing care facility after doctors discovered cancer too advanced to treat; a post by a friend on his blog, “Ask Geriatric,” said he died the morning of March 23.
“Before I leave I hope perhaps that I can give something back,” Oakley said in his fifth-anniversary video in 2010. “And the thing at the moment is to try to encourage more older people to embrace this technology of computers and the Internet.”
A friend told the BBC simply that the Internet “kept him young.”