|R A D I O L O N D O N Ed Stewart 1941-2016|
While visiting Hong Kong and intending to work as a musician, circumstances
caused Ed Stewart to start a broadcasting career with Radio Hong Kong. He
returned to the UK in 1965 hoping to work on one of the offshore radio
stations. Radio Caroline had no vacancies, but Radio London took him on as a
summer relief. This soon became a permanent position, and an appointment to
Our condolences go out to his family and friends.
For the production of East Anglian Productions documentary CD set The Wonderful Radio London Story, Ray Anderson spoke to a number of Big L deejays, among them Ed Stewart. Ray started by asking Ed about his first radio experience…...
My first was with Radio Hong Kong. I went out there in 1961 as a musician, well, I went out thinking I was going to be a musician in a band, but when I got there, the whole job was cancelled. I talked my way into this job as a film critic and as a Rugby reporter and as a news reader, with Radio Hong Kong and I stayed for four years. Then the Pirate ships had started and I came back in the beginning of 1965. Radio London wanted a holiday relief and I went out in July of 1965 and the rest is history so they say.
What was your first experience of life on board a ship, did you find it a rather odd way of doing broadcasting?
Fairly odd at first because even going out from Harwich on that very first visit, to see whether they wanted me and I wanted to stay there. I think Duncan Johnson was on the boat and we were talking, he was a Canadian so we had something in common, in as much as my father was a “Newfy”, but we got out there and it was very very basic and I thought well, but what else was I going to do? Because I'd been working for the Central Office of Information since I'd come back from Hong Kong which was very intermittent work and I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to last all that time playing pop music. I suppose in a way I was a bit of a musical snob, but then I thought "wait a minute, you've got to get a job, you've got to do something and this is about the only thing that's going". Nothing was going at the BBC because everybody was already established. So looking back of course the only thing I could do was that, and I made the right move at the time, when I started I was still on holiday relief and we were going off the air at nine at night, then they decided, because of the popularity and the extra advertising they were getting they could afford to stay open for another three hours, at one transmission that is, so they offered me a full time job, that's when I really stayed for good.
Which air shift did you do? didn't you end up on three to six or was it twelve to three?
No I ended up on three `till six, ironic isn't it I'm doing that now. Yes three `till six, but I used to do them all, I think my first one was six `till nine, yes I remember my very first one was six `till nine o'clock, then I did all sorts, I used to do the Top Forty on a Sunday. I used Paul Kaye, one of the newsreaders, we used to listen to the news on the BBC, rewrite it and then broadcast it, because we didn't actually have Reuters or we didn't have any wire service so to speak, we just actually nicked it mostly from the BBC and especially The World at One. I remember one famous occasion on April Fools Day that they put a couple of funny stories in and we rewrote them and put them out ourselves, we got a telegram from the BBC, from the Home Service saying, "ner ner ner ner nee".
What was actually done? Was it just taped, then played back and rewritten?
Yes, that's how we did it, we would tape it off the radio set we had and then play it back, but we'd make the lead story different, so we didn't want to be obviously pinching their news, if there was something that could be the lead story which hadn't been the BBC's. Well this is what we did with the April Fool, we were probably going to come to that later but that was one of our famous tricks, that was one of our own April Fools, but the BBC, good luck to that particular news team at the time, they had a sense of humour and actually got us.
How did all the presenters get names then? How did that come about?
Well we were going to do a trail for our Easter programme and Tony Windsor was on that week before, we were all talking round the mess table thinking “how shall we get this going”, and somebody had been sent a box of chocolates, Black Magic they were, and he suddenly said, "I know, we'll all take girls names and become an Easter chocolate box", and so we did that. Everybody got names, I was Sally Stewart, there was Lela Lennox, there was Edith Everett, Wendy Windsor and we all became Hazel Clusters, Nougat Crunch and it was just one of those things, but some of the names stuck. Like with that guy, that great big butch transmitter engineer David Hawkins, I think it was David Hawkins became Hermoine, and he was very embarrassed, he had a girlfriend at the time, he was the only one who seemed to have a regular girlfriend. He was a great big guy and this girl was very quiet and short and timid, but she seemed to rule him, so he'd say, "don't tell her, don't tell her, for goodness sake, my name's not Hermoine it's David", "sorry mate".
How did the Myrtle thing come about? Because that's something I think you established more towards late `66, `67 maybe.
The Myrtle thing came about when we were doing one of these trail sessions one night, and I was always a great lover of that “Balham Gateway to the Sun” of Peter Sellers, and "Honey's off dear", like that ghastly woman in the Tropicana tea rooms or whatever it was. I think one of the guys I was doing it with said, "where is Balham by the way?" or "where is Catford?", I said "it's down south east London", he said "oh well they're Bellham then", I said, "yeah it is, wait a minute I've got an idea going". So we then started this thing going, "hello Catford" "hello dear", "we're going to be down your way on Thursday night for the.." I can't remember the name of the club”. Well Myrtle came about with that trail, which became very popular and so every time we did one for Catford and we were going to Catford, we had to have Myrtle in on it, and so she stuck. Tony Brandon who was then on, he used to have her boyfriend who was called (deep voice) `Sid', and he used to do all this for `Sid' you see, we used to have such fun doing these doubles, and we kept it going after the Pirate ships finished. In fact my mother so loved Sid and Myrtle that she used to keep Dachshunds and the next two of the litter she had to name, boy and girl, were Sid and Myrtle.
Did Myrtle get any fan mail or anything?
Oh yes, Myrtle was adored, in actual fact I think I might have made a slight mistake, because towards the end of the run I was going out with a very beautiful blonde who used to go to all these gigs with me, she was an unlikely Myrtle but I used to introduce her on stage as Myrtle, that side of it never really caught on. It was just one of those people you could say "hello dear" and then everybody came along to talk to you.
The other thing I want to ask you is about the April Fools joke, which for my money is probably one of the best April Fools jokes that I've ever heard on radio and I think it would be very difficult to top. How did that come about that ideal.
Well by April of 1967 we realised that this was going to be it, whether it was April, August or October, this was going to be the last year of Radio London and the Pirates, so we decided we had to do something for April fools day, as with most great jokes or April Fools it was so simple it was ridiculous. In the broadcast studio which was in the Bows, almost in the Bilge of Radio London, we had three turntables, or was it two? three. So what we decided to do was this, instead of using one of our own voices which however much one tried to pretend, to do a Peter Sellers and put a funny voice on, somebody would recognise it, Tony Brandon was always very good at voices but his voice was then becoming fairly distinguishable. So we thought we'd use one of the engineers, and funnily enough it was Hermoine Hawkins that we started with, and then we had a guy from Norwich who was also an engineer, who was very broad Norfolk, "have you got a loight boy?" one of those, so we thought we'd use him. What we did was we said, "now what we want you to do is to say, when I point my finger, calling Radio Norfolk, calling Radio Norfolk, testing, testing, testing, this is Radio Norfolk on..." now what was the wave band? 1260, oh yes.
You called it Radio East Anglia.
I'll do the story again so I get it right. So I can't remember but I think it was Martin, I think his name was Martin, but anyway he was a local Norfolk boy, a Norwich boy, and we said to him, "look, what we want to do is you pretend that you're the testing voice for a new radio station on 1268 mw". We were 1266, so it kept crashing in, the whole point of it was that it kept crashing in on what we were doing, all we did was to keep the music playing on the turntable, have a sound effect of crackles on another turntable, open the mike and tell this guy Martin to go, "testing, testing, testing, Radio East Anglia, Radio East Anglia, transmitting from a disused signal box on the Norwich Kings Lynn railway, testing, te.." and then we'd cut him off you see, as if he'd been cut off. Then the music would go and I'd start talking as if I knew nothing had happened, because we didn't know what the output was right. In the meantime back at 17 Carton Street they're going potty, they're thinking, "God, somebody's doing us, somebody's usurping Wonderful Radio London", so eventually another twenty minutes later it came back out, and each time I cut myself off in mid sentence and he came straight in, "testing Radio East Anglia, if you have received our call please would you phone this number". So all this went on you see, by which time now 17 Curzon Street really don't know what's happening, because they haven't recognised the voice you see, it's none of us and we've got this Norfolk boy doing it. We wrote a special news cast for Keith Skues to read because he was doing the midday one, and we made up all these ridiculous stories, one of which was about Jayne Mansfield, who was then visiting the country, and unbeknown to our listeners "she is a great antiques collector and has one of the largest pair of jugs in the business", that was one. The other one was, "a zebra has been seen crossing the road in Slough, anybody having seen a zebra please call slough..." and then we gave a phone number which happened to be Alan Keens home phone number, so he was inundated with calls the entire weekend from people saying they've seen a zebra crossing his road. All this business went on and the next day in the Sunday Express we read the news that ‘Radio London and Curzon Street were taking thousands of calls from worried listeners thinking there was a new station', we had a call via the ship's Captain to say that Keith Skues and I had to get on the tender on Monday and we were both fired. Monday morning another phone call came back, April Fool to us, it was all a joke, so we were hoisted in one way by our own patase, but it was great fun doing that one I tell you, great fun. Now at twelve o'clock we all went back to normal alright because of the whole thing, but it actually made the Sunday Nationals.
Did you feel sad leaving the ship for the last time or were you glad to get off it?
I think I might have been at the time but I think everyone actually was very glad to get off; because the thought of doing another two weeks, three weeks aboard was, it was becoming so we didn't want anymore. I couldn't wait, I mean once as I knew it was finishing I thought well I'm not getting off, I'm going down with my ship so to speak, but we couldn't wait for the end of it because we wanted to see what the future held, and what this new Radio One and Radio Two were going to be like. They took us all on at the BBC and it was rather like a new bit of decorating, they threw us all on the wall and whoever stuck stayed, and that famous photograph outside All Souls here, you know, you can look at that forever and think, "my God, whatever happened to so and so?", because it's one of those almost timeless photographs and you can see what's happened to everybody, it's fascinating. How many years is it now? It's nearly thirty years since it finished, so it's nearly thirty years since that photograph was taken, unbelievably, I can remember about that moment itself, I nearly missed that photograph, they'd said that the reception for the photograph was going to be held in Broadcasting House in a certain room, I got the room number wrong and I went to the wrong place. I was walking around in my white suit as it was and people were looking at me very strangely, because the BBC was still pretty square in those days, and I said, "I'm meant to be at the photographic thing", "oh they're all out on the steps at the church", and I only got there just in time, I nearly missed that photograph.
Finally I'll just ask you, any amusing stories or things you can tell me?
When I was first out on the ship, Kenny Everett, Kenny and Cash had started their bit and they were very very funny, and I remember Kenny and Cash ratings, or something had happened and so somebody had found a bottle of champagne from somewhere or somebody had smuggled one out to celebrate their success. I was news reading in the afternoons then and Kenny Everett, I went down about twenty past five for the five thirty news because I'd heard that they'd opened a bottle and everybody was getting really excited and happy down there and there was a drink you see. So I went down and sure enough I got poured a nice glass of champagne, ‘nice glass' a paper cup of champagne, and I was drinking it, by the time five thirty came round I'd done a glass of champagne, and when you're not used to it, all of a sudden I'm quite giggly, quite happy. So I'm starting to read this news and it's Radio London ‘didlididli' and all this business going on with the news and the jingle, and as I'm reading this very awful sad bit about President Nero having been assassinated or died, I look up and over the top of the desk is Kenny Everett with two pieces of chalk out of his nose. Well I mean if I'd been sober or in a lousy mood I'd have laughed, but I started laughing you see and of course once you start laughing in a situation like that it gets worse and worse and worse and eventually I had to press the ‘dededede' jingle at the end and go to a record, I was excused that because that was part of the celebration you know. I think a lot of the stories emanate from Kenny, I think the best one was, Kenny was very naive, he was only a young lad Maurice Cole when he came aboard the ship and I was still on holiday relief, I'd only just joined the ship, The Beatles' `Yesterday' had come out and everybody was saying, "beautiful record, beautiful song this is". We were sitting out at about ten o'clock at night and it was the middle of the summer so there was still a bit of light around, we were twiddling the knob on the receiver to see which station to pick up and we picked up some other station and ‘Yesterday' was playing, I said to Kenny, "ah that's a great piece of music, beautiful song, do you know Kenny, it's like a musical orgasm", he said, "what's that?" I said, "well, it's like, every time I hear this record I have an orgasm", "oh". The next day, on his show, he goes on the air and plays ‘Yesterday' by the Beatles and says, "you know listeners, every time Ed Stewart hears this he has an orgasm". Now in those days to use words like orgasm was unheard of and he actually was divested of his job but reinstated twenty four hours later, because you know it was just a mistake, he just did not know what an orgasm was, he'd obviously never experienced one and didn't even know what the word meant. Everything like that, all the funny bits emanated around Kenny, and I think he was the one who actually had the board up on the ship in the summer, when the trippers on the ships from Clacton came round, he was the one that put the board up outside, `please don't feed the Disc Jockeys'.
Ed Stewart interview by Ray Anderson, All Copyrights reserved East Anglian Productions.
This is an edited version of an interview that originally appeared in
Offshore Echo’s 121 from March 2001.