Monday, January 11, 2016

'They Always go in Threes'

"They always go in threes", my mother says whenever a celebrity dies.  Whether the 'three' is completed by two more deaths of entertainers of same type, or whether any type of celebrity counts for the threesome, I'm not sure.  Moreover, I've never really been clear as to where we start the count: is the latest death the start of a new trio, or are we counting from the one before that?  But if we are to take the commencement of 2016 as a starting point, then we at least have one clear celebrity death trio: Lemmy from Motorhead, Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart and now David Bowie.  Whilst I fully understand why the first and third on that list have attracted all the news coverage and public mourning, I have to say that it was the middle name - Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart - who probably had the most influence on me when I was growing up in the seventies.  I was far too young back then either to appreciate Bowie or be allowed to listen to anything involving the likes of Lemmy, but I always watched Crackerjack on BBC1 when it was on.  Which is the earliest Crackerjack presenter you remember is a bit like which Doctor Who you first remember seeing - it firmly dates your childhood to a specific era.  Whilst my earliest Who memories are of Patrick Troughton, my first Crackerjack presenter was Micheal Aspel.  But while I always slightly resented Troughton's replacement, Jon Pertwee, seeing him as a usurper, for me Crackerjack only really became a fixture in my TV viewing when Ed Stewart replaced Aspel in 1975.

I've never understood the appeal of Aspel, with his lack of charisma making him seem lobotomised - he always seemed to be just going through the motions when he presented anything, completely disengaged from what was going on around him. 'Stewpot', by contrast, was a much more genial host, looking much more at ease with the shenanigans going on around him.  To young viewers like me, he came over as a fun uncle, rather than the rather distant 'school teacher trying to seem cool' figure cut by his predecessor.  And it was much the same when 'Stewpot' was doing his day job of DJing on Radio One and later Radio Two - laid back, genial and lots of gentle fun.  He put listeners at ease.  There was nothing 'radical' or 'innovative' about Ed Stewart's presenting style: you wouldn't find him playing tracks from unsigned up and coming bands like his contemporary John Peel and certainly wasn't 'zany' like Kenny Everett.  Equally, he wasn't as smarmy as contemporaries like Simon Bates and Mike Read and never thought he was a 'comic genius' like Noel Edmonds.  Moreover, he apparently didn't grope female staff like DLT or molest children like Jimmy Savile.  He just came over as a nice guy. You got the impression that he was probably much the same off air as he was on air. Growing up in the seventies it was nice to see someone succeeding who wasn't self concsiously 'edgy' or 'whacky' or 'outrageous' - Ed Stewart's presence on Crackerjack made it seem that it was OK to be a decent, ordinary bloke.

I'm not trying to be deliberately contrary here - I'm well aware of how Bowie fans must be feeling, I felt much the same way when George Harrison died - but Ed Stewart was a big presence in my TV-watching and radio-listening childhood and I just think it important that his contribution to British entertainment isn't forgotten in the wake of the much higher profile passings of Lemmy and Bowie.

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