Thursday 14 January 2016

Radio Lives - Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart

There's a whole generation that knows all the words to Three Wheels on My Wagon, My Brother and A Windmill in Old Amsterdam. We have Junior Choice, and Ed Stewart to thank (blame) for that.

Edward Stewart Mainwaring was born in Devon in 1941 though the family moved to London soon after. Young Edward enjoyed listening to the wireless, especially the comedy shows and the adventures of Dick Barton - Special Agent. "I was preparing myself for a life in radio already by crawling behind the wireless and pretending to be an announcer".

At school he was fanatical about sport, to the detriment of other studies. In adult life Ed was a keen golfer, played football for the Showbiz XI and, of course, the Radio 1 team, as well as cricket for the Lord's Taverners and the Variety Club. He took up the double bass, apparently just because the school orchestra didn't have anyone playing the instrument.

Ed had early ambitions to work for the BBC and managed to obtain an audition with the Overseas Service at Bush House in 1961. They said he didn't have enough experience and advised him to go abroad to get some. That advice took him to Hong Kong, initially to join a band out there. Since leaving school he'd been working for Keith Prowse Records and playing in a skiffle group so the opportunity to play abroad seemed to satisfy both needs.

In the event the music gigs fell through but he managed to blag his way into Radio Hong Kong by spinning the story that he'd actually worked for the BBC. Ed was employed as an interviewer and sports reporter and eventually an announcer. However his voice wasn't deemed suitable for announcing: "too up and down, old boy" he was told, so he moved across to Rediffusion's Blue Network. Here he was soon presenting music shows, interviewing, announcing and newsreading on both radio and TV. From Rediffusion he moved to one of the most popular music stations in Hong Kong simply called Commercial Radio.

Feeling homesick Ed left Hong Kong in 1965, his passage back to the UK was funded by Lufthansa in return for recording six promotional programmes for the airline. Back in Blighty he joined the Central Office of Information in their programme making department. Realising there may be opportunities on the new offshore pirate stations Ed called in at Radio Caroline's offices; they had no vacancies but sent him on to Radio London round at Curzon Street. His Hong Kong experience standing him in good stead he joined the station in July 1965.

At Radio London he acquired his nickname of 'Stewpot' when fellow DJ Dave Cash who, on witnessing Ed's ability to roll his stomach muscles, exclaimed "When you do that, it looks like a stewpot". He created the fictional Myrtle - "Hello Myrtle" becoming his catchphrase until superseded by the falsetto "Morning" and a shouted "Crackerjack" - and with Keith Shues cooked up the famous April Fool 'Radio East Anglia' stunt.   

Ed stayed with Radio London until the bitter end, joining Paul Kaye for the final hour on 14 August 1967. The forced closure did, however, see him fulfil his ambition to join the BBC when he passed his audition with producer Angela Bond and became part of that famous Radio 1 launch team.

Here are some clips of Ed from his Radio London days.

Ed's first appearance on the new pop network was on the second day of broadcasting in the old Easy Beat slot, now retitled Happening Sunday. Unfortunately it only happened for a few weeks, he was shifted to one side to make way for Kenny Everett. He continued to be one of the hosts of What's New (appearing on the show until 1969) but got a regular programme when he replaced Leslie Crowther on Junior Choice in February 1968. It was Derek Chinnery who'd put his name forward. "My wife heard him reading some requests recently and she thinks he has the style we're looking for - more of an older brother than a schoolmaster".

So started a 12-year stint as the children's favourite on a show that, in the early 1970s enjoyed an audience of nearly 8 million. In truth Junior Choice didn't just play those novelty songs but featured the pop tunes of the day. Many of those classics had previously been much requested on the old Children's Favourites. But those elements of the show together with the Morningtown Ride theme and the cheeky "allo darling" have remained part of Ed's broadcasting heritage in the more recent annual revivals on Radio 2 some four decades later.

In this Radio 1 montage Ed plays some Junior Choice favourites: The Wombles, White Horses plus a bit of Bowie.

Ed's radio appearances weren't just restricted to Junior Choice. He was regularly on Radio 1 Club between 1969 and 1973, there was Sunday Sport in summers of 1972 to 1975, from September 1973 he was the first presenter of Newsbeat and later with Sue Cook  he co-presented Radio 1's first phone-in Personal Call (1979). He'd also regularly deputise for David Hamilton on his afternoon show.   

Meanwhile Ed was dipping his toes into television presenting, initially for 'the other side', with Exit - The Way Out Show billed as the "fast-action quiz game for the way-out generation" which, after a 10 week run, was indeed on its way out. For Granada there was a junior version of Opportunity Knocks combined with a knockout quiz, called Anything You Can Do (1969). For the BBC in 1970 Ed got his own show in 9-part series Ed and Zed! His sidekick was Zed the robot, voiced by Anthony Jackson.

Ed was able to cement his position as a children's entertainer when, in 1971, he was featured in the junior TV Times spin-off Look-In with Stewpot's Look-out and later Stewpot's Newsdesk, the latter column appearing each week until well into 1980. And, of course, there was Crackerjack, with Ed stepping into Michael Aspel's shoes from 1974.

This Radio 4 programme from the Trumpton Riots series examines the Crackerjack phenomenon and was heard on 26 December 1997.

In December 1979 Ed left both Junior Choice and Crackerjack: "My days as strictly a children's presenter were over. We all have to grow up some time!" Now playing requests for the grown-ups over on Radio 2 The Ed Stewart Request Show kicked off in January 1980, his first daily show after 13 years with the BBC.

Here are some clips from those early 80s afternoon shows. Note the use of the theme, dropped in 1981 I think, Don't Run Away by the Pierre Lavin Pop Band, a show from Ascot reminding us that Radio 2 was still the sports channel and finally, from July 1980, Ed continues to man the microphone for Much More Music when David Symonds is stuck in traffic .

This aircheck dates from 2 June 1981 by which time the programme was re-titled The Ed Stewart Show and had acquired the FamilyFavourites feature from Pete Murray's Sunday Show. With Ed is Ian Thompson of Radio New Zealand.

This programme from 10 March 1982 comes from the Ideal Homes Exhibition. No Family Favourites this time but there is a feature called Continental Call.    

In January 1984 Radio 2 Controller Bryant Marriott was minded to not renew Ed's contract. "Request programmes are old fashioned and out-of-date and we must move on", he was told.

Now unemployed, Ed leapt at the chance to work for Radio Mercury in Crawley when they launched in October 1984. Joining a team that included Pat Sharp, Peter Young and Tony Myatt (with whom he'd worked back in Hong Kong) Ed landed the weekday mid-morning show. As the biggest name at the station Ed was chosen to launch proceedings on Saturday 24 October, however, having prior golfing commitments in Spain, he had to record that opening show.

In 1990 Ed and Mercury parted company when, yet again, his contract was terminated. Adamant that he wouldn't make another sideways move he had to wait until the following year before he got the chance to re-join Radio 2. At first it was just the occasional show, but in the summer there was a short run on Saturday afternoons and in October and November he took over the mid-morning show from Judith Chalmers. By then he'd already been promised a daily afternoon show starting the following January.

This is part of the second hour of Ed's return to Radio 2 with a late-night show on 30 March 1991 featuring famous duets.

From 31 August 1993 part of an afternoon programme starting with a handover from Debbie Greenwood and featuring the Accumulator Quiz. With music from Count Basie, Bobby Darin and Perry Como it's hard to imagine this was indeed 1993. I should apologise for the fact that the recording ends on a cliffhanger, that was the problem with recording on C90 cassettes.

At a time when BBC radio seemed to enjoy generous budgets for OBs Ed's show took him to the Falkland Islands, Paris and technically challenging broadcasts from Ben Nevis and Snowden. More prosaically I saw Ed broadcast live from the Corner Cafe in Scarborough, though at the time of writing I've yet to track down the photo I took.

By July 1999 it was time to move on again. Controller Jim Moir was lining up Steve Wright for weekday afternoons so Ed was offered a two-hour Sunday afternoon show, live from Birmingham. That slot had just been occupied by Pam Ayres and before that Charlie Chester's Sunday Soapbox, so you can tell the age of listener they were expecting to appeal to. As a carrot Ed was also offered Wogan's breakfast show holiday cover, which he did during 1999.   

Those Sundays shows ended in April 2006 when Johnnie Walker, who'd given up Drivetime was offered an weekend show. This is Ed's final programme in full. As ever he is the consummate professional to the end; he acknowledges his time on Radio London and Radio 1 and signs of with Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Of course you can't keep a good broadcaster down. He popped up English-speaking Spanish radio stations Spectrum FM and Coast FM. In December 2006 Ed was heard on internet station Big L deputising for David Hamilton, some things never change!

When Radio 2 celebrated its 40th anniversary on 30 September 2007 it decided to resurrect some old programmes, either inviting broadcasters back to the station or running some archive recordings. At 10.00 am Stewpot was back with a one-off Junior Choice, this time assuredly nostalgic and just playing all the old favourites. Such was the listener response that he was invited to do it all again for a Christmas Day special. Thereafter, Junior Choice  became a Christmas Day fixture each year until his last broadcast just three weeks ago. It was the perfect accompaniment to peeling the spuds and steaming the pud.  

This is a recording of that 2007 special.

A week or so after Ed's last show he suffered a serious stroke and was taken to hospital in Bournemouth. Last Saturday he passed away.

In a business where notoriously egos can clash Stewpot remained great chums with many of his former colleagues. He regularly attended reunions, indeed he'd been part of the Pirate Radio Essex broadcasts a few years back, and he numbered David Hamilton and Pete Murray as close friends. Ed had gained something of a reputation for never getting his wallet out - as Diddy David once quipped 'what's the difference between Stewpot and a coconut, you can get a drink out of a coconut' - but he was always generous with his time and worked for many charities including the Grand Order of Water Rats of which he had long been a member. This year he'd planned to continue his Stewpot's Music Quiz Tour and this coming weekend he had been due to appear at the Radio Reunion event in London. That event will now include tributes to both Ed and to David Bowie.

Radio 2 is planning to broadcast a programme in tribute to Ed sometime next month. In the meantime I'll leave it to Paul Gambaccini to sum up Ed's impact on British radio and with a tune that will bring back a pang of nostalgia to all those who tuned into Radio 1 on Saturday and Sunday mornings in the 1970s.

Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart

Some Key Dates:
Radio London 5 July 1965 to 14 August 1967
Anything You Can Do ... 30 April to 30 July 1969 (subsequent series presented by Chris Kelly)
Junior Choice 24 February 1968 to 30 December 1979
Ed and Zed! 24 October to 19 December 1970
Crackerjack 3 January 1975 to 21 December 1979
Ed Stewart's Request Show 21 January 1980, Re-titled The Ed Stewart Show from 11 May 1981 when Family Favourites became a feature on the programme. Final show 20 January 1984.
Ed Stewart weekday afternoon show: 6 January 1992 to 2 July 1999
Ed Stewart Sunday afternoon show: 4 July 1999 to 16 April 2006  

With thanks to Noel Tyrrel


entssouthwales said...

Lovely tribute - I still have a (sadly edited) recording of Ed's Radio 2 show from Longleat House in 1983 for the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who. I'm sure there are fuller copies of it about but I'll try and get mine transferred from tape...

Andy Walmsley said...

Thanks Andy. I'd love to hear any other airchecks. I have been given some more audio of Ed's shows, mainly on Radio 2 but also an appearance on Big L.

markeemasher said...

Brilliant, only found it by accident, with all the celebrity deaths in january Eds was in danger of being overlooked, im glad Paul Gambachini put Blackburn in his place. I saw a comment from the latter being very condecending about Stewpot. Ill miss Ed at Christmas as i did his sunday shows. It seems that what the listeners want they dont get, great shame RIP Ed.

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