Books: Goodbye Kenny, it's nice to see you back

Roger Clarke on the anarchic tendencies and lonely death of the altar-boy who never grew up; In the Best Possible Taste: The Crazy Life of Kenny Everett by David Lister Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99
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The Independent Culture
Poor old Kenny Everett, he had a rotten life. No one liked him and he didn't like himself. ''The start-ling truth is,'' writes David Lister in his somewhat damning biography, ''that in the three months before he died, not half a dozen people came to visit. Only slightly more telephoned.'' Can this be the same Kenny Everett who was friend of the stars, and a star in his own right, his Eighties television series regularly netting 15 million viewers?

He was pretty much broke as well. When he died of Aids (from the same vector that infected Freddie Mercury and Rudolph Nureyev, we learn) he had no assets other than his flat and BMW. His insurance company had refused to pay out for his treatments, and he was finding solace in deathbed confessions made to a Catholic priest. After all those years a part of him was still that Liverpudlian altar-boy who was sent, aged 12, to become a priest at a college that trained missionaries to convert the heathen African.

He lived the life of a sinner in the tabloid sense, though, as Paul Gambaccini has noted, Everett seemed virtually tabloid proof. No expose of sham marriages and menages-a-trois with moustachioed Russian soldiers and their moustachioed Spanish boyfriends could dent his extraordinary popularity. There was something about him that was immensely appealing and childlike: it was only the need to protect him that kept his long-suffering wife Lee Middleton ''married'' to him for 14 years, at a considerable cost to her own happiness.

From the beginning, Maurice Cole (his real name) was a peculiar and isolated youth - but hardly an unhappy one, as he later liked to make out. He was also a bit of a nerd, preferring from his teenage years right up till his death to be in his studio dreaming up sound-effects with kitchen implements, rather than going out with friends. The only friend who really stuck by him was his bank-manager; they went for walking holidays together in the north country.

Everett ''loathed'' his body, and wanted to ''cure'' himself of his homosexuality. He became addicted to sleeping pills and cocaine. His five or so sackings and botched contracts with radio and television companies were partly evidence of his anarchic tendencies. But they were also examples of his utter carelessness with himself and everyone connected to him. His lack of worldliness was both the source of his talent and the source of his downfall, lack of earnings, and eventually even his death.

It's worth remembering what he had been: that astonishing, sparkling talent. Everett's career reflects the history of modern radio broadcasting - from pirate DJ, to early Radio 1, to early Capital Radio, a station that built its successful formula round his ideas. He was once the trendiest of the Radio Caroline DJs, becoming the virtual mascot of the Beatles, who wrote jingles for his shows. "Goodbye Kenny, it's nice to see you back. Goodbye Kenny, we hear you've got the sack" was one of them, sung by the Fab Four during a particularly hilarious interview on Radio 1. He introduced the ''personality'' into DJ-ing that was almost the death of Radio 1, thereby proving he was almost the only person who could get away with it.

It seems that he hated doing television: but since he had alienated Thames TV, and found the BBC too constrictive to work for, he had run out of options. By the end of his life he had reached another of his troughs; but who knows what would have happened? Lister notes that Kenny Everett had the idea for ''Talking Books'' long before anyone else, planning to get Michael Aspel into a studio to record novels for people to ''listen to in their cars''. Lister notes that this was another brilliant idea gone to waste.

It's hard to judge from this book whether Everett's life was wasted too; when there is in the end so little to show for it - no videos in the newsagents, like his very rich fellow comedians. But that was the nature of what he did: he was always the spirit of Puck to the BBC's Ariel, an irreverence that whirled through some very stuffy establishments and then vanished with a peal of camp laughter.