Simon Dee, the star of the 60s who fell to Earth, dies aged 74

His shows attracted audiences of 18 million, his guests were the cream of entertainment. But fame proved to be a fickle thing ...

Simon Dee, the Jaguar-driving playboy and DJ who became Britain's first chat-show host, but whose rise and fall as a household name in the 1960s became a by-word for the fickle nature of celebrity, died yesterday from cancer. He was 74.

As the presenter of the BBC's Dee Time, the famously suave broadcaster drew audiences of up to 18 million for his interviews with guests including Sammy Davis Jnr and John Lennon.

With his sculpted fringe, penchant for cravats and smooth repartee, Dee became the epitome of the Swinging Sixties, pushing back cultural boundaries and rubbing shoulders with the stars of the day, from The Beatles to Charlton Heston.

As the embodiment of Sixties grooviness, he was once said by Liz Hurley to have been the inspiration for the film character Austin Powers.

But Dee's rapid ascent, which saw him move from being the DJ whose voice was the first heard on the floating pirate station Radio Caroline in 1964 to become one of Britain's highest-paid broadcasters, was matched only by the speed of his disappearance from the nation's screens.

After a series of contractual disputes, his shows were dropped by 1970 and, unable to revive his showbiz career, he found a job as a bus driver.

Dee, whose real name was Nicholas Henty-Dodd, was diagnosed with untreatable bone cancer in recent weeks and was admitted to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, near his home in Winchester.

His daughter, Domino Henty-Dodd, said: "It happened very, very quickly. He was dearly loved by his family."

With its closing credits featuring Dee driving away in an E-Type Jaguar in the company of a glamorous blonde, Dee Time caught the spirit of an era. In its 1967 heyday, the twice-weekly show's groundbreaking format of music and set-piece interviews – as well as its catchphrase of "It's Siiiiimon Dee!" – secured huge audiences for the BBC and placed its host at the heart of London's heady social scene.

The star would often be seen being driven along the King's Road by his secretary in his Aston Martin; his fame won him cameo roles in the films The Italian Job and Doctor in Trouble.

After his stint with Radio Caroline, based in a converted Danish ferry moored off the Essex coast, Dee was persuaded to join the launch presenting team for Radio 1. He went on to compere the Miss World contest, as well as appearing on Top of the Pops and Juke Box Jury.

His daughter Domino said yesterday: "Before celebrity became such an everyday thing, he was a celebrity in the real sense. He was one of the first to become famously so quickly."

Perhaps slightly in thrall to his own fame, Dee, who had served as an RAF photographer, in 1969 approached his BBC boss, head of light entertainment Sir Bill Cotton, for a pay rise. Sir Bill instead offered him a 20 per cent pay cut "to test his loyalty" to the BBC. Dee promptly took his services to the independent channel LWT on a two-year contract worth £100,000.

But friction with David Frost, the channel's part-owner and star attraction, led to Dee's show being dropped. Such was Dee's fame and debonair manner that the public school-educated star was reputedly considered as a successor to Sean Connery as James Bond.

Ironically, it was another James Bond who put paid to his career at LWT. A bizarre interview with Bond actor George Lazenby, during which Lazenby named the politicians he considered responsible for the assassination of US President Kennedy, was cited as the reason for the cancellation of Dee's show. Frozen out of showbiz, Dee famously signed on at the Fulham labour exchange and rapidly sank from public view, taking a job as a bus driver and falling into debt.

Dee spent brief periods in prison for minor offences, and at the time of his illness was living in a one-bedroom flat in Winchester. In a 1987 interview, he said of the decade that was his heydey: "One was very much in touch with this flow [of creativity], which ended when the Sixties ended. As I did."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn