OBITUARY: Stuart Henry

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The Independent Online
Bravery and devotion are qualities not usually associated with pop music. The radio disc jockey Stuart Henry and his wife Ollie displayed both during the last tragic years of his life, now brought to an end after a 20-year battle against multiple sclerosis.

Henry, whose cheerful on-air exuberance made him one of the most popular radio personalities of the Seventies, was never a man to give in without a struggle. Despite a worsening condition, he continued broadcasting until 1987. For many years he tried to keep his illness a secret from both his public and his employers. He won huge listening figures as he spiced his shows with Scottish humour, but he was eventually dropped from BBC Radio 1 and later there were complaints when he joined Radio Luxembourg from listeners who thought he had been drinking.

It was revealed in 1982 that his slurred speech was caused by the onset of multiple sclerosis. Henry explained later: "I like to pretend I'm normal and I didn't want to talk about it all the time." Eventually the caring DJ, who liked to involve his listeners and listen to their problems, was rendered almost completely paralysed. His wife, a former model (they married in 1976), dedicated the remaining years of their married life to providing round-the-clock care for her husband.

Stuart Henry was born in Edinburgh in 1942. He spent six years as an actor after training at Glasgow College of Dramatic Art, then became a pirate disc jockey with Radio Scotland. He suffered from seasickness on his pirate ship and was more than happy to accept a post with Radio 1 in 1967. Johnny Beerling (controller of Radio 1 from 1985 to 1993) recalls Henry's enthusiastic broadcasting style. "Stuart was a great guy. He used to do a spot called 'She's Leaving Home', which was all about missing youngsters. He showed a concern for social action broadcasting a long time before Radio 1 was ever involved with it. He'd say, 'I'm no asking you to go back, my friend, what I want you to do is let your parents know you're all right . . ." He'd get people to ring in and make contact. (He used the old Beatles song as a theme tune.) He also campaigned about nuclear testing and had an environment spot on his Saturday morning show, before it was a popular issue.

"He suffered from terrible seasickness as a pirate DJ, but when he came ashore he became one of the most extrovert of the new Radio 1 DJs. He had long hair, and wore a caftan, beads and bells. Compared to DJs like Pete Murray and Don Moss, who came from the old Light Programme and wore suits, Stuart looked very much the outsider."

Stuart Henry's show regularly drew audiences of more than 11 million in the early Seventies, but he was sacked in a BBC shake-up in 1974, and went to work at Radio Luxembourg.

Beerling says: "One of the reasons he left was that the management thought he was prone to over-indulging in 'funny baccy'. But in fact the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis caused a slight impediment in his speech. People thought he was just over-indulging and it was affecting his broadcasting. Nobody realised MS was to blame."

As the effects of the disease worsened Henry became confined to a wheelchair.

"Towards the end of his life he only had movement in his head and his neck. His wife Ollie was just fantastic and she did everything for him. He even had to have a special hoist to put him into a car. The brain was still there, but the body had totally gone."

His fellow DJ Tony Prince was a programme director at Radio Luxembourg and in 1982 he encouraged Henry to make public his condition. "I told him to tell people, because I was getting a lot of hassle from people who thought he was drunk on air. Of course I knew perfectly well it was a speech impediment caused by MS. I told him he had to put his pride on the shelf and come clean. He was a very proud man and didn't want sympathy. He wanted to keep going on as long as possible.

"The greatest thing that happened in his life was Ollie Henry, his wife. As his speech became even worse, she started broadcasting with him. He couldn't read long paragraphs of news, so she started being his newsreader, which led to The Stuart and Ollie Henry Show. She was a real heroine. She dedicated her life to him and it was heart-breaking to see what she had to do for him in the last few years, when he literally couldn't move a finger."

MS results in a deterioration of the spinal cord system that sends messages from the brain to the muscles. Sometimes it can have a slight effect and then stop and not get any worse. In Henry's case, said Prince, "It just kept deteriorating until he was unable to move any muscles. Stuart was held in immobile limbo. Radio Luxembourg always said that as long as he was able to talk he would always have a job with the station, which was very honourable. He was a strong-spirited and lovable man."

After the station closed in 1992 Ollie and Stuart Henry provided a pop news service for local radio and contributed to the memorabilia magazine Gold.

Ollie Henry said yesterday: "He'd had enough of being in and out of hospitals. By the time he finished at Luxembourg he was virtually paralysed from the neck down. We worked at home using a computer and Stuart always had great input. But then his voice got very weak and to be paralysed, and not to be able to speak or be understood, was the ultimate imprisonment with no escape, and that was the next thing we were worrying about. At least Stuart doesn't have to cope with that now."

Chris Welch

Stuart Henry, disc jockey: born Edinburgh 1942; married 1976; died Luxembourg 24 November 1995.