David Lister: Carnaby Street personified – and that was the problem

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The Independent Online

Long before Jonathan Ross there was a BBC TV presenter whose ego blazed through the screen and who embarrassed the corporation because of his salary. Simon Dee may well have a claim to be the first of the television superstar presenters. But in his Sixties heyday, the BBC was tougher, and it never caved in to his salary demands, "letting him go" instead.

Dee's time at the top was pretty short. His BBC chat show lasted just two years. And that is partly because his whole image dated too quickly. His bright-eyed, nattily dressed, public-school persona was pure mid-Sixties Carnaby Street (his CV even boasted of him being photographic assistant to Lord Snowdon and designer with Dior) but by 1969, it seemed as old hat as the opening catchphrase "It's Siiimon Dee" or the shots of him driving off from Television Centre with a blonde model – though Andrew Marr, presumably with no ironic comment on Dee intended, now opens his show with a shot of himself in his car.

Elizabeth Hurley has said that Dee's "Sixties grooviness" was the inspiration for Austin Powers. He certainly inspired a Benny Hill sketch with a chat show host called Tommy Tupper, the catchphrase "It's Tommmmmy Tupper," and an overbearing jolliness.

In his later years, Dee became a figure that friends compared to a retired admiral, writing letters to his local newspaper and lamenting modern standards, particularly in television. His own role in broadcasting was not insignificant. He helped to launch Radio Caroline and Radio One, he hosted the most watched talkshow of its day. But he was lucky. Like many in the Sixties he looked the part, he personified a type of that era, and he was in the right place at the right time.