Obituary: Kenny Everett

Anthony Hayward
Tuesday 04 April 1995 23:02 BST

Maurice James Christopher Cole (Kenny Everett), broadcaster: born Seaforth, Liverpool 25 December 1944; married 1969 Lee Middleton (marriage dissolved 1984); died London 4 April 1995.

In the heady days of 1967, when the Beatles released their magical, hallucinatory Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the singles charts were topped by records such as Procol Harum's ``A Whiter Shade Of Pale'' and The Monkees' ``Daydream Believer'', which fired the imagination of a youth who believed anything was possible, Radio 1, the first land-based pop station, was born. Set up to satisfy the needs and tastes of the burgeoning youth audience, Radio 1 recruited many of its disc jockeys from the off-shore pirate ships Radio Caroline and Radio London, stations that had been blasting the airwaves with the pop music that young people wanted, rather than the bland diet served up by the BBC's Light Programme. One of those who went legal but always held on to his independent roots was Kenny Everett.

Everett's cocktail of inventive brilliance and unremitting disrespect made him popular with listeners, although it also proved his undoing more than once in his career. Everett was sacked first by Radio London for criticising the sponsor of one of its programmes and twice by BBC Radio, for suggesting on the air that the then Transport Minister's wife passed her driving test only through bribery, and for telling a joke that was offensive to Margaret Thatcher.

Everett's risqu sense of humour - ``Let's bomb Russia!'', he once shouted at a Young Conservatives rally - and his brash manner all seemed a long way from his own roots, in the Seaforth suburb of Liverpool, where he was born Maurice Cole, the son of a tugboat captain. Shy and delicate of nature, he grew up in the heyday of radio comedy, taking The Goons Show as his model for much of the zany humour that was to earn him fans of his own in later years. Such was his talent for mimickry that, he claimed, he impersonated a disc jockey from the distance of his bedroom and convinced his parents that they had won a competition.

Shying away from going to the local docks, Everett worked on leaving school in a Liverpool bakery, scraping clean sausage-roll trays, but three months later he joined an advertising agency where, for two years, he spent most of his time making tea, before moving on to the advertisement department of a shipping publication, the Journal of Commerce.

During this time, he put together cassette tapes that were an early showcase for his wacky sense of humour, drawing on the style of Jack Jackson, who hosted a Light Programme show comprising skilfully edited clips from comedy albums. Everett exchanged his tapes with the editor of a hi-fi magazine, who eventually suggested that he send a programme to the BBC. "The Maurice Cole Quarter of an Hour Show" was broadcast on a Home Service programme called Midweek and Everett was interviewed by its presenter Ronald Fletcher. A subsequent audition with the producer Derek Chinnery - later to become controller of Radio 1 - proved a disaster and Everett returned to Liverpool.

However, with his eyes set on becoming a pirate radio disc jockey, he sent the same tape to Radio London and was immediately taken on, at £15 a week. For legal reasons, he had to change his name, as had the other presenters, who included Ed Stewart, Dave Cash and Pete Brady - all of them later joined Radio 1 - and he came up with the name Kenny Everett, after an American film comedy star called Edward Everett Horton.

The pirates were fulfilling a need that the BBC had ignored. Pop music had given a new outlet to the first generation of youngsters to have grown up since the Second World War and the only way that anyone could hear it on the airwaves was to tune to Radio Luxemburg or pirate stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London. Unfortunately, Everett's career at Radio London was cut short after he criticised the sponsor of the station's evangelist programme The World Tomorrow. He found a temporary home for his talents at Radio Luxemburg, but set his sights on the BBC, and Radio 1. At the time of Radio 1's launch, the pirates, under the Marine Offences Act, were outlawed, and could no longer broadcast from their ships.

First, though, Everett was heard on the Light Programme, reviewing the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in May 1967. Then, on 30 September 1967, Radio 1 was launched, with Everett hosting the Wednesday edition of Midday Spin (also broadcast on the then new Radio 2 network, the two stations being created out of the demise of the Light Programme). Three months later, he switched from that programme to host his own Sunday- morning show and, the following year, he was given a 45-minute weekday- evening programme called Foreverett, although it lasted less than five months and the musical chairs saw its presenter gain a Saturday- morning show.

The music finally stopped for Everett in 1970, when he made his gaffe about the then Transport Minister's wife, who had just passed her driving test - ``probably slipping the examiner a fiver'', as he put it. Although Everett was sacked for this remark, the BBC asked him back two years later to present a Saturday-morning show, which he recorded at his studio in Wales and sent to London every Friday night by train so that Radio1's bosses could ensure there was nothing offensive in the programme.

However, Everett was filled with new enthusiasm when he was given the plum job of presenting the weekday breakfast show on Capital Radio, in London, which started broadcasting as the first Independent Local Radio pop music station in Britain, in October 1973. Particularly memorable for listeners in the London area was The Kenny and Cash Show, which revived a partnership with Dave Cash which had begun on Radio London in the Sixties.

Just 18 months after he had joined Capital, Everett took an overdose of Mandrax, which he used as a sleeping pill, although this followed many years of drug-taking and drinking going back to those "groovy" days of 1967 and chronicled in his autobiography, The Custard Stops at Hatfield.

Although he continued with Capital, switching to weekend shows until leaving the station in 1980, the enfant terrible of British pop radio found a new outlet for his zaniness in television, first with The Kenny Everett Video Show (1978-80) on ITV. Ten years earlier, he had gained some television experience hosting a programme called Nice Time, alongside the Candid Camera host Jonathan Routh and Germaine Greer, then a lecturer at Warwick University, and he had also been the voice behind the prizes in Bob Monkhouse's noughts and crosses game show Celebrity Squares.

Now, he had his own series, complete with technical electronic trickery, characters such as Sid Snot and the dance troupe Hot Gossip. There was also the space cowboy Captain Kremmen, a creation inspired by Everett's childhood days of following the adventures of the superheroes Dan Dare and Flash Gordon, and first serialised on Capital Radio. Everett was seen dressed as Kremmen and a cartoon-strip serial of the non-comic-book hero proved popular.

Everett won both international awards for the programme and a higher profile, and the following year helped to make Terry Wogan's new game show Blankety Blank a success, although his production of a bag of peanuts called ``Bum'' in the middle of a question was proof that the BBC could not keep his antics in check.

After another ITV show, The Kenny Everett Video Cassette (1981), he moved to the BBC for The Kenny Everett Television Show (subsequently retitled The Kenny Everett Show), and increased his array of characters - who by then included the skinhead yob Gizzard Puke, the hair stylist Marcel Wave and in particular the drag starlet Cupid Stunt, complete with latex boobs.

The Cupid drag act furnished Everett with his catch-phrase. As Cupid, Everett would cross his legs with an extravagant lack of discretion, announcing it was "all done in the best possible taste". At its peak The Kenny Everett Show attracted audiences of 15 million. Everett then became host of the science-based quiz Brainstorm and the daytime quiz show Gibberish.

Everett also returned to the BBC to present a Radio 2 show, but this was cut short in almost predictable fashion when, in 1984, he told an offensive joke on the air about the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Four years later, Everett joined the newly launched Capital Gold, playing classic hits alongside other former Radio 1 disc jockeys such as Tony Blackburn and David Hamilton. This turned out to be his longest run with a radio station in a daily show, but he still found time to play the Billiard Marker in the composer Mike Batt's ill-fated West End musical The Hunting of The Snark, based on Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem and performed at the Prince Edward Theatre in 1991.

Last year, he won recognition for his contribution to broadcasting with a Gold Award from the Sony Radio Awards judge, who paid tribute to the way he had ``consistently bewitched audiences'' with his comic talent and wacky style.

Since the break-up of his marriage to Lee Middleton, Everett had lived with a Red Army soldier, Nicolai Grishanovitch, who died of Aids in 1991. Everett had learnt in 1989 that he was himself HIV positive and, in 1993, Aids was diagnosed. Everett made a public announcement that he was suffering from the illness and that he was leaving his job on Capital Gold, and managed to joke about his condition.

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