Thursday, 23 October 2014

So farewell, Alvin Stardust aka Shane Fenton - I met your son once, and was oddly thrilled!

The glam rock singer Alvin Stardust has died following a short illness, aged 72. Born in Muswell Hill as Bernard William Jewry, he went on to achieve a small measure of fame as the pop singer Shane Fenton in the early '60s. All I remember of him from that period was his single, "I'm a Moody Guy" and his backing group The Fentones' hit instrumental version of "The Breeze and I". But it was as the extravagantly quiffed, slinky, leather-clad Alvin Stardust that he achieved real success with a trio of hit singles in the '70s. Unlike another notable contemporary '60s'-teeny-bopper-turned-glam-rock-star, Gary Glitter, I'm not aware of a whiff of scandal attaching iteself to Alvin Stardust, so the nation can still smile fondly at the mention of his name and the peculiarly British form of end-of-the-pier variety pop silliness it evokes.

I was interviewed some twelve years ago for some programme or other about interactive TV. The film crew (producer/cameraman/interviewer) turned up at my office, and while we all chatted as they set up their equipment, the cameraman revealed that he was the son of Alvin Stardust and that Liza Goddard was his stepmother. I couldn't stop grinning and repeating, wonderingly,  "You're Shane Fenton's son? Really? Shane Fenton? How incredibly cool!" He looked embarrassed but pleased at the same time. I have no idea why I was so utterly delighted. 

Once (for reasons that I can't recall) I was asked by some big-wig at TV News to accompany Lady Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, on a visit to a TV company. Believe it or not, he seemed a nice enough young chap - but being one remove from the most famous woman on the planet meant nothing to me (I'd forgotten all about it until I started writing this post). I've shared a lift with Elton John, I've stood behind David Frost in the BBC canteen, I've shaken hands with Ian Botham, I've helped Bob Hoskins find his car in the BBC multi-storey car park - working at TV Centre back then, one regularly rubbed shoulders with fame. But the only encounter that really impressed me was the one with Shane Fenton's son.

I hadn't realised until this morning that Bernard Jewry wasn't the first Shane Fenton. I'd always assumed it was a made-up name, but apparently it was the real name of the first lead singer with Shane Fenton and the Fentones. Poor kid died at the age of 17 as a result of rheumatic fever he'd suffered in childhood. Poignantly, his mother asked the band to stay together and to retain its original name in honour of her son, and Bernard (who was the band's roadie at the time) was asked to take over vocal duties.

I'll start with the two early '60s tracks that mean many members of my generation will forever prefer to remember Alvin Stardust as Shane Fenton:



Okay, Shane  was only at the controls board for "The Breeze and I", but he was definitely centre-stage when he returned as Alvin Stardust with this version of a classic Carl Mann  Sun single, "Pretend":


(The full black leather outfit was already a thing of the past.) I'll leave you with a clip from Play It Cool, a splendidly embarrassing 1962 film, purely so you can hear Shane utter the rousing call to arms, "Come on, fellahs - let's twist!":


Good Lord - were we really ever that innocent?

RIP, Bernard - and thanks for all the harmless fun.

13 comments:

  1. There is a lot of innocent fun to be had from British pop films of the 1960s. Billy Fury, who appears towards the end of the clip from Play it Cool, starred in several including the wonderful I've Gotta Horse. An impresario of some sort evidently thought that the world needed a low budget musical about the Loch Ness monster which gave us the forgotten classic What a Whopper, featuring Adam Faith, showing us how to perfect a Scottish accent. And who can forget Cliff in the Young Ones as the Mystery Singer trying to raise funds to save the local youth club from the clutches of evil property developer Robert Morley. "I've got an idea. Why don't we put on a show of our own". Happy days.

    Roger Daltrey's son Simon once laid a carpet at my place….

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    1. Thank you, ex-KCS - I'd never come across "What a Whopper" - but judging from the opening five minutes - available here:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgWlOpsuuPw
      it's an absolute classic of its kind. (I presume Adama Faith accepted the part because the posters would read "Adam Faith - What a Whopper!" The unbelievably abysmal title song was arranged - to his eternal shame - by John Barry.

      As for your Roger Daltrey anecdote - that's nothing. When we moved into this house 24 years' ago, Roger Daltrey's mum lived three doors' down, and her rocktastic son used to keep a fancy sports car in a garage directly behind us. West London royalty, mate!

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  2. ....and Jet Harris tried to take photographs of paintings at my gallery about 25 years ago and made a complete hash of it. He had to come back later in the week to try again but was so pissed he could barely get the camera out of its case.
    Pleasant enough chap though but bitter about Cliff.

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    1. Hard not to feel sorry for poor old Jet - he made some great records after leaving the Shads, especially "Main Title Theme (from Man with the Golden Arm)" and "Besame Mucho". Mind you, I could never figure out what he was so bitter about: hard to see why Cliff should get the blame for his diminutive bassist turning into a raving alco!

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  3. I think the bitterness was just old-fashioned jealousy. He was pleased to be able to unburden his bile to me and my secretary who found him 'sweet'.
    He stumbled around Gloucester in his latter years and was once interviewed by one of my grown-up Fleet Street feature writers pals in a series on Pop Has-Beens, although that was not how it was sold to the subjects. It would have been an amusing interlude with a 6' 4" hack and a 5' Not Much" guitarist.
    They had a few jars, my chum got his copy and as they left the Dog and Duck, Jet bade farewell; said he was 'pleased to be seen as a Living Legend'; made to swing his leg over his bone-shaker and crashed to the tarmac.
    Hey ho.

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    1. Sounds like Unlucky Alf from The Fast Show!

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  4. I think the bitterness might have had something to do with the widely publicised story that before he ascended into celibate sainthood, Cilff had, as it were, moved it an' a grooved it with the then Mrs Harris behind Jet's back in the early 60s. There was then a pretty bad car crash in 1963 after which poor Jet took to the bottle. And Main Title Theme was so named because the BBC banned the original title Theme from the Man with the Golden Gun because of the film's drug associations.

    Yes, I know. I need to get out more.

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    1. I never knew that about "Main Title Theme" - a decent-sized hit despite its strangely anodyne title. Thanks you ex-KCS.

      Stay in as much as you like, if it helps you produce these gem-like factoids.

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  5. I recollect Jet did bang on about Cliff banging his wife but I thought that was malicious conjecture. What? Dear little Cliff? Having intercourse?
    I shudder.

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    1. The expression 'introduced the Bishop' might be most appropriately deployed in the circumstances. The former Mrs Harris, whose name is Carol Costa, wrote a book a few years back in which the full details of the alleged encounter were revealed. I am not sure whether the claimed liaison pre- or post-dated his triumphant exposition of the advantages of single status in 'Bachelor Boy' but if Mrs Harris had been hoping for a permanent arrangement, the song might well have constituted what detectives call 'a clue'.

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    2. I was so astonished by these allegations regarding Sir Clifford and Mrs. Harris, I looked it up online. Crikey! This from the Daily Mail last year:
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2519957/A-love-affair-Shadows--I-believe-I-Cliff-Richards-secret-son.html

      Rarely has my flabber been so ghasted.

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  6. We 'ad that Paul Jones from Manfred Mann living up the road until a few years ago.

    He'd become a photographer, like Riley's Mr Harris – same careers adviser?

    He seemed to make the matrons of Wimbledon all go wobbly.

    He was forever being invited to dinner and the same thing happened every time, when the hostess congratulated him on the charming daughter who turned out to be his wife.

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    1. Despite his square-jawed, acne-scarred good lucks, Paul Jones was always a bit too public school to make a truly convincing blues singer - but he was actually a pretty good one, I thought. I seem to remember he went on to have a pretty decent acting career. As for photography, I remember someone who taught us both for three years (you can have one guess) memorably describing it as "the art form for the untalented". Ouch!

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