Obituary: Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart
Popular BBC presenter who entertained millions as host of 'Junior Choice' on radio and 'Crackerjack' on TV
Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30
Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, who died last Saturday aged 74, was one of the first presenters on Radio 1 in Britain when it launched in 1967 and for 12 years was the host of Junior Choice, the popular children's request show broadcast on Saturday and Sunday mornings on both Radios 1 and 2.
Like Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac) on Children's Favourites (1954-67), the much-loved programme it replaced, Ed Stewart made Junior Choice his own, commanding an enormous audience of some 16 million listeners a week. The format mixed pop favourites with comedy and novelty numbers, among them Benny Hill's Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West), Clive Dunn's Grandad and Max Bygraves's You're a Pink Toothbrush.
Among his on-air trademarks were a short clip of a young Cockney lad saying "'Ello darling!" followed by a brief burst of laughter, and Stewart's cheerful sign-off "By-ee!"
He was the first radio disc jockey to play a request on the air for British royalty, after he and a group of other radio personalities took afternoon tea with Princess Margaret in the BBC governors' dining room in 1968. The record chosen was Alan Price's Don't Stop The Carnival, which Stewart dedicated to the princess's daughter, Sarah, on her fourth birthday.
The British Queen Mother had told him she never missed Junior Choice while taking her Sunday morning bath, and to mark her 80th birthday he played for her Car 67 by the group Driver 67, about a minicab driver who had been asked to pick up a fare but had refused because she had jilted him. Princess Margaret, who telephoned him at home with this surprising request, explained that her mother had chosen it because "she thinks it such a touching story about real human life".
By then, Stewart had left Junior Choice to present a daily afternoon show on Radio 2. In 1981 he made unwelcome headlines when he accidentally read out the names of four soldiers serving in Northern Ireland who, he said, had asked to hear Danny Boy.
Stewart was mortified when he realised that they were four of the five soldiers murdered by the IRA the previous week in an attack in South Armagh.
The BBC said Stewart had mistaken a memo warning that the names should not be inadvertently read out for a record request slip, and described the error as "unforgivable". Both Stewart and the BBC apologised to the soldiers' families. Stewart was dropped by Radio 2 two years later.
Often described as a gentle teddy bear of a man, with a self-effacing manner, Stewart failed to conform to type as a disc-jockey, and cheerfully admitted to a lack of self-assertion and financial acumen.
The son of a Treasury solicitor, he was born Edward Stewart Mainwaring in Exmouth, Devon, on April 23 1941. Brought up in Wimbledon and educated at St Edward's School, Oxford, he excelled at music and sport (he was a lifelong Everton football fan) and played double bass in youth orchestras and sang in choirs.
Arriving in Hong Kong as bass player with a jazz group in 1961, he found the planned tour had been cancelled, and talked his way into a job on a local radio station, first as a sports commentator, then as an announcer, film critic and, finally, as a disc jockey. Four years later he returned to Britain and in July 1965 became a DJ on the pirate station Radio London, changing his name from Eddie Mainwaring to Ed Stewart.
From a rusting minesweeper anchored in the North Sea, he moved to the new BBC pop network Radio 1 in 1967, presenting Happening Sunday and What's New before taking over the weekend morning Junior Choice show in 1968. In his autobiography Out of the Stewpot (2005) he claimed he was offered a bribe to play a particular record on the show, with a promise of an encounter with a leading beauty queen thrown in, but turned it down.
On television he became a regular host on Top of the Pops and a presenter on the children's series Crackerjack. In 1980 Stewart moved to Radio 2, presenting Family Favourites and the weekday afternoon programme from 2pm to 4pm before being dropped from the Radio 2 line-up in 1983.
He moved to the commercial radio station Radio Mercury (now Mercury FM), but was fired in 1990 after being told that they could no longer afford him.
Stewart rejoined the BBC the following year, presenting a Saturday afternoon show on Radio 2 before being reinstated on weekday afternoons.
After eight successful years in his old slot, he was fired again, this time on the grounds that he was old- fashioned and out-of-date. As a consolation prize, he was given a two-hour show on Sunday afternoons. Post- millennium he returned to the network every Christmas until 2014 to present a special edition of Junior Choice.
"I still play the old favourites," he explained, "because those who were kids then are now parents and they want their kids to know what they were listening to all those years ago. They'll say: 'Do you remember playing this song for my little Johnnie? Well, he's now 40 …' So it's lovely to have that reaction to the show."
Ed Stewart married Chiara Henney in 1974. The marriage was later dissolved and he is survived by their two children.