Sunday 23 September 2018

Obituary: Dale Winton

Flamboyant, personable and sensitive television presenter who won celebrity status with Supermarket Sweep

LIKEABLE: Dale Wintonpresenting. Photo: Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage
LIKEABLE: Dale Wintonpresenting. Photo: Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage

Dale Winton, who died last Thursday, aged 62, was an exuberant king of television light entertainment, best known for his daytime game show Supermarket Sweep (1993-2001, later titled Dale's Supermarket Sweep, and revived in 2007).

The ever-buoyant Winton would pose daft questions to couples - and whichever pair got the right answer was invited to dash around a supermarket, flinging produce into their trolley. The couple who had amassed the most valuable collection of goods won, with joke "bonus" items available as extra prizes. "You've got an inflatable banana," Winton would enthuse, running it through the checkout, "a cactus and a rubber guitar!"

The presenter's camp, knowing style turned a turkey into a prize goose. The hip magazine NME wrote that he became "the main reason the nation's students are late for their first lecture of the day".

Dale Jonathan Winton was born in North London on May 22, 1955. His father, Gary Winner, was a furniture salesman. His mother, Sheree Winton, was a popular actress who appeared alongside comedians such as Terry-Thomas and Frankie Howerd. The family were Jewish (Gary by birth, Sheree by conversion) and brought up young Dale in material comfort.

But his childhood was marred by tragedy. He later recalled that his father was brutal and their relationship strained. Gary died on the morning of his son's bar mitzvah; Winton recalled going to his funeral in a red sports car and feeling no remorse.

Sheree, whom he loved very much, was plagued with depression. One night in 1976, Dale came home late and found a "do not disturb" sign on his mother's door. When he entered her bedroom the next day, he discovered that she had taken a fatal overdose of barbiturates. Winton inherited a significant sum but said he blew it all within three years.

Fortunately, he was developing a talent as a radio DJ. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, he flitted between the Midlands and London, doing local radio or DJ-ing in clubs. He landed his own morning slot on United Biscuits Network. Jobs followed at Radio Trent, Chiltern Radio, Blue Danube in Vienna and a three-year stint at Beacon in Wolverhampton.

An early television spot was in Pet Watch for BBC One in 1986. But it was not until he decided to smarten up his appearance that his career really took off. The formerly chubby Winton shed a great deal of weight, built up a permanent orange tan and spent his savings on a nose job - performed by the surgeon of his close friend Cilla Black. Later there were two facelifts.

He was soon appearing on Channel 4 and ITV, and in 1993 his break came with his appointment as host of the new ITV show Supermarket Sweep, based on a format that had first run on American television in the mid-1960s.

The critics hated the first season. One called it: "The tackiest, most tasteless, most moronic show on television." The fault, claimed Winton, lay with the producers. They insisted that he play it "straight" and act as though he was presenting Mastermind. "Let me do it my own way!" he pleaded, and the producers agreed. Suddenly the audience got to see a good-natured host who knew what he was doing was silly and enjoyed it.

"No one is entirely sure why, but the demographics of Winton's audiences revealed a startling breadth of appeal," wrote a Daily Telegraph profile writer. "The reviewers thought again, this time proclaiming him a brilliant talent and the natural successor to Forsyth, and demanding that he be given bigger and better shows."

The truth was simple: Winton was a likeable, funny man and viewers warmed to him. His career rocketed and he became a stalwart of 1990s prime-time television, hosting programmes including Pets Win Prizes and Top of the Pops, and appearing as a team captain in a television spin-off of Radio 4's Just a Minute.

From 2002 he spent 14 years hosting The National Lottery: In It to Win It game show. He hosted an endurance-based game show called Touch the Truck for Channel 5 (2001) and in 2003 appeared in a surreal "mockumentary" called Dale's Wedding on BBC Three, in which he "married" the glamour model Nell McAndrew.

He presented Celebrity Fit Club on ITV (2004-6), and perhaps a low point was Hole in the Wall on BBC One (2008), in which contestants in tight Lycra costumes tried to squeeze through oddly shaped holes in a moving wall.

Likewise, Dale's Great Getaway on ITV ran for just one episode in 2012. In one of the programme's challenges, participants had 45 seconds to milk a Swiss goat.

His last project was Dale Winton's Florida Fly Drive for Channel 5.

Winton was also a regular on Radio 2, presenting the long-running fixture Pick of the Pops from 2000 to 2010. And he made guest appearances (as versions of himself) in One Foot in the Grave, Absolutely Fabulous, French and Saunders.

Surprisingly, given his on-screen persona, Winton only came out as gay in 2002, when he was 47, in his book My Story. He had kept it secret from his mother.

But latterly he admitted that he struggled to find a suitable partner, saying in 2016: "If they're mean and nasty, I like them."

Fans became concerned about Winton's health after he appeared unwell in an April 2015 broadcast of In It to Win It.

When Cilla Black died in August that year, he was reported to be distraught and was photographed looking exhausted, with an unusual grey Mohican haircut.

Winton had an instinctive understanding of his audience. Explaining the appeal of Supermarket Sweep, he observed: "The bottom line is, people want friendliness. They don't want cleverdicks… That's why I play it the way I do. I actually love the show - and I love people."

© Telegraph

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