An extract from Cupid Stunts, The Life And Radio Times Of Kenny Everett, by David & Caroline Stafford, published by Omnibus in 2013.
For the benefit of US readers who might never have heard of him, Everett was once the nation’s favourite DJ, a zany, carefree, anarchic wit who transferred his talents to television in risqué comedy shows that were funnier and filthier than anything else on TV. Simultaneously he became the nation’s most popular entertainer and its self-appointed moral watchdog Mary Whitehouse’s worst nightmare.
This extract focuses on what was probably his most controversial ever appearance – at the UK Tory Party Convention in 1983. He was their unlikeliest supporter but the truth is Kenny didn’t really know what the hell he was doing.
On September 2 David Stafford will be on a panel discussing Kenny at the National Film Theatre.
It was Margaret Thatcher’s fault. Or Michael Foot’s. Or Lynsey de Paul’s. Or Michael Winner’s. One of them. Or more likely still it was Kenny’s fault.
Margaret Thatcher had been swept into power in the 1979 general election with a Conservative majority of 44 to become Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. A hard-line right-wing monetarist Tory, her first term of office saw manufacturing output cut by 30% with closure of factories, mines and shipyards. Unemployment rose to its highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s and there were riots it Liverpool, London, Birmingham and Leeds.
Michael Foot was the Labour leader of the opposition; a left-wing intellectual and chronic asthmatic who often used a walking stick to support a tricky leg he’d acquired in a car accident some years earlier.
Lynsey de Paul was a pioneering female singer-songwriter, whose hits like ‘Sugar Me’, ‘No Honestly’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ brought a rueful moment to those who had nurtured a fond belief in pop as a great liberator that would free the human spirit and let it soar. She had been ‘romantically linked’ with Ringo Starr, George Best and Sean Connery, among many others.
Michael Winner was a well-respected film director, producer and restaurant critic responsible for such notable works as Death Wish, I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname and the lesser known Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.
In May 1983, Kenny and Cleo Rocos went to a party at Lynsey de Paul’s house. Michael Winner gave them a lift home. On the way Michael, a Tory in those days, asked Kenny whether he’d mind getting up on stage at a Young Conservatives’ Pre-General Election Rally at Wembley. Bob Monkhouse and Jimmy Tarbuck would be acting as Masters of Ceremony, Lynsey would be singing a song, wrestler Mick McManus, swimmer Sharon Davies, cricketer Freddie Trueman and a bunch of other celebs would be up on stage, too – so no pressure. Although he was never keen appearing in front of a live audience, Kenny agreed and didn’t give it much further thought.
He turned up at Wembley Conference Centre on June 5 with a borrowed costume and the big pair of big foam hands that he used for the evangelist preacher, Brother Lee Love. Everything was last minute. His agent, Jo Gurnett, had been asked to fetch the hands from his flat. “He lived on the top floor and it was a long way, carrying two bloody big hands for him.”
In Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline And Fall, the hero sits in his rooms at Oxford while outside the aristocratic vandals of some dining club, drunk, roam in search of havoc to wreak. All at once the shouts acquire a “shriller note” and “any who have heard that sound will shrink from the recollection of it; it is the sound of the English country families baying for broken glass.”
That night, in the Wembley Conference Centre, although representatives of the English country families would have been far outnumbered by rat-faced trainee estate agents and blubbery business-studies graduates, that same, unmistakable, “shrill note” could be heard.
Lynsey de Paul sang the song she’d specially composed for the occasion.
“Vote Tory, Tory, Tory
For election glory
We don’t want U turns
So we’ll vote for Maggie T”
Kenny took the stage wearing his giant foam hands, no script, nothing planned, but an audience to please. He had their measure. He gave satisfaction.
“Let’s bomb Russia!” he shouted.
There were wild cheers.
“Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away!”
The crowd went crazy.
Seeing he was on a roll, he leaned into the microphone and confided: “Do you, know I was talking to Maggie the other day – we were having one of our little teas together and I said to her, I said ‘Maggie’, I said ‘You’re rolling that joint all wrong…’”
The audience laughed and snorted and bayed themselves hoarse. They were in the palm of his huge foam hand.
If he had taken a dollop of actual shit and thrown it at an actual fan the effect could not have been more dramatic. Obviously Kenny was ‘joking’ but what, in this context, does ‘joking’ actually mean? Was bombing Russia and kicking Michael Foot’s stick away official Conservative Party policy, people wondered, and if not why were Kenny’s proposals so enthusiastically cheered? Did Kenny want to bomb Russia and kick Michael Foot’s stick away? Did Margaret Thatcher smoke dope?
The Prime Minister found it necessary to issue a statement insisting that, “No one is talking politically about bombing the Russians. Every single thing I do is to deter any hostilities of any kind of breaking out. No one was seriously suggesting anything to the contrary at the time.”
Representations were made to the Russian Embassy to explain that Kenny Everett had no control over Britain’s nuclear arsenal, and neither were his views representative of Britain’s foreign policy.
Barry Cryer has no doubts about what Kenny was up to. “He was taking the piss out of the whole audience,” he says. “He thought it was like a Nuremberg rally.”
The Nuremberg theme was picked by the press, too. But Kenny, rather than being applauded for exposing some great horror about Young Conservatives, was cast as something closer to the Hitler role.
The News of the World went with: “Not funny, Kenny.”
The People voted him “Wally of the Week.”
“When Mr Kenny Everett bounced onto the stage at a Conservative youth rally and shrieked ‘Lets bomb Russia, Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away,’” said the Daily Mirror, “he was being himself. He is a fool by profession. Mr Everett may be the foolish face of Toryism. But his audience was an ugly one. Mr David Steele described their type yesterday, ‘I find there is a breed of Conservative candidate,’ he said, ‘which is frankly unpleasant. There is an abrasive quality, an uncaring quality, a very right-wing quality about many of the Tory candidates.’”
Billy Connolly, who had turned out in support of a Labour candidate, rushed to his friend’s defence. “I know Kenny and there’s not an ounce of bigotry in him. It is the donkeys at the back of the hall who were bawling support that I worry about. I abhor what he said but I didn’t take it seriously.”
Barry Cryer had a possible solution. “I said to him, ‘You must go to every party meeting – Tory, Labour, SDP to confuse them. Just turn up everywhere!’ That would have been perfect.” Kenny didn’t take the advice.
“That was when the press turned,” says Barry. “It’s the old story. It’s a cliché – you can praise people and build them up and knock them down. They had something to beat Ev up with now and that hurt him. I was with him a lot through the years subsequently when he was being interviewed and every single journalist brought it up. And he’d look at me and go ‘Oh here we go.’”
As if to atone for his gaffe, subsequently Kenny never missed an opportunity to have a go at Thatcher.
One of his great treats for a while was to be taken by his friend Francis Butler, a restaurateur, to Francis’ parent’s house in Gerard’s Cross for Sunday lunch. He adored Mr and Mrs Butler and embroidered them a little sampler, intertwining their names, framed in a pink frame. They hung it in their downstairs toilet. Their daughter, Francis’ sister, had married Ben Cross, the actor. And thereby hangs a tale.
“Margaret Thatcher, in the early eighties, threw a party at 10 Downing Street for television celebrities and stars,” says Francis. “My brother-in-law, Ben Cross, was invited. My sister went along and she bumped into Kenny there and Kenny clung on to my sister because he was feeling a bit inadequate. Anyway, he was sitting on a sofa with my sister and Margaret Thatcher stalked by with this white gaunt face with the dash of purple lipstick. And as she strode past Kenny said, ‘Oh waitress, could we have two cups of tea, please?’”
Later, in his TV show, he did a sketch in which Sid Snot spots a picture of Margaret Thatcher in the pub and remarks that she looks like a pig. A fellow drinker takes offence and lays into Kenny with a starting-handle. They roll about fighting until Sid manages to blurt out an apology, saying he didn’t realise his assailant was a Conservative. “I’m not,” says the thug, “I’m a pig farmer.”
The best came in November 1983 when – this is the way he told the story anyway – at the end of his Radio 2 programme his producer handed him a joke on a bit of paper. Without scanning the contents first, Kenny read it out on air. “When Britain was an empire,” he said, “it was ruled by an emperor. When we were a kingdom, we had a king. Now we are a country, we’re ruled by Margaret Thatcher.”
The following March the BBC did not exercise its option to renew his Radio 2 contract. “His programme is not scheduled for this quarter,” they said. “Kenny does a short term series. And it hasn’t been decided what the next schedule is to be.”
Kenny was convinced he’d been sacked for the Thatcher crack. “The whole affair is over one joke. But talk to the BBC and they’ll tell you we had artistic differences.”
Kenny never did another regular show for BBC Radio. He should worry. Capital welcomed him back with open arms and he took over a Saturday morning slot.