Alvin Stardust obituary

Glam rock singer who found life beyond the 1970s as a television presenter and actor

It was in the era of 1970s glam rock that Alvin Stardust, who has died aged 72, became a household name. Thanks to a dramatic appearance on Top of the Pops in 1973, his debut single My Coo Ca Choo climbed to No 2 in the British charts and blossomed into an international hit. The follow-up, Jealous Mind, went to No 1. During the 80s, Stardust’s allure proved durable enough to take him back into the Top 10 with Pretend (1981), I Feel Like Buddy Holly (1984) and I Won’t Run Away (1984).

Yet before he adopted the chartbusting persona of Alvin Stardust, who resembled a glittery 70s version of the 50s rocker Gene Vincent, he had already had a trial run at pop stardom as Shane Fenton, lead singer with Shane Fenton and the Fentones. The group scored a handful of minor hits at the start of the 60s, beginning with 1961’s I’m a Moody Guy. In 1962, they managed to crack the Top 20 with Cindy’s Birthday, and that year Fenton appeared in the Michael Winner-directed movie Play It Cool alongside Billy Fury and Helen Shapiro. However, the Fentones split up after a subsequent string of flops.

He was born Bernard Jewry in east London, to Bill, a salesman, and his wife, Margaret, but the family soon moved to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. His father got a sales job that came with a large three-storey house, and Margaret started providing lodgings for performers from the local Palace Theatre. Doubtless it was here that the young Bernard acquired an early taste for the showbusiness life.

Sent to Southwell Minster Collegiate grammar school as a boarder, he had his enthusiasm for blues, jazz and rock’n’roll fired by listening to the American Forces Network and Radio Luxembourg. He became close friends with a local band, Johnny Theakstone and the Tremeloes, and would help carry their equipment. However, their lead singer Theakstone died suddenly, the result of a childhood illness that had weakened his heart.

The Tremeloes split up, but were subsequently contacted by the BBC’s Saturday Club show. They had received an audition tape sent in by Theakstone, under the pseudonym Shane Fenton, and were now inviting the band to perform on the show. Jewry was asked if he would impersonate the fictional Fenton, and he was happy to oblige. The group went down well enough to be invited back for numerous BBC broadcasts, which led to them signing a contract with Parlophone in 1961.

His transformation into Alvin Stardust came about through another bizarre identity-switch. The songwriter and producer Peter Shelley, co-founder of Magnet Records with Michael Levy (now Lord Levy, the former chief fundraiser for the Labour party), had written and recorded My Coo Ca Choo under the invented name Alvin Stardust. Shelley then had to pretend to be Stardust when Magnet’s PR department landed the fictional performer a promotional slot on TV. When the song charted, Shelley realised they would need a permanent Alvin Stardust to do the job properly, and Hal Carter, agent for Shane Fenton, suggested his client.

After his early huge chart success, Stardust’s career seemed to be fading when punk rock came along, but he proved remarkably resilient. Pete Waterman supplied him with a song, Pretend, but several labels turned him down for sounding “too seventies”. Dave Robinson, boss of the wilful Stiff Records, stepped in and signed Stardust. Pretend became one of his biggest hits, and they followed up with Wonderful Time Up There (1981), I Want You Back in My Life Again (1982) and Walk Away Renee (1983). Stardust then left the by-now-ailing Stiff for Chrysalis, where he scored in 1984 with Mike Batt’s song I Feel Like Buddy Holly and I Won’t Run Away.

In the 90s, he set out to pursue his long-cherished ambition to act. He appeared on radio, fronted his own Sunday morning children’s show for ITV, It’s Stardust, and was seen on TV in Hollyoaks, Doctors and The Grimleys. He racked up a list of theatre appearances in productions including Uriah Heep in David Copperfield – The Musical, The Phantom Of The Opera and Side By Side By Sondheim. He played the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the lead in The Billy Butlin Story at the London Palladium. Having previously been married to the actor Liza Goddard – their relationship foundered after Stardust’s sudden conversion to Christianity, apparently following his meeting with some American Baptist missionaries on a train to Waterloo – Stardust married the actor and and choreographer Julie Paton, whom he met during rehearsals for Godspell.

In 2010, Universal released Stardust’s album I Love Rock’n’Roll, comprising new recordings of his old hits alongside some new songs. He had recently been working on a new album, Alvin, for release this autumn, his first new studio collection since 1984.

He is survived by Julie and their daughter Millie; a daughter, Sophie, and stepson, Thom, from his marriage to Goddard; and two sons, Shaun and Adam, from his first marriage, to Iris Caldwell.

• Alvin Stardust (Bernard William Jewry), singer and actor, born 27 September 1942; died 23 October 2014


Adam Sweeting

The GuardianTramp

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