Saturday, 5 September 2009

Dee Time

I WAS TELLING A FRIEND the other night that a hero of my teenage years had just died. Who was it? Simon Dee. Who is Simon Dee? Never heard of him.

And I suppose if one didn't live in the UK between about 1964 and 1974, one might have completely missed the rise and fall of Simon Dee.

He was born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1935, and his real name was Cyril Nicholas Henty-Dodd. After his national service in the RAF in the 1950s, brief stints as a photographer's assistant, model, labourer, leaf sweeper in Hyde Park and a vacuum cleaner salesman (he reckoned he'd had fifty jobs in his lifetime), Cyril reinvented himself as Simon Dee (Simon was his son's name, and Dee from Dodd) and was one of the two first DJs on Radio Caroline, and his was the first voice heard from the pirate radio ship in March 1964.

I never heard Simon Dee on Radio Caroline, but I did come across his name in the magazines. By 1965 he'd come ashore and was working for the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. Simon hosted Top of the Pops at times, and started to keep some very famous company, and became a celebrity in his own right.

I watched Dee Time, Simon's twice-weekly chat show. His was the first chat show on British television. In fact, I tried not to miss one of Simon's shows as he almost certainly had the most famous and notorious along for a chat. Simon interviewed everyone from John Lennon to Jimi Hendrix at a time when I worshipped these hit-makers.

Simon Dee had a public school education apparently, but his accent was mid-Atlantic. That might have been an attraction for me being somewhat mid-Atlantic myself. He was awfully good looking, took chances, and you had to like somebody who was driven out of the studio after each show by a beautiful woman in an E-Type Jaguar.

Apparently, Simon Dee was the model, the inspiration, for the character Austin Powers. Simon had a few minor roles in films, and was considered as a possible James Bond. He looked the part, having fine features and looking not at all like Austin Powers.

I suppose I had something of a crush on Simon Dee, or a fascination a little beyond my control.

Simon Dee's career had gone tits up by 1970. He had misjudged his employers and his worth, and was soon out of work. He'd been well-paid by the standards of the day, £250 a show, but had spent it all. He went on the dole, worked as a bus driver briefly, and by 1974 was in gaol for tax offences. He had other brushes with the law. And he vanished.

Simon Dee lived alone in a tiny flat in Winchester at the time of his death, very suddenly from cancer, aged 74. He'd become a recluse. He'd been one of the Beautiful People in the 1960s. People who knew him towards the end of his life said he just didn't bother with those days when he'd been a shining star. The way a soldier might not speak of his time on the battlefield.

I find I cannot switch off the 1960s quite so easily.

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