Forty years ago I packed up my guitars and belongings, left London and headed down the M4 to Cardiff. In my mind it was a tactical retreat from the world of rock music and would be for as long as it took for the entertainment industry to get over its ‘punk phase’. The reason I was going to Cardiff was that during my student years I had spent a lot of my summer holidays working as a researcher at BBC Radio Wales. In fact when I left university in 1981 I had been offered a proper job at the Radio Station, but I turned it down. I still had a dream and I needed to get London out of my system.
By 1982 London had beaten, battered and spat me out so that trip to Cardiff really didn’t feel like a moment of triumph, but the offer of some work at Radio Wales was a lifeline and I was going to grab it. There was no doubt that I needed some help, love and support to pick me up again.
My recovery started, not in a radio studio but in a house in Pontcanna, Cardiff owned by radio presenter Chris Stuart. During my first month back in Wales I became a permanent house guest as we watched the 1982 World Cup with his mates…and Chris made me feel right at home.
I’d been a fan of Chris Stuart for a long time before I got to work with him on radio. He had been a regular on TV with his band ‘Baby Grand’. The band was a cross between ‘Flanders and Swan’ and an Oxbridge late night Review. They were funny, topical and the music to their ‘funny’ songs always sounded good.
In 1978 Chris became the host of the ‘AM’ morning show on BBC Radio Wales. One of the producers, Megan Emery, had heard my music on BBC Radio 1 and invited me to perform a session for the show. Not long after that I was invited to be a guest on Chris’s Late Night Music TV show ‘Maybe Next Week’ where we performed a duet together.
It was to Megan Emery that I wrote during my first year in university. I asked if I could maybe pop into the station during my summer holidays for a bit of work experience. She said yes.
The first few days were spent watching how the programme was put together. The ‘AM’ show had a really young, enthusiastic and talented team. Senior Producer Dai Nicholas was at the helm, but the star of the show was the presenter Chris Stuart. It soon became clear that you could throw anything at him, and he would handle it. Politicians, actors, singers, even parrots. Everyday had up to 6, maybe 8 different contributors and Chris sailed gracefully between every topic.
It was maybe on day 2 or day 3 that I was handed a book and asked to provide a ‘brief’ and set of questions for Chris to use at a pre- recorded interview. With so many interviews in any one programme Chris wouldn’t have the time to read every book or research every politician so that was the job of the production team. Our role was also to make it as ‘Chris Stuart’ as we could.
To be honest I took the assignment much more seriously than any I had been given at University in the previous 12 months. The book was an autobiography of the writer and actor Emlyn Williams. I loved the research and studiously typed out the introduction and questions on a set of cards. I gave them to Megan, who gave them to Chris.
We went down to the studio and in walked Emlyn Williams with a bit of an entourage. I sat in the control room as the tape started to roll and I was mesmerised as I heard Chris read out my words and ask my questions and make them sound effortlessly like his own. At the end of the interview Chris came over to me, told me I’d done a good job and I was ecstatic.
Over the next few years I worked with Chris in lots of different ways. When Chris was asked to write the theme music to the S4C cartoon ‘Superted’ Chris put my name forward to be one of the singers.
When Chris was asked to present a BBC Wales Chat Show, ’The Chris Stuart Cha Cha Chat Show’ I left radio and moved to TV with him. Again Chris’s intelligence and versatility meant you could book guest as diverse as Radio 4’s John Humphrys or Diva Dorothy Squires, and he could get the best out of any of them. Once we set up a full sized snooker table for him to interview Terry Griffiths. I think my particular favourite moment was his interview with Basil Brush.
One of the guests on that show, Jade, was managed by legendary impresario Larry Page who had managed the Kinks and the Troggs. After a bit of a chat in the canteen I sent him some songs and it wasn’t long before he signed me to his label, and I left radio for the world of music again.
In 1987 Chris and the AM team followed my progress in the ‘Song for Europe’ competition. After doing a number of interviews on the show, Megan Emery asked if I’d like to have a go at presenting the early breakfast show. I jumped at the opportunity but also realised there is a great difference to being the guest, where someone asks you questions to being the presenter sat alone with a pile of records and an hour of empty space to fill.
Chris was the obvious person to turn to. I remember him telling me to write out every link for the first few weeks. After that, he told me, I wouldn’t need to do it any more. It was a bit like having stabilisers on a bike, after a few weeks, I had found my balance and I was off and running.
On the day I started broadcasting Chris moved from Radio Wales to Radio 2. He started that stint broadcasting from Cardiff before finally moving to London. We would meet around 6am in the canteen, share a coffee and a few laughs and then go to our different stations.
Chris would go on to be a presenter at some of the biggest occasions in our Nation’s history, his calm reassuring and authoritative commentary just right for every occasion.
One of the happiest moments I have had in broadcasting was when I found out that Chris and my old boss Megan Emery had fallen in love and were to be married. Together with Megan he set up the TV production company ‘Presentable’ which would create shows as diverse as televised Poker to the quiz show ‘Only Connect’ presented by Victoria Coren Mitchell.
This week I heard the sad news that Chris had passed away at the age of 73. My head was filled with so many great moments we had shared together, in a studio and out of it too. He was a massive Nottingham Forest fan so I knew he would have been delighted that they had been promoted back to the Premier League…
I remembered that he had been my idol and my template for producing and presenting radio programmes. I know I have been lucky in life to work with some of the greatest in their fields, especially music but when it came to radio he was the greatest. Even now I often find myself using a turn of phrase and say to myself that is pure Chris Stuart.
But for all that my greatest memory this week has been that house in Pontcanna in 1982 watching the World Cup. If I’m honest, at the time, I was completely broken but Chris took me under his wing, made me feel at home and made me believe I had a future and for that I will be eternally grateful.