How I ‘died the death’ in Manchester and was saved by one man’s faith 

1 February 2018

From the TVTimes for 24-30 January 1970

Success on radio is one thing, TV acclaim is another… as Simon Dee discovered. When you see him in his new ITV series, it may be hard to realise that his first attempt at ‘doing his own thing’ was a disaster. Only one man still believed in him

When I look back over the last four years, I feel as if there’s been some awful conspiracy to take away all my leisure. It’s been nibbled away so that I now count myself lucky if I have five minutes a week to myself.

It all began that heady summer of 1965 when I got three different contracts for disc shows on the radio. There was a bit of a hold-up at first, because the BBC producers had to get permission to hire me from on high — my Radio Caroline “pirate” reputation wasn’t exactly a recommendation with Auntie.

In addition, I began a twice-weekly show for Radio Luxembourg. The Dee finances were really looking up. I was making about £200 a week… 10 times my old pay at Radio Caroline.

But, as you may have gathered from previous instalments of the Dee saga, I am a highly restless fellow. Even though I could have sat back and counted my loot, I wanted to press on. Perhaps my luckiest radio break came when I took over from Pete Murray, who went on a long leave, and I had two-and-a-half hours to fill with the kind of music I liked. My taste seemed to chime with the public’s, and it taught me an important lesson: that, so far as music was concerned, it was better to trust one’s own judgment than try to guess what the audience wanted. In that way you soon established a personality of your own.

I began to get my first television breaks in the middle of 1966. I joined the panel of Juke Box Jury, compered a Miss United Kingdom contest, and chatted up the odd celebrity on Late Night Line-Up. And then at last they began to think of a Simon Dee series.

It was planned as a twice-weekly live show from Manchester. When I realised what it would entail, I was scared — and righty so, as it turned out. We did a pilot show, with all the trimmings. There was a band, singers, guests to interview, and an audience to provide atmosphere and, hopefully, laughter and applause.

DEE AT PLAY… with daughter, tape recorder, hi-fi, and slot stereo

And it was diabolical. I was so taut with nerves that I was about as relaxed as a stone pillar. I was overplaying like a ham actor. I’ve said before that tension is necessary for a performer — but this was ridiculous. I knew I was making a hash of it, and that just made matters worse.

Well, afterwards there was an inquest I’ll never forget. The entire production team surrounded me in a hotel room and belted into me with every criticism in the book. They accused me of pouncing on the guests and not giving them a chance to speak. Of being self-conscious. Of letting the side down. I knew they were right. Which didn’t prevent me from breaking down, with tears, etc., etc. I prepared to pack my bags and hide my head for good.

Then they told me that I could try again, with another pilot. There wasn’t much improvement. My confidence had drained away, and I couldn’t find the means of bringing it back. I was becoming my own executioner.

One single gesture saved my TV career, and I’ll always be grateful for it. Despite the awful pilots, Billy Cotton, Jnr., then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at the BBC, gave me a contract for Dee Time. That was what I needed to take the quake out of my knees, the oscillation from my fingers. Because he had faith in me, I acquired it in myself.

From a first audience figure of two million it went to eight in three weeks. That was encouraging enough. But the real breakthrough was that I found I was appealing to the housewives, who watched in the early evening, and who were quite a different audience from the pop fans who listened to me on radio.

The only trouble was that Manchester was a difficult place for celebrities to get to. They were often too busy to make the journey, and we began to run out of guests. So we switched to a once-a-week Saturday spot and moved to London, where swinging guys like Vincent Price or Roger Moore could drop in without too much effort and be back home in under half-an-hour.

And so Dee Time and Simon Dee finally made it and The Desperate Years were over.

Life for Bunny and Simon jnr, and me (not forgetting Domino, who arrived three years ago) has changed astronomically. Now we live in a large London fiat off the Brompton Road, where I also have my office so that I can have some moments with my family.

DEE AT WORK… with coffee, cigarette, pencil… and programme planners

True, some fans have found out where I live, and come bashfully ringing the door-bell. But I don’t really mind. Bunny always says that these are the people who have made me a success, and I quite agree. Even when I’m fraught and busy, I like to be courteous to them. They — and a fan mail that sometimes reaches 1,000 letters a week — are the proof that the show is getting through to people.

Recently, of course, I’ve been busier than ever preparing this ITV series. I don’t promise an entirely new Simon Dee. I still depend on “the team” who work like beavers during the week, arranging, researching, finding out who’s in town. And I still feel most proud of myself when I can give a chance to some unknown — like Terri Stevens, the docker’s daughter—and sec them go up in to the Big Time.

But now I want to experiment a bit, maybe have more time to talk to the big names. And there’ll be Maynard Ferguson, one of the world’s great trumpet-players, leading his own band and making the whole thing groovy.

I hope you’ll like it. You’re the customer. And — as I was taught to believe when I was selling you vacuum cleaners — the customer is always right.

You Say

5 responses to this article

Paul Mason 2 February 2018 at 10:31 pm

Oh dear. As a child I remember Dee Time. In the first two article you can see the self destructive seeds. Simon Dee seemed to always be pushing his luck and it only worked briefly. He had made an enemy of Bill Cotton a and eventually at LWT with David Frost. To quote a fellow ex-pirate Kenny Everett “After the BBC, what next? ITV? In 1970 that was it.

Andy Roberts 23 December 2020 at 1:30 am

A few years ago I saw a clip of one of Dee’s ill-fated LWT programmes – it may have been used on The Dee-Construction documentary made by Victor Lewis-Smith. I’ve tried to find the clip and any more LWT footage of Dee on YouTube without any luck. Does anyone have any links to it?

Keith Martin 6 February 2022 at 4:25 pm

No one will really care but I used to spin the records for Simon during 1964 on Radio Caroline for his Breakfast Show and also in the afternoon for ‘Sound Track. In between Dees shows, i was presenting me own shows – a new high bench mark in broadcasting! – Top Deck in the mornings and Caroline Club Requests in the evenings. I did not enjoy being sea sick! So, in 1965 i joined ABC Television as an in-vision announcer/presenter in Manchester and Birmingham and later in London for Rediffusion. What followed can be read, seen and heard in The Pirate Hall of Fame.

Paul Devereux 8 May 2022 at 4:06 pm

I remember Simon Dee doing Sounds of the Sixties on BBC radio 2. I thought he was really good and made an excellent radio presenter. Not so good on the telly though. Radio is not second class. People are turning back to audio.

Nigel Smith 19 July 2023 at 7:42 am

Simon Dee was a big name in broadcasting for only a short period of time and that was because he had ideas above his station, which I suppose is a requirement for the job. He pushed the “self destruct” button and fell out with the wrong people in “TV land” . At one stage he was always in TV, remember the Smith’s Crisps adverts, he had a couple of film roles, his own high profile TV shows, he did TOTP for BBC and a lot of other media work. Then, suddenly he was on the “black list”, no work, a spell in prison, working as a bus driver, bad publicity and, yes, he did get a short stint in Sounds of the Sixties which he did quite well. His short career was a good example if, no matter how high you reach in broadcasting, you upset the wrong people, you won’t survive.

Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Monday 8 July 2024