Maurice James Christopher Cole (25 December 1944 - 4 April 1995), known professionally as Kenny Everett, was a British comedian, radio DJ and television entertainer. Everett is best known for his career as a radio DJ and for The Kenny Everett Video Show.
Early life and education:
Everett was born in Seaforth, Lancashire on Christmas Day 1944 into a Catholic family. His birth name was Maurice James Christopher Cole. Everett attended the local secondary modern school, St Bede's Secondary Modern School in Crosby, now part of Sacred Heart Catholic College. He attended a junior seminary at Stillington, North Yorkshire near York with an Italian missionary order, the Verona Fathers, where he was a choirboy. After he left school, he worked in a bakery and in the Advertising Department of The Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph.
While working at a pirate radio station Radio London he was advised to change his name to avoid legal problems. He adopted the name "Everett" from American film comic actor Edward Everett Horton, a childhood hero.
Everett married the singer and psychic Audrey Lee "Lady Lee" Middleton (b. 14 February 1937, the daughter of a fireman) at Kensington Register Office on 2 June 1969. By September 1979, they had separated, and in the mid-1980s, he publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. One of his first boyfriends, a waiter called Jay Pitt was found for Everett by his wife.
During the 1983 general election campaign, the Young Conservatives invited Everett to their conference in an attempt to attract the youth vote. Egged on by film director Michael Winner, Everett bounded onto the stage, wearing the enormously oversized foam rubber hands familiar from his mock-evangelical character Brother Lee Love. He shouted slogans like "Let's bomb Russia!" and "Let's kick Michael Foot's stick away!" to loud applause (Michael Foot was the leader of the Labour Party at the time). Everett later said he regretted the incident and that he had taken the foam hands to the rally because the Tories "asked me first". In an interview on Ireland's The Late Late Show with Gay Byrne and Sinéad O'Connor in 1989, Everett was challenged by O'Connor about his support for the Tory Party in the light of his homosexuality and the Conservative's Section 28 addition to the Local Government Act. Everett clarified that he was not a "full Tory", but that he had been appalled by the actions of Arthur Scargill, who he saw as "inciting violence" and "rebel rousing" sic and who he thought looked like "Hitler reborn". He had consequently supported the actions of Margaret Thatcher in opposing Scargill. He said he would stand up for gay rights if he were asked providing "it was a jolly occasion", but he also felt that being in a minority and in the public eye, he could do more for gay rights by showing that he was funny and human rather than by marching in the streets.
Friendship with Freddie Mercury:
Freddie Mercury and Everett became close friends over the years they knew each other. First meeting in 1974, Everett had invited Freddie on to his breakfast show on Capital FM; the pair hit it off instantly. During the 1970s, their friendship became closer, with Everett becoming advisor and mentor to Mercury - and Mercury as Everett's confidante, helping Everett to accept his sexuality. Throughout the early-mid 80s, the pair continued to explore their homosexuality - in addition to drugs - and while the pair were never lovers, they did experience London night life on a regular basis together. During this time Everett and Mercury became involved with Nicolai Grishanovitch and a Spanish waiter named Pepe Flores.
In 1984, Everett found out Nicolai had contracted HIV; this added extra strain on his friendship with Mercury. By 1985, the pair had also fallen out over a disagreement on their using and sharing of drugs. During 1988, Audrey Lee "Lady Lee" Middleton completed her autobiography, with the foreword from Everett. Unusually, shortly after its publication and newspaper serialisation, Everett denounced the book for outing him. The fallout resulted in the pair only speaking via lawyer, with their friends - including Mercury - choosing to support Lee. Everett and Mercury started talking again in 1989, in their failing health. Their closeness was not on the same level as years previous, but they were able to reconcile their differences.
Illness and death:
Everett was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1989, and he made his condition known to the public in 1993. He died from an AIDS-related illness, in the Kensington and Chelsea, London, on 4 April 1995, aged 50. A traditional requiem mass was held at Church of the Immaculate Conception in Mayfair , and Everett was later cremated at Mortlake Crematorium.
Radio London, Radio Luxembourg and Radio One:
Everett's first break (as Maurice Cole) came when he sent a tape to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1962. He was interviewed at the BBC by Charles Fletcher and offered a job as a presenter on the Light Programme, the forerunner to BBC Radio 2. He declined, however, in favour of the less constrained world of pirate radio, where he began his career as a DJ for Radio London.
He teamed up with Dave Cash for the Kenny & Cash Show, one of the most popular pirate radio programmes. His offbeat style and likeable personality quickly gained him attention, but in 1965 he was sacked after some outspoken remarks about religion on air. Like most of the pirate stations, Radio London carried sponsored American evangelical shows and Everett's disparaging remarks about The World Tomorrow caused its producers to threaten to withdraw their lucrative contract with the station. Everett returned six months later, however, before being given his own show by Radio Luxembourg in 1966.
Johnny Beerling, a BBC producer, secretly visited Radio London at this time and observed Everett at work: "I saw this man Everett doing everything. In the old way of doing things, the DJ sat in one room with a script. Someone else played the records and somebody else controlled the sound. Yet I see this man who has control of everything." An audition tape submitted to the BBC was assessed in March 1967 by a panel:
"Member one: 'A pseudo-American voice. Sounds experienced and seems to fancy his luck. Yes.', Member two: 'By far the most original of the young DJs. I found the stilted bits in bad taste but with suitable restraint and encouragement, Kenny Everett could be one of the BBC's best DJs. Yes.', Member three: 'Without the hard sell and the occasional phoney American accent, a good pop DJ. Must be made to curb the funnies and the voices. Yes.', Member four: 'I found the continuous changes of voices irritating and his personality supercilious but he certainly has some talent. Should be available but would need very firm production. Yes.'"
He was heard in May 1967 on the BBC's soon to be discontinued Light Programme previewing the Beatles' forthcoming album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and was one of the DJs on the new pop music station Radio 1 from its launch at the end of September 1967. Everett had struck up a friendship with the Beatles and accompanied them on their August 1966 tour of the United States, sending back daily reports for Radio London. He also produced their 1968 and 1969 Christmas records.
At Radio 1 Everett continued to develop his own unique presentation style, encouraged by producer Angela Bond, who had persuaded her superiors to give him his first programme, although he later reacted against her as a representative of the BBC. Everett's Radio 1 show featured zany voices, surreal characters, multi-tracked jingles and trailers, all of his own creation and compilation. It was Everett who had persuaded Johnny Beerling and station controller Robin Scott, at a lunch meeting before his appointment, of the importance of the new station having jingles. Everett's shows on BBC Radio 1 included Midday Spin, and in 1968 he took over a Saturday show from 10.00am to 12.00 noon.
In 1970, Everett again found himself sacked, this time after suggesting on air that Mary Peyton, the British Transport Minister's wife, had bribed her driving test examiner. The remark was a spontaneous quip, following a news item describing how Peyton had finally passed after many attempts. The BBC thought the comment "indefensible", although shortly before the incident Everett had given a controversial interview with Melody Maker contrary to a BBC embargo preventing him from giving interviews. In negotiations with the record companies and the Musicians' Union over needle time, a limit on the playing on air of commercially recorded music, the MU representatives would complain about Everett, the one BBC broadcaster who persistently mocked them. In fact, in the year after Everett's death, it was stated that the bribery quip was merely the excuse for his canning and that the real reason was because he threatened to go public on the restrictive practices and deals with the Musicians Union that were not only frustrating him and his listeners, but also making Radio One much less popular than the pirate stations it had been set up to displace.
Following an interview on the BBC Radio Solent children's show Albert's Gang, Everett submitted weekly shows to the station that he had pre-recorded at home. This afforded the BBC the opportunity to vet the shows before broadcast. Everett was then heard on various BBC local radio stations before being reinstated at Radio 1 in 1972. Here he recorded a weekly show from his home in Wales and it went out on a Sunday afternoon.
During this time, legislation had been passed allowing the licensing of commercial radio stations in the UK. One of the first, Capital Radio, began broadcasting to London and the Home Counties in 1973. Everett joined the station and was given his own show, where he further developed his distinctive ideas. From 1973 to 1974 he presented the station's breakfast show, initially alongside Dave Cash, a friend and colleague from Radio London days, and later as the sole presenter.
Everett had a great love of sound recording equipment, in particular using reel-to-reel tape recorders and mixing equipment, often adding sound-on-sound to his recordings and stereo/multi-track recordings of his pseudo-singing voice. These were broadcast on air regularly and he often created his own radio jingles. Everett created many comedy characters on The Breakfast Show with Dave Cash on Capital, one of which was called 'Yasher the Smasher' referring to a character who smashed pianos. This was indicative of how many people went through a destructive period smashing traditional wooden pianos. The idea was first started with Pete Townshend from the Who encouraging the group to destroy their equipment on stage.
In 1974 he moved to a less high-pressure timeslot at Capital. Here he further developed his style and his cult following, and featured both what he thought the best in music (Queen, Chris Rainbow) and the worst, which led to the popular Kenny Everett's World's Worst Record Show programmes, later released as an album, with slightly different tracks. Several shows featured the "Bottom 30": compilations (from listeners' votes) of the world's worst records during this period, including some tracks by well-known personalities not known for their singing, notably William Shatner (Captain Kirk of Star Trek) with his version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "The Shifting Whispering Sands" by Eamonn Andrews.
In 1975 Everett played a pivotal role in getting Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" released as a single. He also presented a pre-recorded programme on Saturday lunch-time for Radio Victory in Portsmouth, later providing Captain Kremmen to the station for transmission in Dave Christian's late show.
BBC Radio and back to Capital:
On 5 February 1980 Everett made his only appearance on the BBC Radio 4 show Just a Minute where he spoke on the subject of marbles for 90 seconds. The extended improvisation was imposed by Nicholas Parsons as a practical joke.
In October 1981, Everett returned to BBC Radio, this time on Radio 2, on Saturday from 11.00am-1.00pm. During this time, the BBC received a large number of complaints after Everett told the following joke while live on air. 'When Britain was an Empire we were ruled by an emperor. When we became a kingdom we were ruled by a king. And now we're a country we're ruled by Margaret Thatcher. ' The show ran until 1983.
In May 1985, he was called in to replace Graeme Garden for one episode of the Radio 4 game show, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.
He returned to Capital Radio, presenting the same time slot he had on Radio 2. After Capital split its frequencies in 1988 he was heard on Capital Gold, with a line-up that included people such as Tony Blackburn and David Hamilton. Everett presented the afternoon show and then moved to the mid-morning show. He left in 1994 when his health deteriorated to the point that he was unable to continue.
Early television work:
Besides the radio programmes, his first screen appearance was in the 1965 film Dateline Diamonds which had a plot based around the pirate ship MV Galaxy. He also appeared in several television series, beginning in 1968 with a production for Granada Television called Nice Time which was co-presented by Germaine Greer and Jonathan Routh. In 1970 he made three series for London Weekend Television (LWT): The Kenny Everett Explosion, Making Whoopee and Ev; and he also took part (along with such talents as Willie Rushton and John Wells) in the 1972 BBC TV series Up Sunday.
In 1973, Everett provided the voice of the cat 'Charley' in the Charley Says animated series of public information films.
Everett was the announcer on the original version of ATV's "big box game" Celebrity Squares which ran on ITV from 1975 to 1979.
The Kenny Everett Video Show and The Kenny Everett Video Cassette:
In 1978, London's Thames Television offered him a new venture, which became the Kenny Everett Video Show. This was a vehicle for Everett's characters and sketches (his fellow writers were Ray Cameron, Barry Cryer and Dick Vosburgh), interspersed with the latest pop hits, either performed by the artists themselves, or as backing tracks to dance routines by Arlene Phillips' risqué dance troupe Hot Gossip (which featured Sarah Brightman).
Various pop and TV stars made cameo appearances on the show, including Rod Stewart, Billy Connolly, Kate Bush, Cliff Richard, Freddie Mercury, Terry Wogan and Suzi Quatro (see also "Friends" section below) and classical musicians such as Julian Lloyd Webber.
There were also the stories of Captain Kremmen, a science fiction hero voiced by Everett and originally developed for his Capital Radio shows, who travelled the galaxy battling fictional alien menaces, along with his assistant Dr Gitfinger and his voluptuous sidekick Carla. In the first three series these segments were animations created by the Cosgrove-Hall partnership (responsible for the successful children's cartoon series Dangermouse, among many others). In the fourth series (Video Cassette) Kremmen was featured as live action, with Anna Dawson playing Carla; the segments were comedy shorts, rather than the earlier stories.
Other characters included: ageing rock-and-roller Sid Snot, unsuccessfully flipping cigarettes into his mouth - at one point Everett managed to catch one in his mouth, to the amusement of the studio crew; Marcel Wave, a lecherous Frenchman played by Everett wearing an absurdly false latex chin; and "Angry of Mayfair", an upper middle class City gent complaining of the risqué content of the show, banging the camera's lens hood with his umbrella, and then storming off, turning his back to us, only then to be revealed as wearing women's underwear in lieu of the entire back half of his suit.
He also created the never-seen character of 'Lord Thames', supposedly the owner of Thames Television (the company was actually owned by two conglomerates). The character was often the butt of Everett's rants and was said to symbolise his contempt for senior management at the company, claiming they lived behind an ancient, cobweb-covered door marked as the "Office of Saying 'No'". Thames never disciplined him for these comments, unlike prior employers such as the BBC.
The series ran for four seasons on ITV. The last episode of Series 3 ended with Everett giving a farewell speech as the set and scenery was being stripped down by the crew. The final shot before the closing credits was Everett himself being picked up and placed inside an oversized dustbin.
The fourth series was retitled The Kenny Everett Video Cassette and was more of a comedy programme than the previous three series, which relied more on music acts.
The Kenny Everett Television Show (BBC 1981-87):
Everett fell out with Thames regarding the management of his show, including the scheduling against the BBC's top-rated Top of the Pops on Thursday evenings. The BBC offered him a live-audience sketch-format comedy programme, starting with a Christmas special on BBC1 in 1981, followed by five primetime series. The writing team was bolstered by the addition of Andrew Marshall, David Renwick and Neil Shand, and the production standards were raised by the heavier investment from the Corporation.
Thames Television claimed copyright on Everett's characters, and tried to prevent their use by the BBC. Whilst this action failed, it led to the creation of new characters such as Gizzard Puke (intended to replace Sid Snot), and the spooneristically named Cupid Stunt, an American B-film actress with pneumatic breasts, and played with no attempt to disguise Everett's beard, who told a cardboard cutout of Michael Parkinson lurid tales of life on set with Burt Reynolds and other male stars of the era. Her original name, Mary Hinge, was vetoed by the Corporation as too obvious, and announcers were encouraged to refer to her as Cupid to prevent mispronunciation. Her final action in each scene was to cross and uncross her legs - anticipating Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct a few years later. Inept TV handyman Reg Prescott became another firm viewers' favourite, as each week he managed graphically and bloodily to injure himself with tools whilst attempting to demonstrate DIY tips.
Brazilian-born Cleo Rocos co-starred in the BBC series. She often appeared in nothing more than frilly underwear and high heels, and her figure was used to great comic effect as a focus for drooling, lascivious men.
Everett hosted two short-lived quiz shows late in his career, Brainstorm, and Gibberish. He was also a team captain on That's Showbusiness.
Friends and guests:
Everett was very popular with his peers, and many major stars of television, radio and pop music counted him as a friend. This led to many celebrity guest appearances across all his television work. Cliff Richard was happy to have his clean image lampooned many times, as were Lionel Blair and Justin Hayward. Terry Wogan - a long-time colleague from the early days at Radio 1 - made numerous appearances on both Thames and the BBC shows, as did Billy Connolly and Lennie Bennett. Other stars who parodied themselves included Rod Stewart, Kate Bush, ABBA, the Police, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.
Everett is known to have made at least one series of commercials - he voiced Beeper the Frog for National Express from 1980.
Bloodbath at the House of Death:
Everett made one foray into film with 1984's Bloodbath at the House of Death, a spoof of Hammer horror films, which was penned by Everett's usual writing partners Barry Cryer and Ray Cameron (who also directed the film). Vincent Price was featured as the villain, credited only as the "Sinister Man", and a number of other popular comedians and actors also appeared, including Pamela Stephenson, Gareth Hunt and Don Warrington. Several regulars from Everett's television series also appeared. The film was not a great success, despite winning "Best Science-Fiction Film" at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (tied with Videodrome).
The following is a list of the main shows Everett presented.
Kenny & Cash Show Radio London - 1964-65,
Kenny Everett Audio Show Radio Luxembourg - 1966,
Midday Spin BBC Radio 1 - 1967,
Everett is Here BBC Radio 1, Saturdays 10-12pm - 1968-70,
Kenny Everett Radio Show BBC Local Radio - 1971,
Kenny Everett Radio Show BBC Radio 1, Sundays 1pm-3pm - 1972-73,
Breakfast Show Capital Radio - 1973-74,
Kenny Everett Audio Show/Cassette Capital Radio - 1974-80,
Kenny Everett Audio Show/Cassette Radio Victory - 1975-76,
Captain Kremmen Radio Victory - 1976,
Kenny Everett Radio Show BBC Radio 2, Saturdays 11am-1pm - 1981-83,
Kenny Everett Audio Show Capital Radio, Saturdays 11am-1pm - 1984-88,
Weekday afternoons Capital Gold, 1pm-4pm - 1988-91,
Weekday mid-mornings Capital Gold, 9am-12noon - 1991-94,
Nice Time Granada Television - 1968,
The Kenny Everett Explosion LWT - 1970,
The Kenny Everett Video Show Thames Television - 1978-80,
The Kenny Everett Video Cassette Thames Television - 1981,
The Kenny Everett Television Show BBC1 - 1981-88,
Brainstorm BBC1 - 1988,
Gibberish BBC - 1992,
Tributes, portrayals and books:
In 1981, Everett co-wrote a semi-fictitious autobiography entitled The Custard Stops at Hatfield. It was published by Willow Books, William Collins, Sons, in September 1982.
Everett is the subject of a 1997 episode of the Thames Television series Heroes of Comedy which covered his life and career from his beginnings on pirate radio up until his death. Celebrities such as Steve Wright, Cliff Richard, Cleo Rocos, Barry Cryer, Jeremy Beadle, Terry Wogan and Barry Took appear and talk about their experiences, collaborations and friendships with Everett and his influence on them.
On 18 November 2007, ITV1 broadcast a tribute show to Everett entitled Licence to Laugh. This celebrated the 30 years since he first appeared on ITV with the Kenny Everett Video Show (Thames Television). Friends and colleagues revealed what it was like to know and work with the man they affectionately dubbed "Cuddly Ken". Additionally, contemporary celebrities such as Chris Moyles and Chris Tarrant talked about their love for the outrageous entertainer and discussed the ways in which Everett had influenced them and their work. It also featured archive footage.
The English documentary When Freddie Mercury Met Kenny Everett, broadcast on Channel 4, tells the story of the relationship between the two men from the moment they met in 1974 when Mercury was a guest on Everett's radio show, through gay lovers and drug taking to when both died of AIDS. It features affectionate interviews by many people who were close to him.
In March 2010, the BBC confirmed that it was producing a 90-minute TV biographical film called Number One in Heaven, to be written by Tim Whitnall and focusing on Everett's unhappiness at secondary school.
On 3 October 2012, the BBC broadcast a 90-minute TV biopic called The Best Possible Taste which focused on the performer's relationship with his wife, singer Lee Middleton. Oliver Lansley played the part of Everett and Katherine Kelly that of Middleton.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license