Stan Stennett – actor, comedian and pantomime star – died last week, aged eighty-eight.
Every career path, every vocation, known to man is full of people trying to make a living and, in one sense, show business is no different to any other. It attracts the full range of human character: from the highly-strung, self-centred but talented to the mediocre yet humble and harmless; from the scheming Machiavellian to the open and artless; from those whose life force could light up the coldest room to those with the charisma of a gnat; from those you would instantly trust with your life to those you wouldn’t let out of your sight.
I had occasion and do business with Stan in the mid-1990s. It was a strange meeting of minds. He was an ‘old school’ all-round entertainer who has seen and done it all and worked with all the supposed greats of British comedy and popular music from the Second World War onwards. It had been whilst appearing as a guest on one of Stan’s theatre shows that Eric Morecambe, one of his closest pals, had suffered his fatal heart attack in May 1984.
In contrast, I was a comparative novice in the world of theatre who just happened to control some rights that Stan felt he could borrow to our mutual commercial advantage.
Over the course of a couple of years, we spent a lot of time together, first negotiating the business side of things and then collaborating on one of his annual touring pantomime shows. It was a moderate success. It made money, but it wasn’t quite the bonanza that we hoped and intended it would be.
During that period, I spent a fair amount of time with Stan, visiting him and his wife Elizabeth at his home near Cardiff, watching him throughout the rehearsal process and then on stage in Cardiff, Swansea and Aberdare. He was regarded as something of a national treasure in Wales, a warm-hearted star personality who had time for everyone he met.
Sadly, it’s fair to say that – even by then – Stan was regarded by the broadcasting powers-that-be as beyond his ‘sell-by’ date. Judged solely by the yardsticks of charisma and ability, he should have had his own weekly show on British television. Yet in those days he could hardly have bought or bribed his way onto the airwaves. Not that he would have attempted it.
Above all, he was an old-fashioned showbiz trooper and a gentleman. In my brief dealings with him I was never patronised, much as I probably deserved to be. On the contrary, he was charm itself – respectful, open and genuine. He treated me and my business associates as personal friends and honoured guests whenever he hosted us.
Stan Stennett lived to perform, to make people laugh and enjoy themselves. He did that for the best part of eight decades. Even in his dotage – and the age of computers, X-boxes, smartphones and social media – he had an instinctive connection with audiences of all ages.
As they say in showbiz, the old jokes are the best.
Sometimes they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
See here for his obituary on the website of THE GUARDIAN