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Watson Obit: Tony Capstick (UK) (October 2003) (47) RE: Obit: Tony Capstick (UK) 31 Oct 03


Obituary from the Daily Telegraph:

Tony Capstick
(Filed: 29/10/2003)


Tony Capstick, who died on Thursday aged 59, was a broadcaster, actor, folk singer and comedian whose abundant star quality was undermined by the personal frailties that drove him to alcoholism, repeated brushes with the law and, ultimately, professional ruin.

Billy Connolly once described Capstick as one of the funniest men he had ever met, and a novelty record took him briefly into the upper reaches of the charts. But he never recovered from the despair into which he slumped after his dismissal from BBC local radio after a 30-year association.

Capstick's afternoon programme on Radio Sheffield had always commanded a faithful following. Despite a string of court cases, listeners - and, for longer than would have been the case with many employers, the BBC - took a benevolent line, if only because his unpredictable genius was capable of producing brilliant radio.

But his broadcasting career came to an abrupt end in January of this year when, some months after moving him to a morning slot, the BBC finally lost patience. Some acquaintances believed that the rigours of the previous night's drinking made Capstick an unsuitable candidate for an early start; others felt, simply, that "he had lost it . . . there were uncomfortable gaps". He felt betrayed, but even some close friends acknowledged that the BBC was probably right to sack him.

Joseph Antony Capstick was born on July 27 1944 at Mexborough, South Yorkshire. His father's wartime service in the RAF took him on bombing missions: "My dad used to come over here on business - he was a rear gunner in a Lancaster," Capstick would later tell startled German audiences.

Brought up by his mother and grandmother after his parents divorced, Capstick was an undistinguished pupil of Mexborough Grammar School, and took jobs on the railways and in an abattoir before establishing himself as a musician.

As an accomplished guitarist and banjo-player with a decent voice, he quickly made a name on the folk club circuit from the mid-1960s. This was a time when most parts of Britain seemed to be producing folk singers who were, in fact, better as comedians: Connolly from the Clyde; Jasper Carrott from Birmingham; Max Boyce in South Wales; Fred Wedlock from Somerset; and Mick Elliott up in the North-East.

With his uproarious Yorkshire tales, occupying ever-lengthening sequences between the songs, Capstick might have been among the highest achievers of the genre.

There was, however, only one spell of real fame. A spoof of the Hovis bread advertisement in 1981, set to the Carlton Main and Frickley Colliery Band's arrangement of Dvorak's New World Symphony, and called Capstick Comes Home, was a minor comic masterpiece. The record began life, unpromisingly, as a Radio Sheffield promotional single. Capstick's producer John Leonard belatedly realised that a flip side was needed for the station's theme tune, The Sheffield Grinder, and suggested the Hovis parody.

Although already part of Capstick's folk club routine, it ran to only 20 seconds. Sitting in Leonard's car on the way to the studios, Capstick wrote the rest on the back of a cigarette packet. The track was recorded in a single take and soon displaced the original A-side. Listeners were entranced by Capstick's satire on Northern working-class life:

We'd lots o' things in them days they 'aven't got today: rickets, diphtheria, Hitler and, my, we did look well goin' to school wi' no backside in us trousers an' all us little 'eads painted purple because we 'ad ringworm. They don't know they're born today.

The record reached number three in the hit parade. With the money he earned, Capstick bought himself a Mercedes, an unwise decision given his notoriously poor driving skills and drinking bouts.

He somehow accumulated five bans for drink-driving offences without going to prison. After another drunken episode, when he pointed a loaded pistol at a taxi driver's head, he escaped with a 1,000 fine and a short suspension from his radio job.

Never able to repeat the success of Capstick Comes Home - it prompted an eight-part Channel 4 series, but an album and follow-up single both flopped - he remained active in clubs, and was given small parts in television soaps. One of these roles, as a policeman in Last of the Summer Wine, might have landed him in his deepest legal trouble; he was required to drive a car, and failed to disclose to the producers that he was disqualified. He also had small parts in Emmerdale, Coronation Street and All Creatures Great and Small.

Drinking was a problem throughout Capstick's adult life: "He went too early for the top shelf - whisky and brandy - and couldn't handle it," a radio colleague observed. The habit worsened after the collapse of his 28-year marriage to his first wife, Carol, in 1995.

A friend who visited him shortly before his death reported that he looked 79, not 59, and that he had polished off a bottle of vodka in two-and-a-half hours.

Capstick is survived by his second wife, Gillian, and a son, James, and daughter, Vicky, from his first marriage.


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