Obituary: Ed “Stewpot” Stewart, DJ and host of Crackerjack

Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, DJ and host of classic children's TV show Crackerjack. Picture: PA
Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, DJ and host of classic children's TV show Crackerjack. Picture: PA
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Born: 23 April 1941 in Devon. Died: 9 January 2016 in Bournemouth. Aged 74.

Ed “Stewpot” Stewart was one of the first DJs on Radio 1 then presented the BBC children’s TV show Crackerjack and was a longstanding presenter of Junior Choice, a record programme for children. His fame as host of Crackerjack meant when he walked into a pub someone invariably shouted the show’s name. Certainly, those of a certain age fondly remember the zany show excitedly introduced with: “It’s Friday, it’s five to five… It’s Crackerjack!” Kids all over the land screamed back Crackerjack. ‘Stewpot’ became a much-loved household hero.

Edward Stewart Mainwaring was the son of a Treasury solicitor and attended St Edward’s School, Oxford. He became a disc jockey by accident as, on leaving school, he played in a jazz band and went to play bass with the band in Hong Kong. The tour was cancelled and he found a job on a local Hong Kong station as a disc jockey. Back in Britain in 1964 he worked on the pirate station Radio London broadcasting from a former minesweeper anchored off the Essex until it closed in 1967.

That year the BBC restructured its radio network after the government had passed a law that effectively closed down pirate stations and Stewart became one of the first DJs to join the new and very pop-orientated Radio 1 with such future stars as Tony Blackburn, Pete Murray, Kenney Everett and Terry Wogan.

Stewart initially presented Happening Sunday and What’s New. The following year he took over from Derek McCulloch on the show which was retitled Junior Choice and Stewart made it very much his own, his exuberance and more relaxed style proved a winner with his young audience. Stewart included jingles (“’ello Darlin”) but retained much of the original format and included such favourites as Nellie the Elephant and the Laughing Policeman alongside such novelty numbers as Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West), Clive Dunn’s Grandad and Max Bygraves’s I’m a Pink Toothbrush.

The Queen Mother once assured Stewart that she always listened to Junior Choice while she took her morning bath. He returned to host the programme on special occasions – and was last heard presenting the Christmas programme last month in his usual effervescent style.

His popularity led to his being booked for numerous BBC shows – including from 1971 becoming a regular host on Top of the Pops. In 1973 he took over Crackerjack to which he brought his own brand of irreverence and joyous enthusiasm.

He left Crackerjack in 1979 and for two years introduced Family Favourites on Radio 2 but was surprisingly dropped from the schedules in 1983. He worked on Radio Mercury for six years but returned to Radio 2 in 1991 fronting a variety of afternoon shows. Typically, and as adventurous as ever, in 1995 Stewart made radio history when he broadcast his Radio 2 show live from the summits of Ben Nevis and Snowden in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. The senior guide on both ascents, Wayne Naylor, said that “Stewpot carried his own equipment and was accompanied by his wife”. Later he did another show from the summit of Vesuvius.

In the summer of 1999, Stewart was taken off the weekday afternoon slot, moving to Sunday evening. It was officially stated that Stewart had decided to go into semi-retirement, but he later revealed in his autobiography (Out of Stewpot) that he was removed from the afternoon programme by the controller. Stewart continued to be in demand to cover for colleagues – especially on the numerous internet and local stations.

Away from work Stewart was a keen golfer and played football for many years. He turned out often to play in charity games for the All Stars X1 and was a lifelong supporter of Everton.

He also worked on behalf of the charity Phab which works for children with disabilities.

Stewart married Chiara Henney in 1974. The marriage was dissolved in 2005 and he is survived by their two children.