Memories of Tony Capstick

I first met Tony Capstick when he was at the height of his powers in broadcasting. I had been invited to speak about my book, "Boozers, Ballcocks and Bail" on the Rony Robinson morning program. The then controller of programs thought that my style of humor (such as it is) would be complimented by Capstick and I was invited to do a one off appearance on his afternoon show.

We had similar senses of humour and we hit it off immediately. I enjoyed the friendly verbal jousting that occurred between us.

Capstick: "I am sure we have met before."

Smith: "Yes but it was a long time ago, in fact it is so long ago you had a driving license then."

Our friendship was sealed that day and owing to the response from listeners I was asked if I would appear again on a monthly basis. It was a success and I was asked to appear fortnightly and then weekly and was given a choice of days.

I chose Friday afternoon because it was the end of the week and it would give me something to look forward to and it was the best from point of view of my Court commitments.

The Friday Law Spot became a regular feature and for nearly 3 years I had a whale of a time and I think the audience liked it too. To this day I am still asked by listeners when I am going back.

I even ended up with my own theme tune which was the music from the Perry Mason television show and I adopted it as my own and to this day when I do shows and appearances up and down the Country I am always greeted with the strains of the Perry Mason song. It was one of Cappo's ideas.

We evolved a system whereby I would talk about the legal issues of the day but we would try to produce them in an open and forthright manner in a language which everybody could understand so Cappo took a very dry subject and together we fashioned it into the 1/2 hour spot that it was. I became so entranced with the general idea of it that I hated to miss it when I was on holiday. We had an idea of me writing in to him and sending him all sorts of cards that he could read on the show and have a laugh with whilst I was away.

After the show I used to take him home or rather to the Rockingham Arms at Wentworth where we held what was to become popularly known as the Temperance Meeting.

There was all sorts of good natured banter between us and I remember on one occasion:-

Smith: "Tony close your eyes and I will give you an item and I want you to guess what it is."

Capstick: "Ok Smithy let's try it out."

Capstick closed his eyes and I passed him an item. He took some considerable time over it and failed to guess what it was.

Smith: "I didn't think you'd get it cause your memory doesn't go that far back, but it's a steering wheel for a motor car."

The radio manager was appalled that Cappo's infamous court room career had been mentioned over the air.

As well as being chronicled in the press, Tony fell fowl of drink drive laws and he told them because he could not afford a proper solicitor, he instructed me to defend him!

I remember the appearance as though it was only yesterday. There was an awful lot of pressure on me because it was Tony's fifth appearance in court for similar matters and the chances were that he would face a custodial sentence. I knew that that would mean the end of his radio career so this heightened the pressure that I felt on the appearance. The ice was broken however by the appearance of one of Cappo's great mates the irrepressible, Bobby Knut.

We went into an interview room downstairs outside court 10, which was the famous "hanging" and before we went into court, we all shook hands and then Bobby Knut told Cappo that he had a present for him. He presented it to him saying that it was as a token of his esteem and if the worse came to the worst and it went wrong and Cappo was sent to prison he would find the gift all the more appropriate.

Capstick was deeply touched by this wonderful gift and promptly opened it. It was a metal file! With Knut's words ringing in my ears about what fellow prisoners did to little bastards like Cappo, I strode into court to face the action.

I like to think that I spoke from the heart and despite the fact that we were before the Stipendiary Magistrate, who was not famed for his kindness, Tony got a non custodial sentence. He, I, and all his fans were delighted and incredibly relieved.

As a matter of interest the judge knew of him and knew of all the fantastic work Tony had done for charity and I always remember he said words to the effect of: -

"...well Mr Capstick, I think it is fare to say that you've already performed substantial community service for the public so I feel I am able to deal with you in a more lenient way."

It was a recognition of all the incredible work that Tony had done for charitable causes over the years. Of course the press loved it and there were photographs and all sorts of stories about his past, which could be best, described as "muck raking." I remember making a suggestion to one of the press that they ought to give a more balanced view and put down all the good work that he had done and to his undying shame he said that that's not news. It seems that the so-called gutter press buying public buys papers for the sordid and grizzly details as opposed to creative and informative writing. Ever the eternal optimist, Capstick soldiered on but the storm clouds were beginning to gather and I detected towards the latter part to my time at Radio Sheffield what I have described as an undercurrent which was running against the tide of Capstick's favour.

I remember saying to him some considerable time before his afternoon show was axed, that I suspected that there was something afoot to discredit and perhaps dislodge him from his post.

Having dealt with all sorts of tricky situations and matters of skulduggery I like to think I became finally attuned to the Morays of the criminally minded classes. That gave me an insight into the general underhandedness, which regularly pervades our society today. In short, I smelt a rat. With typical aplomb, Capstick was gloriously oblivious to what was going on and because he had been so firmly entrenched into his life as a presenter, he could neither accept nor even consider life without his radio show.

For reasons which are of no real consequence here, I felt unable to continue with my appearances on the show in view of the new regime which had found favour at that time and so the radio show and I went our separate ways.

Shortly afterwards Cappo was moved to his nemesis namely the morning show and the rest as they say is history.

A lot has been said about the impact of Cappo loosing his job and some have said it would have happened anyway. Whatever the truth is the impact of loosing his job was what you might expect from someone who lived for radio and could no longer appear on it. Of course there were times when Cappo wasn’t as good as he could be. I am afraid that pervades all life as we know it and you have to make allowances for human nature for after all, Cappo was the most innovative, fluent, humorous, creative and well liked radio presenter that l ever worked with.

 

Cappo taught me a lot about show business and the people who form and shape the business. He was beholden to no one, he was not given to manipulation, or easily impressed by money or power but he was inheritably individualistic which set him apart from other men.

 

He could be argumentative, boorish, abrasive, loud, rude, and by the same token generous, unfazed by anything, unimpressed by money and grandeur, kind, thoughtful, loyal and above all a respecter and helper of those less fortunate than himself.

 

He had the power of communication unlike any I have ever met and I had the pleasure  of a small tour a couple of years or so before he died, which we described as a world tour of South Yorkshire by Capstick and Smith, where we reprised our role from the program in the old days but this time me being the interviewer and him the interviewee.

 

I remember two shows in particular namely The Memorial Hall at Sheffield and The Rotherham Civic where Cappo acted out of his skin and entranced two sell out audiences as only he could. We performed a song together where Tony had altered the words to that well known 60's song, "Where do you go to my lovely." The new lyrics were typically crude and offensive and yet brilliantly funny so much so that I managed to record part of the show and release it on a CD for devotees. It is one of the very few recordings of him performing live and the only one of our series of shows together. I listen to it from time to time when I am traveling about the country and I still smile when I hear it. They were fantastic nights and I'll never forget them.

 

About a month later, I was appearing at the Rotherham Civic with the comedy legend Norman Collier and there was no doubt that I was feeling in the presence of greatness. Tony was in the audience that night and I watched him as Norman went through his paces and Tony literally wept with laughter. He told me afterwards that it was the finest comedy performance he had ever seen. Artists are not generally magnanimous towards their fellow artists but Tony was a respecter of great comedy and of course, with Collier you could get no better. I got as much laughter out of watching Tony laugh at Collier as I did at laughing at Collier myself.

 

At that show whilst I was doing the interview someone brought Norman and I a glass of water each and I announced to the audience that that was the only drink we had left after the Tony Capstick Show. The audience laughed and Capstick mouthed the words, "bastard" but he didn't mean it or at least I don't think he did.

 

I still kept in touch with him after the program finished and I watched with considerable regret as his disappointment and despair grew and his health failed.

 

I was booked to speak at an expatriate's dinner in Florence in Italy and I was waiting to be introduced to the thousand strong audience. Whilst waiting in the wings I realized I had left my mobile phone switched on so I picked it out of my pocket with a view to turning it off and as I did so it rang. It was Chris Mann, another regular presenter on the show who told me that Tony had died. Seconds later the master of ceremonies said to the audience:-

 

"I know you are going to be greatly entertained by this wonderful speaker from England who I know is looking so much forward to speaking to you, here he is, author, broadcaster and stand up Solicitor Steve Smith."

Stand up Solicitor was the term composed for me by Cappo himself and it has stuck with me every since. It reminded me of a story of Tony's mother dying and that very night he had to appear at a show because he had given his word.