Gold's Hall of Fame: Alvin Stardust

20 July 2022, 11:09

Alvin Stardust
Alvin Stardust. Picture: Getty Images

By Mayer Nissim

He first had hits before the Beatles as Shane Fenton, but to the world he became known as glam superstar Alvin Stardust.

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At the peak of the glam rock boom, the hits kept rolling in from dazzling stars like Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Slade, Mud and of course T. Rex and David Bowie.

Rubbing shoulders with those icons in the charts was Alvin Stardust, a man who actually had his first pop success before The Beatles, before being reborn as a glam icon.

But how did a grammar school boy from Muswell Hill find rock 'n' roll fame under not one but two pseudonyms, and what were his biggest hits?

Nearly 80 years after he was born, we take a look at the life, death and crazy glam rock story of Alvin Stardust.

What was Alvin Stardust's real name, and when and where was he born?

Alvin Stardust in 1974
Alvin Stardust in 1974. Picture: Getty Images

Alvin Stardust was born Bernard William Jewry on September 27, 1942 in Muswell Hill to salesman dad Bill and mum Margaret.

The family moved north to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire when Bernard was young, which was to have a significant impact that would pave the way to Alvin Stardust.

Bernard was also a boarder at Southwell Minster Collegiate grammar school.

How did Alvin Stardust first get into music?

When the Jewry family rocked up in Mansfield, they were given a three-floor house as part of Bill's job.

With all that extra space to play with, Margaret decided to rent out rooms to performers from the Palace Theatre, giving Bernard his first glance at the world of entertainment.

What's more, at boarding school he got a taste for the cutting-edge blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll you could only hear on American Forces Network and the pirate stations like Radio Luxembourg.

He got pally with a local band, Johnny Theakstone and the Tremeloes, even helping them to carry their gear, when disaster struck.

How did Bernard Jewry become Alvin Stardust Shane Fenton?

Wait, what? Yes, Bernard Jewry became best known as glam icon Alvin Stardust, but Alvin wasn't his first run at fame.

Bernard's pals Johnny Theakstone and the Tremeloes had been enjoying some minor local success, when frontman Johnny Theakstone died suddenly from a heart condition.

With their frontman gone, the group split up, but an odd thing happened soon afterwards.

The BBC got in touch, having received an audition tape for the Saturday Club show that Johnny had posted before his death under the stage name Shane Fenton.

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, the remaining Tremeloes asked Bernard to fill in as "Shane Fenton". He did, the band went down a storm, and they soon got signed by Parlophone.

This was in 1961, a year before The Beatles would sign to the label, and the re-christened Shane Fenton and the Fentones enjoyed a run of hit singles.

Their debut 'I'm a Moody Guy' reached number 22. Follow-ups 'Walk Away' and 'It's All Over Now' also went Top 40, while 'Cindy's Birthday' reached number 19.

The band popped up in Billy Fury movie Play It Cool in 1962 and Tommy Steele vehicle It's All Happening, but the hits dried up soon after and the group split in 1964.

How did Bernard Jewry become Alvin Stardust?

While Shane Fenton disappeared before the mid-1960s, the rise of Alvin Stardust was still over half a decade away.

Bernard fell out of the public eye after the Fentones split, while he continued performing alongside his first wife Iris Caldwell (the sister of Alan Caldwell aka Rory Storm), and working in music management.

By 1973, there was a new scene in town: glam rock.

Looking to cash in, singer/songwriter/music exec Peter Shelley (no relation to the future Buzzcocks singer Pete Shelley, whose real name was actually Pete McNeish), wrote, sang and produced a glam-ready anthem called 'My Coo Ca Choo'.

Borrowing the look from Vince Taylor and the name from David Bowie's hit album, Shelley released it under the name Alvin Stardust, and even performed under that alias on a TV show.

The song raced into the charts and, not wanting to be an actual popstar himself, Shelley scrabbled around for someone to be the permanent Alvin Stardust.

Agent Hal Carter suggested Bernard, and Alvin Stardust was (re)born.

What were Alvin Stardust's biggest songs?

Alvin Stardust may have started off as a bit of a glam cash-in, and many of his best known songs came in the early and mid-1970s, but he also enjoyed yet another career renaissance in the 1980s after Pete Waterman handed him 1952 song 'Pretend' originally made famous by Nat King Cole, and Mike Batt wrote 'I Feel Like Buddy Holly' for him.

His biggest songs included:

  • My Coo Ca Choo
  • Jealous Mind
  • Red Dress
  • You You You
  • Tell Me Why
  • Good Love Can Never Die
  • Sweet Cheatin' Rita
  • Pretend
  • I Feel Like Buddy Holly
  • I Won't Run Away
  • So Near to Christmas

How many times did Alvin Stardust get married, and how many children did he have?

Alvin Stardust got married three times. He wed Iris 'sister of Rory Storm' Caldwell in 1964 in Liverpool and they divorced in 1979

The couple had two children, Shaun Fenton and Adam Fenton, who you may better know as DJ/producer Adam F.

1n 1981 he married actor Liza Goddard and they had a daughter Sophie Jewry together, while he became stepfather to a son Thom.

After they split, Bernard married a third time, to actor/choreographer Julie Paton. They had one daughter, Millie, together.

What major acting roles did Alvin Stardust have?

While he continued to perform and tour, even after he stopped troubling the charts, Alvin Stardust moved further into acting as the years went on.

On stage, he starred in the UK tour of Godspell and played Uriah Heep in David Copperfield – The Musical, as well as popping up as The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium.

He became known to a whole new generation in the 1990s when he played Greg Anderson on Hollyoaks in 1995.

But perhaps his most high-profile TV role was scornfully imparting the Green Cross Code in 1976 to a pair of young teenagers who weren't looking both ways when crossing the road.

How and when did Alvin Stardust die?

Alvin Stardust died on October 23, 2014 at the age of 72, 18 months after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He had played a final concert at the Regal Cinema in Evesham just six days earlier, and had been poised to release his first album in 30 years.

The posthumous Alvin album was released later that year, and followed-up in 2021 by Behind the Wheel.