THE Star’s former showbiz reporter Keith Strong – who was once told by entertainer Max Bygraves to blow himself up – has died. He was 70.
For years Keith wrote a TV column which was advertised on Sheffield’s buses, in which he regularly baited Bygraves as ‘talentless’.
The entertainer at first took offence, then it became a running joke. He sent Keith a box of matches with the message, ‘In case of gas leak, use this’, and a packet of Paxo, inviting him to use it on himself.
When the star came to Sheffield he refused to be interviewed by Keith.
Former assistant editor Peter Markie said: “His TV programme notes gave more than one editor sleepless nights.”
Keith, who had a wealth of contacts, cut a Bohemian figure in the office. When most still wore collars and ties, he was in jeans and T-shirt, with the message Thank God It’s Friday at the end of the week.
He always had a pen or pencil behind his ear, a cigarette in his mouth and, unusually for a journalist, never swore.
From Coventry, he arrived at The Star in 1966 and was calls reporter, columnist, leader writer, and crime reporter for the old Morning Telegraph, before taking over the showbiz beat in the early 1970s.
He covered local bands, the music scene and working men’s clubs as well as the famous Fiesta, where he had free entry. He interviewed a string of big names there, including the Beach Boys, Four Tops, Four Seasons, Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder and British stars like Tommy Cooper. He was a drinking partner of Joe Cocker.
He was instrumental in spotting Def Leppard, then rehearsing at The Broadfield pub, and became their unofficial PR man.
He and his wife Jackie went backstage when the group performed in Las Vegas two years ago.
He was a confidante and never revealed his sources.
Sheffield comedienne Marti Caine rang him at her most troubled times and singer Dave Berry would ask for comment on his act.
“Unlike many music journalists he loved music and was very knowledgeable,” said Dave.
Agent Alan Wood said he was meticulous in seeing every act in the clubs and pubs and knew all the bands.
At The Star he was regarded as ‘a legend in his own byline’ and because he seemed to come and go so often was said to have as many comebacks as Sinatra.
Colleague Graham Boon said on one occasion they bought him a suitcase.
Working late hours, his appearances in the office were irregular.
When a new editor arrived unused to Keith’s ways, it precipitated his departure.
In 1993 he and Jackie, a singer with the Frank White Band whom he met during an interview, ran a bar in Tenerife.
He later edited The Canarian, an English language newspaper, reverting to what he did best, covering showbiz.
He leaves a daughter, Philippa, from his previous marriage to Carol, and a stepson, Brent.
The funeral is at Grenoside Crematorium at 1.45pm on Monday, October 22, to be followed by a rock and roll celebration at The New Barrack Tavern on Penistone Road.
No flowers, but donations to Weston Park welcomed.