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THE SHEFFIELD GRINDER - Tony Capstick

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Published on Feb 15, 2008

THE SHEFFIELD GRINDER - Tony Capstick
and the Carlton Main/Frickley Colliery Band. (Signature tune - BBC Radio Sheffield.)
Tony Capstick, who died aged 59, was a Yorkshire character actor with a manic inventive streak that briefly made him a comedian of national standing. His guying of a celebrated "northern" television advertisement for Hovis bread, released as a double A-side single, Sheffield Grinder/Capstick Comes Home, reached number three in the charts in 1981. It was set to Dvorak's New World symphony, played by a local colliery band, Frickley Carlton Main.

The song's lyrics, about a lad returning from his first 72-hour shift at t'pit with his dad (a 43-mile walk in the snow wearing clothes made from sacks), played a small part in destroying tenacious misconceptions about the reality of northern life. But Capstick also set about destroying himself through excessive alcohol consumption and never fulfilled a potential that once had Billy Connolly calling him the funniest man he had ever met.

He continued to play TV cameos in most of the region's many soaps until earlier this year (2003). He was a policeman in Last Of The Summer Wine; had parts in Emmerdale, Coronation Street and All Creatures Great And Small, and his own eight-part sketch series Capstick's Capers in 1983, but the new wave of comedy largely passed him by. He also appeared in many other TV shows including The Cops (BBC2, 1998)

Capstick was born in Mexborough, near Rotherham, a town at the heart of a very conservative (although eternally Labour-voting) community, whose traditions he absorbed and then turned on with energetic glee. He went to school locally, and for as short a time as legally possible, but became a talented guitarist and a fine mimic.

He made a local name for himself singing at clubs and thrived on radio, starting a connection with BBC Radio Sheffield in the early 1970's, which was to last more than 30 years. Thanks to spirited station managers like Phil Sidey in Leeds, this often disdained arm of the BBC used its position, away from the controllers' gaze, to produce some wonderfully subversive radio. Capstick thrived on that.

He developed a range of other activities, folk-singing, telling long, bizarre Yorkshire stories in the style of an old-fashioned raconteur, in clubs and on south Yorkshire radio, and writing a local newspaper column.

Soon after, he married Gillian, a supermarket worker 18 years younger than himself. They made a base at Hoober, close to one of a collection of eccentric follies on the former estate of the Earls of Wentworth; an aspect of South Yorkshire that much appealed to Capstick, who enjoyed rural stately homes.

Tony Capstick was a radio genius and never achieved his full potential as an entertainer and broadcaster because he loved South Yorkishire so much, he never left the area to expand his career further. He will be sorely missed by the listeners of BBC Radio Sheffield, of which he had a massive following of loyal listeners who tuned in daily to enjoy his unique entertaining banter.

He is survived by his wife, Gillian, his ex-wife, Carol, and their children James and Vicky. (less)

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