Written by Rae Earl


The Shock of The Old

Ever wondered what became of the singer from thingummy or that bloke off that thing? Google long-forgotten celebrities at your peril, warns Rae Earl.

Illustration by Claire Jones

My 72 year-old mother loves gay disco. She also loves the album Your 100 Greatest Hymns but on the iTunes library that we share (don’t ask), it’s the kings of camp that rule supreme. Consequently my iPod spews up some combinations that even the most hardened addict of the shuffle function could barely conceive. The other day after The Ting Tings – and a corking session miming That’s Not My Name around my lounge – it threw up London Nights by The London Boys. It gives me no pain to say that I loved it. It’s great pop of the late 80s: mercilessly cheerful, bursting with the promise of a top night out in some provincial neon nightclub. So much energy. So much fun. So where are they now? I did an internet search for The London Boys to see what they were up to. In short: nothing. They’re dead. Both killed by a Swiss drunk driver in the Austrian Alps in 1996. Bam. Google Shock. Nostalgia has a bite.

We all know googling should come with a health warning. If the devil makes work for idle hands then the net makes work for minds that want to saturate themselves with celebrity trivia. It’s not about the megastars. It’s about those former stars missing in action and P.I.P (presumed in pantomime). Those people who shone brightly and then crashed and burned into the twilight of ‘Z’ list obscurity.

It’s the premature deaths that stay with you.

Take Jermaine Stewart. In 1986 when big icebergs came out of the sea warning us of a new deadly virus, Jermaine Stewart seemed to offer a promiscuous society at least some of the answers. His pop plea for celibacy – “We don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time” – seemed to encapsulate the entire conservative lobby of the decade. A Google search (like the one I performed after seeing his video on VH1) reveals the man himself actually died of an AIDS-related illness 17 years ago. The most ironic death of the 90s and no one told us? Yet Katie Hopkins makes headlines. There’s no justice.

Another AIDS-related death, and for me the cruellest Google Shock of all? Remember children’s TV show Rentaghost? I loved it. Michael Staniforth was the brilliantly anarchic jester, Timothy Claypole. Michael Staniforth sang the theme tune. Michael Staniforth wrote the theme tune.

Michael Staniforth is dead. That Google Shock came after a night down the pub where 20 grown adults sang the Rentaghost theme word for word. The man that launched a million kids trying to teleport by holding their nose and jumping died 27 years ago from an AIDS-related illness. No one seemed to mention it at the time. Do you think they were trying to protect us? They failed. Curiosity – and Google – gets us in the end.

Other Google Shocks don’t just leave you sad; they leave you in the middle of a Morse-style mystery. Mind Your Language – the late 70s sitcom set in an English language school – was on some cable channel recently. The actor playing the teacher used to be everywhere in the 70s.

What was his name? Barry Evans. Do an internet search for him and see what you get. The tragic tale of an actor who fell on hard times and ended up working as a minicab driver and living in a dilapidated bungalow in rural Leicestershire. A dilapidated bungalow where one day in 1997 he was found dead – next to an empty bottle of whisky and a spilled container of aspirin. His car had been stolen, his phone line had been cut and a local man was charged with attempting to murder him. Charges were later dropped and no one really knows what happened to a man who was once watched by 12million viewers a week.

And that’s the thing with Google Shock. There’s nowhere and no one to send the flowers to. These deaths are long gone. It just leaves you with questions. Like, when do we stop caring about celebrities? When does a famous person officially stop being famous, and will things be different in an era obsessed with celebrity? Can we really imagine a time when we have to use Google to find out whatever happened to some actress from Hollyoaks, or the person who was second to be evicted from Big Brother 3? Or do the celebrities that cause Google Shock belong to a different era; an era when slightly famous people dying wasn’t that big a deal because we had better things to concentrate on?

I haven’t got the answers. I’ve got things to find out. My mum wants to know what happened to The Weather Girls. Plus I’ve got to break the news about The London Boys to her. R.I.P. lads.

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Written by Rae Earl

Rae Earl is the writer of 'My Mad Fat Diary' and the 'OMG!' Hattie Moore series. She has never, despite three decades of trying, taught a cat to show jump. @RaeEarl