Stan Stennett is a man of many talents and productions. From performing in a jazz band to acting in shows such as Coronation Street and Doctors, he’s been there and done it all.
Stan also had two roles in Crossroads, but the latter one as Sid is the part most fans remember him for.
Could you tell us a little about your career before Crossroads?
I’m a jazz musician and I started off before the war as a semi-pro. Later on, I joined the army and I played in the army. After the war, I played with quite a few bands and ended up joining a band called the Harmaniacs.
We worked mainly in radio and appeared on a show called “Workers’ Playtime” – they used to do a show every week from different factories. All the comics of the time appeared on it, Tony Hancock, Morecambe and Wise etc.
The idea was that it increased productivity although in my case perhaps it decreased productivity! I worked with the Joe Loss band and the Ted Heath band as a featured artist and eventually I became a solo artist. In the 50’s I did a lot of variety with American stars such as Tony Bennett and Bob Hope, I appeared at the Palladium and at the end of the 50’s I joined the Black and White Minstrels. That was the best show you could be on if you were a musician and a comic.
I’m also a qualified pilot and I’ve been flying for 50 years. I’ve owned 18 different aircraft and in 1955 I was named private flyer of the year by the Royal Aeronautical Club.
You first appeared in Crossroads as Harry Silver, an American gunman who held up Tish Hope (and Bernard Booth) at her cottage. How did that come about?
I went into the series as an American GI on the run, who found himself in the village and broke into the church and held a few people up at gunpoint for a few days. It turned out that the gun was actually a toy gun and I ended up getting sent down for 20 years.
How did you end up getting the part of Sid Hooper?
Well, seven years later I rang the producer and said why don’t you bring Harry to take revenge on Meg he might be out on parole by now. They were trying to think of ways of writing Meg out, but he said: “If you did that you’d never work again!”
But he did have the part of Sid Hooper, which started out as 6 weeks but went on for 7 years. The character took off so I stayed in.
Were you a fan of the series before you became a regular cast member?
Not really, my style of life didn’t afford me the privilege of sitting down and watching soap operas. I was always travelling to or from a theatre and it wasn’t a show I was very conscious of. Having joined the show though I obviously became a fan and enjoyed on my time on the show very much indeed.
Sid was a bit of a roguish character, especially in his treatment of his long-suffering wife Mavis. What was he like to play?
He was whimsical, I always thought he was a whimsical character, a bit worldly in his attitude. He’d been around a bit and he was always trying to make a few bob doing things he shouldn’t have. But he had a heart of gold – and teeth to match!
He took a shine to Benny and he wanted to be Benny’s protector, he always wanted to stand up for him and defend him if anyone was taking the rise out of him. I thought Sid had a good relationship with Benny and people used to forgive me for fiddling as long as Benny was all right. Paul Henry and I thought there might be some mileage in a spin-off with Benny and Sid on the road after Crossroads had finished.
One storyline, which is particularly remembered, is the death of your screen wife Mavis. What was it like playing that scene?
It was a sad period of time for me because we got on very well, Charmian Eyre and I. She was the complete opposite of the Mavis character and always had a smile on her face which was why I always admired her so much as an actress. But we had to act as if we didn’t get on and of course, when she was ill there was a storyline going on that I was supposed to think she had a soft spot for Cecil Beecher-Blount but she never put me right and she played me along.
I think it was quite a touching few episodes – lots of people commented and thought that it was a very tender part when we finally admitted to each other that we’d been silly to each other. I think that it is a fact of life with many people they don’t come down and admit their feelings and don’t discuss things sometimes until it’s too late.
When Philip Bowman took over as producer in 1985 there were big changes including the introduction of a lot more outside location shooting as well as a lot of comings and goings in terms of the cast. What did you think of these changes?
I didn’t go for them at all really, I think it was a case of “new broom tends to sweep clean” even if it wasn’t dirty. I think it upset things really for no reason, it was changed for change’s sake. The producer I have the most time for was Jack Barton, a richly talented man. Jack had worked on “Sunday Night at the Palladium” and like me, he was a jazz musician. Jack was a very talented man who could come up with an idea at the drop of a hat – everyone who worked for Jack held him in very high esteem.
When a younger man comes in, fine, but sometimes there isn’t any need for “out with the old and in with the new.”After him, we had “Butcher Bill” (William Smethurst) and he cut everyone out for no reason whatever – it was a wholesale slaughter of the whole show.
Were you surprised when Crossroads was eventually axed in 1988?
Crossroads died because people in positions of power wanted it to die. I didn’t understand the mentality of people taking off a show with that big an audience. The viewing figures were lower than they had been although it never went as low as the current Crossroads, but certain people seemed hell-bent on crucifying the show.
What do you think of the new Crossroads? Do you think it is a mistake that they have not brought back more old faces?
I can’t understand why they didn’t bring Benny back because it would get great publicity for the show. When Crossroads ended in 1988 it was amazing the number of letters Paul Henry and I received from people saying how sorry they were the show had gone off and asking what they could do to bring it back. Then all of a sudden it did come back. But did Sid come back, did Benny come back? They said, “We will bring back Jill and Doris Luke” and after a couple of weeks what happened?
Jill was on the first-ever episode of Crossroads and in the last episode when it ended and to bring her back and promise this and then kill her off after a couple of months – I don’t really know what is wrong with the people who are supposed to be presenting entertainment. I’ve produced pantomime for 54 years and it has nothing to do with what they do on TV – they’re not out to please their audiences.
Now Crossroads is back on but it doesn’t mean quite the same to some of our viewers; you find fans of the old series complain because there’s no-one in it they know. I think that a few of the old characters should return if only occasionally to restore some sort of interest and to bring some of the old fans back to the table. If I were the producer I would use anyone I know is popular to bring in the audience – you’d think that any producer of any imagination would be doing this. I’m sure that Jack Barton, one of the eminent producers of the show, would be delighted to talk to the producers to help them to bring back some of the older viewers.
Would you be prepared to return if asked?
Yes. I’d love to come back and I know Paul Henry would as well because we had a soft spot for the show.
Are you still in touch with any of the old cast or crew?
I’m still in touch with Jack Barton and Paul Henry. I play golf with Paul, I started him on it. He didn’t play when I started on Crossroads and he took it up and he became very good. He plays quite a lot now on the charity circuit and I believe he’s now a golf organiser as well as doing a bit of telly. I’ve seen Jane Rossington a few times since the series ended. I believe Susan Hanson left acting and now lives in Birmingham. I was on a set recently with Mrs Tardebigge (Elsie Kelly) a couple of weeks ago and she is now a producer.
What have you done since you left Crossroads?
Quite a lot of things, I’ve gone back into variety, I’ve done some music hall, jazz as well as the odd thing for television. I’ve just appeared in an episode of Casualty and I’ve recently appeared in a few episodes of a Welsh soap opera, “Nuts and Bolts“. I’ve done a few bits of film – I was just in one with Christopher Walken. My son who is a writer has also written a few things with me in mind.
Although I’m busy I’d still find time for Crossroads because it was a part of my life.
Do you still own the theatre where CAS held the 1989 Crossroads convention?
I didn’t own it actually I was only a tenant, I leased it from the council. I had several theatres but they were leased. I don’t do that now though, I am back on the road as a performer.
Interview conducted by Daniel Landsberger for the Crossroads Fan Club, 2002.