It may be a common misconception among the national consensus that the entertainment industry is predetermined to which lucky people can be a star. Yet for writer, actor and comedian Jeff Stevenson, his life was to change when he discovered that his secondary school was adjacent to The Barbara Speake Stage School where his friend was due to enroll. Forever inquisitive, Jeff popped into the school for a look round and eventually found himself in the Principal’s office being offered a place at the prestigious drama academy. Having never disclosed his love for drama to his parents, Jeff was apprehensive of their reaction to his sudden drastic decision. Luckily they were understanding and supportive of the young actor’s plight which promptly put him on the long road to success and two weeks later he found himself alongside The Two Ronnies on prime time BBC1.
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Or watch the full unedited zoom call on youtube, below
Whilst at the Barbara Speak School Jeff was introduced to theatrical agent June Collins; the mother of Phil who told him to be ambitious with the roles that he considered, something which Jeff wishes he had upheld during his career. At the age of just fourteen, Jeff secured the role of Louis in Alan Parker’s legendary blockbuster Bugsy Malone alongside a young Jodie Foster. This catapulted Jeff into the spotlight but he knew that his road to success lay elsewhere. Having always nurtured his talents as a comic, Jeff felt more comfortable making people laugh and suddenly he realised his true calling.
His rise to fame coincided with a severe shift of management at LWT and David Bell’s tenure at the network paved the way for the emergence of new TV talent. Making his television debut on ITV’s Search For a Star in 1979, Jeff quickly became familiar with the medium of television and a change of agent made him all the more eager to follow his career path to become one of Britain’s up and coming acts. Yet in 1984 he secured his own TV vehicle entitled Knees Up; a variety show for eighties Britain starring some of ITV’s most prized performers. Inheriting the series from musical double act Chas and Dave, Jeff was tasked with making the show more of an entertainment smorgasbord. Knees Up offered Jeff his first taste of compering his own TV vehicle and this experience made him hungry for more.
In the same year, Jeff benefited from another stroke of luck when taking a year off from the obligatory pantomime season and was slowly getting round to the idea of having a sacred Christmas off. Then suddenly his agent received a call from ITV offering him the opportunity to become a team captain on a comedy panel show entitled Punchlines alongside host Lennie Bennett and fellow captain Joe Brown in ITV’s answer to Call My Bluff. Each week a team of celebrities were pitted against the general public in a competition of wits to see who would reign victorious. Running for five series, Punchlines gave Jeff another television outlet for his quick witted rapport with the British public and in the age when television was arguably at the peak of its power, Jeff was determined to make the most of it.
Despite on screen success, Jeff has always embraced the wide ranging world of entertainment and throughout the eighties became one of Britain’s leading TV warm up men alongside the legendary Felix Bowness and Bobby Bragg. This enabled Jeff to play second fiddle to some of the biggest stars of the 1980’s and got the attention of prominent TV producers. In 1983 Jeff achieved a lifetime ambition when he appeared on Live At Her Majesty’s hosted by his boyhood hero Jimmy Tarbuck. This was the best night of his professional life and a sign that the child actor was now part of the showbiz elite.
One of the other entertainment disciplines which Jeff has mastered is the somewhat forgotten world of cruise ship entertainment. This is the side of his career which he most enjoys and believes that theatre on ships are vastly overlooked when it comes to celebrating his art. Obviously COVID-19 may have put a severe dent on people’s confidence of the cruise industry following the initial outbreak of cases which occurred in March 2020 on board the Diamond Princess which had originally departed from Yokohama on the 20th January 2020. Jeff was also on the circuit around this time but thankfully his cruise ship wasn’t affected by the devastating illness which consequently occurred. Yet the veteran onboard entertainer is confident that it won’t be long before he graces foreign shores once again with his own unique repertoire.
Jeff’s career path hasn’t always been easy yet he isn’t the type of person to be complacent. In 1999 whilst preparing to warm up the audience on the BBC’s Ready Steady Cook, he noticed an article in Time Out magazine advertising a comedy course at The Cosmic Club in Hammersmith. Having always admired the art of Alternative Comedy, Jeff liked the idea of challenging himself to enter into this fast paced creative world of this en vogue discipline. On enrolment, he met tutor Michael Knighton who, unbeknown to Jeff, would alter the course of his career.
At the end of the course, it’s tradition for the comedy club to host a showcase where students have the opportunity to perform their act for the very first time. Being the only person in the group with previous professional comedy experience, Jeff felt uncomfortable going on stage as Jeff Stevenson as this was a brand new stage of his career and he didn’t want any connections with his former career. Therefore when it came to deciding what would be used as his introduction, Jeff plucked a name from the air and created the pseudonym of Harvey Oliver. This allowed him to go on stage with the sort of freedom which his peers were enjoying and not be tainted by his professional past. As soon as he entered the stage, he realised that this was going to be one of the best nights of his life as he performed the routine which he was most proud of.
Irrespective of his vast achievements in the field of comedy and Light Entertainment, Jeff has never forgotten his acting routes and drama has always remained a great love. In recent years, Jeff has taken a conscious decision to make this the focus of his career and in 2020 starred in the snooker based short film Touching The Blue alongside the late Leslie Grantham. So therefore it feels like the versatile and evergreen performer’s career has now come full circle and for over forty years has soaked up each and every experience. It was a great pleasure to interview the great Jeff Stephenson and I’m excited to see what awaits him next.