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Farewell Stewart, who combined eccentricity with expertise

PUBLISHED: 17:25 12 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:25 12 July 2019

A sound companion for all seasons. Stewart Orr set for action in his own recording studio

A sound companion for all seasons. Stewart Orr set for action in his own recording studio

Archant

Keith Skipper pays tribute to a close friend Stewart Orr, who died recently

One of the inevitable drawbacks of hanging on to a special place longer than some is having to bid farewell to any number of good friends met along the way.

The big bonus is a chance to pay proper homage from a platform like this simply by putting in order a myriad of random reflections, cheerful adventures, mutual interests and genuine compliments shared with laughter and relish while they were alive.

Stewart Orr's recent death at 74 didn't come as a major shock - he had been battling cancer for quite a while - but it still unleashed a torrent of instant tributes to a vibrant personality at the heart of my working and social lives for the best part of 40 years.

We met at BBC Radio Norfolk soon after the station opened in 1980. Stewart made his mark both as presenter of the arts programme and willing mentor and practitioner in numerous fields of production and recording.

All-rounder skills, gentle temperament and infectious enthusiasm also found long-term employment in his gloriously eccentric home base of a barn crammed with fascinating souvenirs from the golden age of sound.

Old wireless sets, gramophones and tape machines jostled with yellowing manuals and record sleeves for attention and space among loads of other equipment. It seemed just a matter of time before Bandwagon, ITMA and Henry Hall's Guest Night filled the air...

Oh, and a recording studio somewhere in the middle where Stewart Orr Sound Services could meet more modern demands as well as nurture ambitions nursed by young broadcasters of tomorrow. School parties revelled in a relaxed classroom climate which came easily to a natural teacher.

He could turn on the public school tap to chastise errant pupils of all ages - but that usually ended in a splash of chuckling and self-mockery as he accepted it was far more effective to be his real self.

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I spent countless sessions, including long weekends, mixing creative toil with laddish diversions as Stewart played a major role in much of my output when I waded into freelance waters in 1995. His advice and encouragement helped keep me afloat.

Studio time was topped and tailed by homely gossip, planning summits in the pub and a piping hot home-made stew any time before midnight. His brother David, full of yarns about his time working on Redgrave Fen, and assorted friends dropped in regularly to remind us of a world outside.

We turned jigsaw boxes of old tapes, many of them piled up during my years as host of Radio Norfolk's Dinnertime Show, into a series of CDs featuring colourful local characters like The Grand Old Mardler, Fred Wigby, horseman Jack Juby, lifeboatmen Skipper Jack Woodhouse of Caister and coxswain George Mobbs of Gorleston, baker Jack Gaskin and versifiers Joyce Trett and Mawther Maggie.

I recorded two volumes of the evergreen Boy John Letters and several one-off "specials" for Radio Norfolk's festive schedules. These included Ghosts of Christmas Past, a selection of memorable local writings over the centuries, and Don't Eat Yellow Snow, highlights from the long-running panel game Should The Team Think?

We also went on location for the occasional documentary, setting up camp at Melton Constable to let off steam in honour of Muddle and Get Nowhere, also known as the Midland and Great Northern Railway. Trips to the Tunstead Trosh and Litcham Museum yielded valuable material for Friends Of Norfolk Dialect archives.

I accompanied Stewart on what he dubbed "useful missionary work" across Norfolk and Suffolk as he presented programmes of old films, some of them lovingly restored, to give a rich past new relevance to an area undergoing vast changes.

His genuine feel for that preservation spirit made him a valuable ally when I set up Friends Of Norfolk Dialect in 1999 to both celebrate and sustain a precious strand of our cultural heritage. Thankfully, he could be serious or silly when it came to certain aspects of FOND activities.

Stewart's shameless side scaled delightful depths when he teamed up with Alan Smith in the last two madcap pantomimes demanding full houses at the East Tuddenham Palladium. They flounced as Ugly Sisters Pansy and Tulip. They mooched as mermaids Lydia and Eva. They looked like Old Mother Riley meets Les Dawson..

Sound companion in so many ways, Stewart Orr was always switched on to lasting friendship,. It became a privilege to tune in to his winning wavelength.

Stewart's memorial service will be held at St Mary's Church, Redenhall, on Monday, July 22 (2pm).

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