From BBC news reader to destitute drunk on the streets of Norwich - Tom Edwards' starry highs and desperate lows
PUBLISHED: 14:39 26 November 2018
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2009
His career sent him spinning from pirate pop presenter through television personality to destitute drunk. Now another near-death experience has spurred Tom Edwards to write his memoirs.
At 22 he was reading the television news. He’d already been a local newspaper columnist and a pirate radio DJ. Then from local television he moved to national broadcasting, and on to Hollywood. It seemed as if the world was there for the taking for Norwich boy Tom Edwards as he mixed with celebrities and became a household name himself.
But by his late 40s Tom was destitute and drunk, living on the streets of Norwich.
When a former colleague discovered him slumped in a city churchyard he was probably just days from death.
It had been a spectacular fall for the man who had been one of the original DJs on Radio 1, was the youngest newsreader and presenter on BBC Look East and hosted television shows in Britain and America.
But alongside the high-flying career, the showbiz friends and the fans, he was drinking more and more heavily. The glass to relax at the end of a shift became a few drinks and then a bottle. “I didn’t realise that alcoholism crept up on you,” said Tom.
When he moved to Los Angeles to present a television show he added a cocaine habit to his lengthening
list of problems. Eventually, knowing he needed to kick the drugs he returned to Norwich. He moved in with his mother, but she too was an alcoholic.
His life began to unravel. He lost his job with the BBC and soon afterwards his mother died. He sank into a terrifying alcoholic abyss. Just flashes of memories remain. Drink cost him his home, his money, his possessions and, very nearly, his life. Living on the streets and begging for cash to buy alcohol, he was sent to prison for being drunk and disorderly and non-payment of fines. “I have also spent many nights in police cells, drunk and incapable,” said Tom. He was semi-conscious in a city graveyard when a former cameraman colleague went searching for him.
After the rescue he was checked into a rehab centre in Heckington, Lincolnshire, and, almost a quarter of a century later, still lives in the village.
“I am 73 now, into my 24th year of sobriety, and proud but never complacent,” said Tom, who has just written his memoirs.
And David Clayton, the man who had to sack him from the BBC, has written the foreword to Is Anyone There? “David had to take me off the air. He brought me back many years later when I had left rehab. He’s one of the finest friends I have ever had,” said Tom. “I have been asked about a book for years, so earlier this year I started to write. It was perhaps one of the toughest tasks I have ever been asked to do. It was cathartic, but never again! I’ve had a turbulent life and I write about some pretty terrible things that happened. I had to go into some very dark places.
“But it’s not all gloom and doom, there is fun and laughter along the way.”
Tom grew up on Christchurch Road, Norwich. His father, who ran a grocery business, dying when he was just five.
His first job was as a teenage music columnist in the Norwich Evening News. He went on to be a Bluecoat at Pontins in Pakefield, near Lowestoft, and sent tapes of his Pontins tannoy shows to a pirate radio station. They won the music-loving youngster a job as a DJ. With the government claiming pirate radio blocked emergency frequencies, and disputes between station owners, Tom returned to Norwich and a job as a Look East presenter – but not before being among a group besieged at sea for a week as part of a dispute which ended in a station owner being shot dead.
A gifted communicator, the lad from Norwich with a passion for pop music was soon broadcasting to the nation, and then abroad. “I’ve been a broadcaster for 53 years out of my 73 years of life,” he said. But as his addictions took over his life spun out of control. “I had lost my job, I had lost my mother, my world had collapsed,” he said.
But while at the rehab clinic Tom wrote a national newspaper article about his life which brought letters from strangers and from old showbiz friends, from all over the world. One of them was from Bob Monkhouse who asked how he could help. After sending books and writing materials he gave him a voice-over job on his TV series Wipeout. It was part of Tom’s route back to normality. “This famous man was worried about me, and I’m a down and out,” he said.
Tom went on to lead therapy sessions and said: “Maybe for the first time, after reading hundreds of news bulletins, I knew what I was talking about! I know that one drink would be too many and 1,000 would not be enough.”
He has since also survived cancer and sepsis. “I said my prayers. Then I thought, ‘I have got to get the book done,’” said Tom.
It’s called Is Anybody There? and Tom explained: “I used to open up for Radio 1 and Radio 2 at 5am, and after reading the news I would tap the microphone with a pen and ask, ‘Is anyone there?’ And then, when I was homeless and sleeping on a very cold gravestone in Norwich I would look at the stars and say, ‘Is anyone there for me?’”
Is Anybody There, by Tom Edwards, will be published on December 8 by Kaleidoscope Publishing.