Tribute to legendary Isle of Wight interviewer John Hannam

Tributes have been pouring in for Isle of Wight entertainment legend, broadcaster and writer John Hannam.

The much-loved journalist died, aged 80 on Wednesday, September 22.

A long standing friend of the County Press, John was born in East Cowes and became best known for his easy-going interviews with the stars of stage and screen.

However, he never forgot the Island’s own entertainment, sporting and community heroes, local names frequently sitting alongside the A-listers in his books, columns and shows.

Isle of Wight County Press: With Sir Ian McKellan.With Sir Ian McKellan.

To spend time in John’s company was to meet someone who was always interested in others, quick to ask after family and friends and who loved what he did with an inspiring passion.

One of John’s first forays into journalism was through a newspaper entertainment column.

Former colleague Richard Wright said: “Rarely when people move in circles where ego is king does something of that not rub off. Not in John’s case.

“I interviewed John, was chatted to by him for his radio show, found a place in one of his books and subbed his copy over the years.

“I was always blown away by his boundless enthusiasm, vigour and the fact that he was so darn nice about nearly everyone – and not in an obsequious way.

“He was a true gent.”

Isle of Wight County Press: With Eastenders stars Jesse Wallace and Shane Richie.With Eastenders stars Jesse Wallace and Shane Richie.

Stagetalk proved a popular addition to the Portsmouth News-owned Weekly Post, which was produced for around 15 years, from the mid-1970s.

He also wrote a sporting column, reflecting his love for all things active.

Until recently, John was a keen runner.

Decades after he was named Hampshire schoolboy mile champion and competed in the All-England Championships, he ran the 26 miles of Walk the Wight and, on at least one occasion, ran back too.

The former salesman for United Biscuits and Gould, Hibberd and Randall also loved and played football and cricket.

This week, tweeting about the achievements of two Isle of Wight county cricketers, Islander Jeff Hose said: “The extraordinary Isle of Wight journalist John Hannam would have been so chuffed and excited. RIP John.”

It comes as no surprise that John also wrote for The Stage – the must-read national newspaper for those in showbiz.

In the early 1970s, John visited the hospital radio studio at St Mary’s Hospital.

He was an instant hit and interviewed Helen Shapiro and Roy Castle, among others.

When Isle of Wight Radio launched in 1990, John Hannam Meets became a mainstay of its broadcasting schedule.

John’s interviews were always face to face, never over the phone, nor by digital line (linking one radio studio to another).

Now at Wave 105, former Isle of Wight Radio boss Andy Shier was there for John’s first show in 1990 and worked with him until 2008.

They first met when Andy was just 15 years old. John took him to BBC Radio Solent to help out.

Andy said: “It didn’t matter if he was interviewing showbiz legends or fascinating local characters, it always came across on air how much they loved being interviewed by him.

“They knew he’d done his research and they knew he was genuinely interested in them and their stories.

“We used to watch and listen in awe at just how much he would endear himself to his guests.”

Isle of Wight County Press: With Bruce Forsyth.With Bruce Forsyth.

Often knowing more about his subjects than they could even remember about themselves, John visited the stars in their homes and theatres. Friendships blossomed with those whose confidences he won over.

Prince Edward, singer Martha Reeves, comedians Victoria Wood and Ken Dodd, entertainer Bruce Forsyth, actors Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons and model Twiggy all featured.

John later produced books, as well as giving talks about his career.

His love of the arts made him the perfect choice to run the County Press Amateur Theatre Awards.

From Shanklin Theatre, Vic Farrow said: “John and I had a shared interest in entertainment.

“I went to the radio station one Sunday afternoon, to introduce myself. I said I thought I would be able to arrange an interview with Cliff Richard.

“John thought I might be a time waster but it was arranged the following week and I drove him to Cliff’s office.

“He had one of his most memorable interviews and we remained friends throughout his life.”

Isle of Wight County Press:

Vic told the County Press: “I arranged for him to meet Jane McDonald at the theatre.

“They were fond of each other and it transpired he had interviewed her previously and that Jane was a great comfort after the passing of John’s wife Heather.

“He always came to say hello to Joe Pasquale and Marty Wilde.

“He introduced me to Reg Presley, the lead singer of The Troggs. Their relationship was obvious, such was the way John was regarded in the industry.

“He was not only a kind interviewer, but the impressive thing was his research, which was phenomenal.

“Whilst writing this, I received a phone call from ex boxer Ray Fallone, who John interviewed earlier this year. Ray wanted me to pass on his respects.

“The local people he interviewed meant as much to him as the stars.”

Cllr Mike Beston, for The Friends of Shanklin Theatre, said: “We salute you as a great figure on our Island and as a real friend” and the Island Savoyards said: “He will be greatly missed.”

The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton tweeted: “We are deeply saddened” and shared John’s 2017 interview with Craig Revel Horwood.

Isle of Wight County Press: With Dame Judi Dench (photo by Craig Sugden).With Dame Judi Dench (photo by Craig Sugden).

In 2019, John was excited and proud to be asked to interview Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen, live on their respective stages.

In 1999, he interviewed Hollywood’s Charlton Heston and actor Sir John Mills, weeks apart.

John’s interview with Marty Wilde was watched by nearly 70,000, on Talking Pictures.

Sky News’s managing editor, Louise Hastings called him ‘a wonderful broadcaster’, while actor Jeff Stevenson said: “We had known each other for over forty years.

“He was always honest and would think nothing of telling me if he thought my show wasn’t up to scratch.”

Alan Marriott, editor of the County Press, said: “John was so loved by everybody on the Isle of Wight. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about him and his professionalism and dedication in getting interviews with the top stars, from Judi Dench to Sir John Mills and Bruce Forsyth, was legendary.”

For those of us who knew and worked with John over the years, his ready smile and love for the industry will be sorely missed, but our thoughts are with John’s two children, Sean and Caroline and John’s companion Roberta who will miss him even more.

Isle of Wight County Press | News