Lee Everett Alkin hopes that when BBC4 airs its bio-pic about Kenny Everett this week, it will finally put paid to a “nasty thing” that she has resented for decades: the idea that her ten-year marriage to Everett was a sham. Though Everett came out as gay after he and Lee split up in 1979, and died from an Aids-related illness in 1995, Lee says that their relationship was a “full marriage – it blended into everything, really”.
Indeed, Everett’s relationship with Lee was so strong that it forms the narrative backbone of this new film. “It was supposed to be Ev’s life story, but the BBC thought that me and him were the most interesting part of it. So they made it more about that than anything else,” says Lee, who is played by the former Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly. “We had a great marriage for ages. We had such a good time. This programme will put the truth out at last.”
Lee met Everett in the swinging 60s. He was dropping LSD with the Beatles, and she was living with the rock ‘n’ roll star Billy Fury. Their relationship didn’t start well: when a mutual friend brought Everett to stay at Fury’s country pile, Lee thought he was “a menace”.
“I had this fan that Billy had bought me from the Tsar’s Russian household and it was all feathers and beautiful. It was on the wall because it was quite fragile,” she recalls. “I’m getting ready for dinner, and I turn around and Ev’s got this fan, fanning himself like a mad thing and about three spokes had broken.”
Everett soon became "my gay friend" but when Lee split up with Fury, Everett made his move, whisking her off round Europe in his brand-new Fiat. “It came back looking like it had been through a war. He hit everything,” says Lee. “He even hit what I’m sure was a gangster’s car. We did fall for each other though – it was something that just really grew. We had the same sense of humour, we got very touchy-feely and daft.”
When Everett proposed, though, Lee “told him he was mad”. Mad or not, they wed in 1966, and were together as Everett’s career developed from slots on Radio 1 and Capital Radio to his ground-breaking ITV series The Kenny Everett Video Show. Those days were happy, says Lee, “until I saw his old demons coming back. He suddenly started having fantasies about… it was always straight men he went for. They weren’t his demons really, it was his right path. But he and I never regretted our marriage.”
For a 1970s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Lee proved incredibly understanding. One scene in the film even shows her pairing Everett off with his first boyfriend – though she may have been influenced by the company she was keeping.
"Freddie Mercury said, 'Let’s all go out to dinner,'" she recalls. “We were having dinner and Ev said to me, ‘The waiter’s lovely, isn’t he?’ So I said to the waiter, ‘Would you like to come out with us, we’re going on to a club later?’” Everett and that waiter went on to be lovers for a year.
By that point, Lee had already met the actor John Alkin, whom she married (they have been together 29 years; Lee is now 75). Everett was best man at their wedding – another event that will be seen in the film.
“I went to see the shooting that day,” says Lee. “Oliver Lansley, who plays Everett… you would think it was him. He’d done this little wave at us, as me and John walked away after being married. But as soon as we’d walked away, they did close-ups on his face looking absolutely devastated. It did for me, 28 takes of that, I was in tears.
“I went up to Oliver afterwards and said, ‘I should never have divorced you.’ But he replied in character, ‘Oh, I think you did the right thing’.”
In real life, Lee and Everett fell out over a book she wrote about their life together even though, she recalls, he’d approved every page. They never reconciled, and Lee didn’t see Everett again before his death. After his HIV diagnosis in 1987, says Lee, “I mourned him way before he died.”
But even after being estranged for so many years – Everett died in 1995 – she went to his funeral. “I never stopped loving him,” she says simply. “You can dislike somebody, but you don’t stop loving them. He did a lot of things that were hurtful to a lot of people, because he was mad. He was a genius, really, and I always think geniuses can be strange.”
In 1978 Arlene Phillips despaired of ever finding fame for her little-known dance group, Hot Gossip. Over three years, the group had become a hit on London’s club scene – but Phillips met a stone wall every time she tried to break into television. “I was coming to the end of my tether,” says Phillips. “The comment I always got was: ‘No, too sexy for TV’.” But then one of Phillips’s dancers auditioned for a new series, The Kenny Everett Video Show.
The show’s director, David Mallet, instantly fired his choreographer, and hired Phillips and Hot Gossip. “After week one, Mary Whitehouse was so shocked that this show was broadcast so early on a Monday evening, with scantily clad girls showing their knickers, with suspenders and stockings,” says Phillips. “Kenny picked up on it immediately. So the next week the show went out and he said: ‘Ooh, Hot Gossip, the naughty bits.’ We made front-page news on every newspaper.”
Phillips worked with Everett for eight years, and has now choreographed some dance inserts for the BBC4 drama. She describes him as “an enigma – somebody that dared to do things that no one had done before. Who today would dare have a character called Cupid Stunt, a male dressed as a female, opening and crossing his legs? You wouldn’t find many execs doing that today, you really wouldn’t.”
Jo Gurnett was Everett’s agent for over 20 years, from the early 70s until the day he died. She helped him prepare for his infamous appearance at a Young Conservatives rally in 1983, at which he shouted “Let’s bomb Russia!” and “Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away!” Everett appeared on stage wielding the massive pointing hands of his TV character Brother Lee Love. “I had to go and collect those from his flat,” says Gurnett. “He lived on the top floor and it was a long way, carrying two bloody big hands for him.”
Gurnett stuck by Everett after his HIV diagnosis, buying him smoked salmon sandwiches after he went for regular injections at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Aids “suddenly grabbed him” about a year before he died. “It wasn’t nice,” says Gurnett. “It was pretty traumatic.”
Even today, Gurnett says she still misses Everett. “He brought me a rubber Donald Duck that you sit on the side of the bath. If the water gets too high, the duck falls in,” she says. “And I’ve still got this bloody duck sitting on the side of my bath. It seems hard to think it’s been, what, 17 years. Seventeen years is a hell of a long time.”
Best Possible Taste: the Kenny Everett Story starts tonight at 9:00pm on BBC4