John Sturgis

The strange life of Alvin Stardust

This fictional star has been all but forgotten

  • From Spectator Life
(Alamy)

He had mutton chop sideburns, a vast quiff and was dressed in black leather, even down to murderers’ gloves, over which he wore enormous silver rings, which he then wiggled in a beckoning fashion while staring suggestively into the camera.

Nevermind hiding behind the sofa during Dr Who – for me, in December 1973, as a six-year-old nurtured on bubblegum pop, the debut appearance on Top of the Pops of Alvin Stardust, with his rock’n’roll Child Catcher look, was the most menacing thing I had ever seen.

In the 1990s he found God – at Waterloo Station apparently, a place where one might be more likely to experience a loss of faith

Frightening in a dark panto way it may have been – but its performer was a concoction. ‘Alvin Stardust’ was a character, the name crudely drawn to attempt to tap into the success of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album from the previous year and graft a bit of his glam stylings onto the older rock’n’roll sound and look of a Gene Vincent.

And just a couple of weeks before he appeared on TOTP, Stardust was being played by someone else entirely, one Peter Shelley. The pop producer had conceived of this new Stardust, then wrote, produced and sang his debut single. Shelley had even appeared on regional TV as Stardust before deciding at the eleventh hour, as the record began to attract attention, that he had no appetite for pop stardom himself – and casting around for an Alvin stand-in. 

The candidate he settled on had been born Bernard Jewry – and was already into his thirties, five years older than the twin leading lights of the then booming glam rock scene whom he was tasked with emulating, Bowie and Marc Bolan. 

Of course the history of pop is full of manufactured groups and invented characters jumping on bandwagons so this wasn’t in itself particularly unusual.

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