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The BBC's Nick Higham reports
"A diamond geezer"
 real 28k

Monday, 27 March, 2000, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Ian Dury: diamond geezer, masterful songwriter

A legend in the music industry
He was never much of a singer, but Ian Dury's songs were instantly memorable, combining streetwise Cockney humour with verbal cleverness and a tormented delivery.

Polio at the age of seven had left him with a withered hand and leg. He began playing and writing songs while lecturing at Canterbury Art College.

Early days: Kilburn and The High Roads
Early days: Kilburn and The High Roads
He tried his hand at painting before forming the legendary pub rock band, Kilburn and The High Roads. The group became Ian Dury and The Blockheads and a string of hits followed, Dury often writing with his friend, Chas Jankel.

Sex'n'Drugs'n'Rock'n'Roll hit the heights in 1977. It was followed by the band's debut album, New Boots and Panties, which was to spend two years in the charts.

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, which sold one million copies in January 1979 alone, gave The Blockheads a chart topping hit, but it was only the tip of an impressive iceberg of creativity.

Ian Dury's songs were peopled with Cockney geezers and grotesques like Clever Trevor - "knock me down wiv a fevva" - and Billericay Dickie, which could have been a traditional music hall patter song reinvented for a punk generation.

Singing with The Blockheads
Singing with The Blockheads
Indeed, there was much about Ian Dury which resembled his heroes, Max Miller and Max Wall. Asked by Ian Dury to introduce The Blockheads once, Wall commented wearily afterwards, "They only wanted to see the walk."

As Ian Dury rode the crest of the New Wave, the hits just kept coming. There were songs like the touching Wake up and Make Love to Me, Reasons to be Cheerful, Part Three and What a Waste, with the memorable lyrics:

"I could be a lawyer with stratagems and ruses,

I could be a doctor with poultices and bruises,

I could be a writer with a growing reputation,

I could be the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station,

What a waste!"

Live, The Blockheads were a delight with a rich, almost funky, sound complemented by superb rhythm and horn sections and guitarists of the calibre of Wilko Johnson.

He encouraged children to be positive
He encouraged children to be positive
Ian Dury campaigned for disabled people and worked with those with mental illness. He had suffered depression himself.

But by the late 1980s, his career in rock music seemingly over, Ian Dury switched his attention to his first love, painting, and acting.

He appeared in several television plays and films including The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover and a musical, called Apples, which he wrote with another member of the Blockheads.

Dury's first wife, Betty, with whom he had two children, died of cancer in 1994. Though estranged, his grief was starkly highlighted as he wept during an appearance on Desert Island Discs.

The actor: a natural for villains
The actor: a natural for villains
In 1996, he was diagnosed as having cancer of the colon. After undergoing an operation, secondary tumours appeared on his liver. He was told that the condition was terminal.

But, typically, he made the best of his predicament. "I haven't shaken my fists at the moon." he said in an interview, "I'm not that sort of geezer. I'm 56 and musn't grumble. I've had a good crack, as they say."

And, after learning that his cancer had spread, he took this opportunity to marry the sculptress Sophie Tilson, the mother of his youngest two children.

In 1998, almost as an act of defiance, he reformed The Blockheads, recorded a critically acclaimed album, Mr Love Pants and went back on the road for the fist time in 17 years.

He had a masterful grasp of the English language
He had a masterful grasp of the English language
The boy from Upminster in Essex, who found it easier to cope with being stared at because of his limp than because he was famous, was a well educated and thoughtful man.

His streetwise charm, mixed with an astonishing verbal dexterity, took him right to the top but Ian Dury never lost his effortless ability to cheer and bring pleasure to all who met him.

He was, as they say in Essex, a diamond geezer.

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