My broadcasting buddy Bob Shelley was radio gold

Stephen Foster and Bob Shelley before Happy Hour

Bob Shelley and Foz pictured before an edition of The Happy Hour - Credit: Stephen Foster

In his latest On Air in Suffolk column, broadcaster Stephen Foster remembers friend, radio 'buddy' and Ipswich businessman Bob Shelley.

The expression ‘larger-than-life’ was tailor-made for my broadcasting buddy Bob Shelley. The well-known Ipswich businessman died in the summer of August 2018 and I still think of him most days.

Our Happy Hour ran on BBC Radio Suffolk for many years and was a great opportunity for me to really let my hair down on air.

Our paths first crossed in the early 1990s when Bob used to guest on the Friday Night Sports Roundtable. He was more than happy to air his views on football and boxing along with any other subject you care to mention.

He was radio gold and when we eventually teamed up for our Sunday morning laugh-in we soon found ourselves flying very close to the wind.

Bob’s fruity jokes often had me and our thousands of listeners in hysterics and there were many times I thought we’d overstepped the mark.

Stpehen Foster Bob Shelley South Suffolk Show

Bob Shelley attempting to play the bagpipes at the South Suffolk Show - Credit: Stephen Foster

From time to time we did outside broadcasts which included a trip to Ampton near Bury St Edmunds for the South Suffolk Show. I recall Bob’s attempts to play the bagpipes there. Thankfully he wasn’t wearing a kilt. For all his huffing and puffing he couldn’t get a note out of the things which given the amount of hot air he produced back in the studio every Sunday was more than a bit surprising. Laugh. I thought I was never going to start.

On another Sunday outing we found ourselves at the maternity block at Ipswich Hospital for a charity abseil. I’d taken leave of my senses when I agreed to have a go.

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My then wife Belinda brought our son Joe along in his push chair and they watched on as Bob commentated on my descent. While I gingerly made my way down, waving to the nurses and new mums looking out of the ward windows, Bob couldn’t resist asking Belinda if she’d checked that my life assurance was still in place.

One of our regular guests on Sunday mornings was Lowestoft poet Jane Mower. Her delightful way with words struck a chord with the Happy Hour audience and it wasn’t long before we suggested she publish a book of her work.

Stephen Foster Bob Shelley and Jane Mower

Poet Jane Mower with Foz (left) and Bob outside BBC Radio Suffolk - Credit: Stephen Foster

With Bob’s assistance, both financially and in kind, the project was a huge success, raising thousands of pounds for East Anglia’s Childrens’ Hospices. Bob and I were so pleased for Jane who along with her husband Don remains a good friend to me and my family to this day.

Jane’s book wasn’t the only piece of merchandise to come out of The Happy Hour. My late BBC colleague Jim Bowman pieced together the best bits of our broadcasts for a CD to raise funds for Children In Need. That gave him five minutes of material which he somehow managed to expand to nearly an hour.

Jim persuaded Sir Terry Wogan and Joe Pasquale to take part even though they’d never heard of Foz and Bob.  

Bob’s stories and catchphrases are legendary. He was a big admirer of the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Matt Monro but let’s be honest the only notes Bob was known for were the ones in his wallet. He could, however, take off his shoes and hum.

My favourite Bob quip was ‘you should have seen it, his shirt shot up his back like a roller blind.’ I had no idea what he meant by that and I’m not sure he did either. Or did he? It could have been something very rude.

After all his naughty nature was a big part of who he was - a kind and generous man who I was lucky enough to share many an adventure with. They won’t forget Bob, he drove the fastest ice cream van in the east.

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