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Tributes to 'a bit of a hero'

SHEFFIELD writer and radio producer Dave Sheasby died in St Luke's Hospice last weekend days after completing a new script for the BBC, sitting up in bed and using a borrowed laptop.

The man regarded by many of his peers as the best of the crop of writers ushered in by Radio Sheffield, where he was a pioneering education producer from 1967, knew he had a matter of days left to complete the commission.

As tributes poured in from actors as well as BBC sources, his producer David Hunter described him with Sheasby's own trademark understatement as "a bit of a hero".

Fulwood-born and educated at King Edward VII School, Sheasby, who was in his 70th year, lived all his life in the city apart from a spell at university, the London School of Economics. Returning to teach in a pre-comprehensive secondary modern school, he was appointed when Radio Sheffield went on the air – the second of the country's new local radio stations. He never lived away from Sheffield again.

Michael Barton, his first station manager, recalled a series of dramatised visits to local landmarks which included an extended conversation with a parrot in the Botanical Gardens. Intended for schoolchildren, the often-hilarious short plays were so successful they were repeated for adults.

In the 1980s he hosted a Friday afternoon programme which featured local writers and was instrumental in offering a first opportunity to people who went on to professional careers such as Berlie Doherty, Rony Robinson and Theresa Tomlinson.

"I always acknowledge the major part he played in encouraging me in those early days of my writing career," said award-winning children's writer Doherty. "He had enormous talent but he was always very generous towards other writers. Maybe I would never have become a writer if it hadn't been for Dave. On the strength of one short story he commissioned ten… and another ten, and on it went. He rarely praised but his expectations were high and somehow he drew the best out of people."

Sheasby himself went on to write some 40 plays for Radio 3 and Radio 4, also working as a staff producer for Radio 4, making documentaries for the network and contributions to arts programmes, often featuring Sheffield subjects. With Ian McMillan and Martyn Wiley he also wrote the comedy series The Blackburn Files about an incompetent and unglamorous detective agency.

His radio play, Apple Blossom Afternoon, reflecting his own passion for betting on horses (at one time he moonlighted as Radio Sheffield tipster Captain Westbourne), won a Giles Cooper Award (the radio drama 'Oscar') in 1988.

In the last few months Radio 4 changed its Saturday evening schedules to accommodate his adaptations of Erich-Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, both originally produced by David Hunter for Radio 3.

He explored Pablo Picasso's visit to Sheffield for the abortive Peace Conference in 1950 at least three times and the stage play Trimming Pablo – the imagined memory of a Sheffield barber – was most recently performed in Doncaster by Finetime Fontayne two weeks ago; there are plans to film it.

Former controllers of Radio 4 Michael Green and Helen Boaden paid tribute this week along with Michael Barton and his successor at Radio Sheffield, Tim Neale, and Abigail Appleton, who commissions speech programmes for Radio 3.

An adaptation of JL Carr's A Month in the Country that Sheasby worked on in St Luke's was the last of these. A rueful but unsentimental look back at Yorkshire life, missed opportunity, art and people, it might have been made for his own wry, witty and rueful voice.

Dave Sheasby's first wife, Helen Grainger, died from a brain tumour and in 2004 he married Eve Shrewsbury, who survives him along with three children from each marriage.

His funeral will be at Hutcliffe Wood on Tuesday at 3pm.

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