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Adrian Steed, a broadcaster’s broadcaster who never forgot his humble origins

Adrian Steed, a broadcaster’s broadcaster who never forgot his humble origins
Veteran broadcaster Adrian Steed died on 11 January 2024 at the age of 89. (Photo: Supplied)

The veteran broadcaster Adrian Steed, whose face and voice were familiar to generations of South Africans, died on 11 January 2024 at the age of 89. His daughter Cathy, and his fellow broadcaster Pat Pillai, pay tribute to him.

Adrian Steed, my friend and teacher

Many will remember Adrian Steed as the SABC TV news anchor and radio host from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. His warm, distinguished voice and famous gap-toothed smile was a signature goodnight smile few will forget. I grew up watching and listening to him.

It was in 1992, at SABC TV, that I had the benefit of Adrian Steed’s wisdom and expertise. 

I was a newly qualified teacher, educated by dedicated lecturers at the University of Durban-Westville, UDW. I was in my twenties and had never done television before. I was in the big city of Johannesburg.

At the time a childhood friend said, “be careful Pat. You fail in front of millions, you fail big!”

I gulped. My chest tightened. My mind deserted me. Inside, I was still that bewildered boy from Rylands, Athlone on the Cape Flats — and I felt every bit the impostor in an Auckland Park television studio. 

But life has a way of compelling action when we’re most afraid. I had a 50-year-old mother and younger brothers to care for. I had a child to feed. Rent had to be paid, even if it was roughshod Hillbrow accommodation.  

Yet, I had this terrifying opportunity to be trained as a broadcaster, and a chance to earn a little better to cover the needs of my family. 

For advice, I went to my rock and constant: Mum. 

She said quietly, while cooking a simple supper of braised potato, dhal and rice, “yes, Patmanathan, you may fail, but you will definitely regret it if you don’t even try.”

I accepted the opportunity to learn.

Adrian Steed

Veteran broadcaster Adrian Steed. (Photo: YouTube)

It is impossible to describe the trepidation I felt as this new chapter was beginning, but when Adrian opened the training session that Monday morning, he spoke calmly and assuredly. 

He said, in his distinctive voice: “A good broadcaster never talks to a nation of millions. A good broadcaster cares about his audience — but always talks to only one.”

And so began his series of trainings and insights…

When I took him aside and told him of my epilepsy, and that tension, pressure and bright lights might trigger a seizure, he simply replied, “you make the decision with your doctor. If you still want to be a broadcaster, I will be proud to continue to train you. And remember, there are ways to manage the pressure.”

For the rest of my broadcasting career, as the countdown took us live to another news bulletin, I honoured Adrian by only ever speaking with one viewer — never the many. And my fear of failing in front of millions slowly faded. 

In 1992, South Africa was changing. Freedom and democracy were palpable, but not yet achieved. At that time, it was Adrian Steed who gave a kid from the Cape Flats what he needed to walk a new career path — and a perspective on life that serves me still. 

Over the years, I’ve had a few conversations with him and thanked him in person. We laughed at our life and broadcasting foibles. As we parted, I’d tease him about the regal nature of his equestrian-like surname. 

Adrian Steed, my friend and teacher, gallop proudly into that beautiful sunset. You rise daily in those I love most. Thank you. Rest in peace. – Pat Pillai

Pat Pillai went on to become a professional broadcaster, and for the next 25 years worked on various documentaries, SABC 3 News, E News Prime Time and Inside Out, a current affairs show on E News Channel, among others.

Adrian Steed

Veteran broadcaster Adrian Steed. (Photo: YouTube)

Adrian Steed, my father, and my inspiration

Given Dad’s sad and humble beginnings, he had every reason to be bitter, but his heart was too big and his spirit too generous to be anything other than kind, humble and only ever with sincerity.

Adrian Steed was born to Margaret Steed on 3 June 1934 in Rotherham, Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom.

He never knew his father and his birth certificate states “father unknown”.

At the age of four when his mother remarried and had other mouths to feed, he was sent to live with his grandmother, attending the local junior school through a scholarship he had been granted. He earned another scholarship to attend the local high school.

After doing his military training, he applied for another scholarship to attend Rada (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in London where he studied with some of the greatest actors ever known, the likes of Graham Armitage, Albert Finney, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole, to mention a few.

He bussed tables, sometimes sleeping secretly under the long tablecloths at the hotel dining room, sold newspapers and did what he needed to do to get by.

After graduating, he left England for South Africa in 1957, where he started his broadcasting career in radio at the SABC, also acting on stage and in movies like Scotty Smith, Pressure Burst and Shangani Patrol.

He saw himself as nothing special and always said that it was a privilege to be invited into people’s homes, whether it was on TV as a sports and news reader or during all his years on SABC Radio, through Squad Cars, The Sunburnt Crop, and Forces Favourites for the “boys on the Border” every Sunday with Esmé Euvrard — or many others during his 35 years of broadcasting.

He treated everyone with the same regard. It didn’t matter if you were a homeless man in Joubert Park, a parking attendant, a teller at the local supermarket, or a politician or CEO he was training, he made you feel special and talked to you like you were the only person in the room.

His insatiable need for knowledge of the history of humankind and Earth, of heritage, never ended. He studied English, Yiddish and French and was always reading or watching documentary films.

His love of children and animals was undeniable. He spent many years as chairperson of the Johannesburg Children’s Home, again offering all the children love, hope and encouragement.

adrian steed

Adrian Steed with his beloved wife of 48 years, Marina. (Photo: Supplied)

It was in 1976 that he married the love of his life for 48 years, his beloved Marina van Tonder. Their love story was like no other, a shared adventure and life lived to the full — packed with family, adventure, travel, fun and above all, love. A beautiful, unconditional love which is also why I am convinced that he was with us for so long.

She in her own right is an extraordinary woman who we are so lucky to have in our lives, with a heart so tender and a love so fierce. Their love and life were shared so generously with their four children, Andrew, Cathy, Laura and Lerato.

Adrian Steed

Adrian, Marina and daughter Lerato Steed with his precious pooch, Tiggy. (Photo: Supplied)

The constant companionship he found with his two beloved dogs, Sooty and Tiggy and they never left his side.

Dad passed away in his sleep at the angel hour: one minute past 1am on 11 January 2024. He was 89 years old, just a few months away from 90.  

He was, is, and will always be, the most extraordinary man I have ever met. Those he loved were privileged to be loved by him. We are left with an emotional bank full of only good, beautiful memories, and his legacy lives on in all who were fortunate enough to know him.

Dad, we all miss and love you. Always. Rest knowing that you were a man among men, and a father to look and live up to. – Cathy Steed

DM

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