'Sometimes he could be very naughty': Star arts critic remembered fondly

A veteran arts reviewer who loved life and never stopped learning has at long last put down his pen.

Art students at Wolverhampton University hosted an exhibition of their work on Friday evening. Jerald Smith is seen with his work titled Broadway Boogie Woogie Electrified
Art students at Wolverhampton University hosted an exhibition of their work on Friday evening. Jerald Smith is seen with his work titled Broadway Boogie Woogie Electrified

Jerald Smith became a freelance music and theatre critic for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star after a chance meeting in 1974 and would keep reviewing even after his retirement.

He died earlier this month aged 74.

Jerald was born in Blackpool in 1945 to Lancashire native Joan and an American GI named John, who was known as Jerry.

Jerald's unusual name came from his American parentage, and the family spent some of his early life in Chicago thanks to his father's service.

As a young man he studied at the University of Nottingham, where he met his future wife Anne-Marie.

She studied music and they met when she was conducting a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Trial by Jury', in which Jerald played the defendant.

"I remember it very well," said Anne-Marie.

"He was tall and dark, with very brown eyes.

"That was it – we've been married 51 years."

Jerald on his wedding day in 1968

They both went on to teach in Nottingham and Jerald took a keen interest in politics. Both belonged to the Young Conservatives.

Anne-Marie said: "When we came to the West Midlands in 1974 he became a South Staffordshire district councillor and chairman of Wombourne Parish Council.

"He has always been interested in politics, politics and the arts."

He even came close to running for Parliament in 1979 before Margaret Thatcher put the kibosh on teachers becoming MPs, said Anne-Marie.

It was shortly after Jerald and Anne-Marie moved to Wombourne in 1974 that they met with Ray Seaton, the late Express & Star feature writer.

"His wife is French and we met him through a friend of mine who was also French," said Anne-Marie.

"We developed a lifelong friendship. I'm still friends with Mrs Seaton who lives in the south of France.

"It was a personal friendship, and through conversations they discovered we were interested in the arts.

Jerald Smith

"Jerald was asked to go and do a critique of a concert, I think it was a musical.

"He did it and then he went to see [former editor] Keith Parker of the Express & Star."

Things were different for reviewers in those days, Anne-Marie recalled.

Jerald would have to ring up the office at 7.30am every day after a performance and read out his review over the phone for a typist to transcribe.

"He always loved writing and so he found it interesting.

"When he was young he was very critical in the things he said. Amateur societies used to ban him from time to time.

"Sometimes he could be very naughty. One concert was particularly bad, he did [his review] all in verse.

"We still have copies of these things."

Jerald Smith in 2005

Jerald would adapt his reviewing style for different productions, for example borrowing Stephen Sondheim's rhyming structure for a review of 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'.

"He carried on reviewing after he finished teaching, he got more into theatre than music. He did more and more theatre, which he loved."

Jerald particularly enjoyed the opera. He and Anne-Marie enjoyed trips to some of the most famous venues in the world, including the Sydney Opera House and the Vienna State Opera.

They had one son, Adam, and moved to Tettenhall in 1985. They stayed there until 2005, when they came to Preston upon the Weald Moors near Telford.

When he retired as a freelancer Jerald carried on writing reviews for Native Monster, which covered entertainment across the West Midlands and Shropshire and was part of MNA Media.

Anne-Marie said: "He would just look at the programme and decide which ones he wanted to do and they would get him tickets. They were very kind at Native Monster.

"He wasn't being paid for it after he retired, he just did it for the love of it.

Jerald Smith

"If you printed it he would write it. He would have always continued doing it had his health allowed.

"The arts have always been very important to him. He decided to take up art because he had had a classical education.

"He began to paint and decided to do a fine art degree at the University of Wolverhampton, part-time so he could enjoy it. He never stopped learning.

"He loved to cook, he was a very good cook. He loved food and loved good wine.

"We had lots of dinner parties with friends for many years."

Two years ago, Jerald suffered a severe heart attack. He underwent surgery but the damage from the heart attack was severe, and he died earlier this month.

Jerald Smith's funeral will be held on December 12 at St Lawrence's Church in Preston upon the Weald Moors. Donations will be accepted for the Severn Hospice, which helped care for Jerald at the end of his life.

"Anyone who comes will be welcome," said Anne-Marie.

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