Friday, 11 February 2011

Sam Plank loses battle

I couldn't write anything as I'm so upset and crying even as I'm typing this. I will leave it to Verity Hilton, a dear friend and the wife of a man about whom the word 'legend' is apt.

Moorlands Radio mid morning presenter Sam Plank has lost his battle with cancer. The former Focal Radio, BBC Radio Stoke and Signal 2 presenter overcame throat cancer in 2008 but was told secondary cancer had returned in September last year.

He died at home at ten past nine on Thursday evening in the loving care of his wife and family.

As well as hosting the City fireworks display and also Tunstall lights switch on in November, Sam’s last official engagement off the radio was raising money for Blythe Bridge Rotary at their annual race night. Over the years Sam has been heavily involved with the local lions clubs and rotary organisations..being one of a few non rotarians honoured with a Paul Harris fellowship award for his work in the community back in 2000.

Sam has received many awards including the Queen Mothers award for the media and a prestigious Sony award for local radio personality of the year.. He was also presented with Chat magazines most favourite radio presenter thanks to the enormous amount of listeners who tuned into his mid morning show on BBC Radio Stoke. At the height of Radio Stoke’s listenership 1 in 3 people who tuned into a radio in the area listened to Sam Plank.

Sam has always been synonymous with the City of Stoke on Trent, having led the Parks and Recreations team at the City Council as Terry Hilton.

He left school to go to work at Borthwicks and Wrists before moving to Steel and Cowlieshaw where he was a times and motions man. He joined the City Council as a planner to put in their bonus system and was recognised by one of three mentors in his life Bill Jackson who asked him to take over the Children’s play side of things. Sam said "Bill saw more in me than I did".

The other two people who had a similar effect on Sam’s life were his school teacher Arthur Wood, at Brookhouse Green, who said Sam could pass his 11 plus even though more intelligent kids in the class would fail. Sam was to later work with Arthur when he joined BBC Radio Stoke as Arthur was education producer at the time. The other mentor in his life was John Collard, his former Station Manager at BBC Radio Stoke who in Sam’s eyes was the only one who had a true belief in what local radio is all about – putting a foot in its community and keeping it there.

Together they raised money for BBC Radio Stoke’s RASCAL appeal – the first year raising the money in a weekend to keep Moorlands lass Emma Chell alive – her grandfather had pleaded for the stations help as her body switched off at night and she needed a machine to keep her alive and wake her up.

It was through his work at the council, trying to get publicity for the City’s bonfire or a local circus coming to one of the towns that his ability was recognised by engineer Simon Penfold and Sam started to present the Saturday Morning show when Bruno Brookes left to go to Radio 1. It was herein 1984 that he first met his second wife Verity who had started at BBC Radio Stoke 3 years earlier.

Sam continued with the show for four years and in 1988 at the age of 40 gave up his work at the council to take over the mid morning weekday show on BBC Radio Stoke.

At this time he was given the freedom of the City of Stoke on Trent by the then Lord Mayor Stan Bates – he later was awarded the ability to graze his sheep on a village green in Cheshire as well as an honorary citizen of East Liverpool Ohio and a Kentucky Colonel when he travelled with the radio station to Ohio to cover the bi-centeneray of people leaving Longport Wharf to settle over there for work – a journey he made in 1998 with Verity as his producer and engineer Kyle Evans from BBC Radio Stoke who is now head of presentation at GMG Radio.

Sam and Verity were asked to join Signal 2 in 2001 to add a local feel to their then regional output on the station. He thoroughly enjoyed his time at the station, and had recently renewed his working partnership with presenter Doug Wood when he joined Sam and the team at Moorlands Radio last year – the Wood n Plank brand was reunited.

Througout his work at the council and also at the radio stations he has made many friends, from the listeners who have followed his career to the youngsters with disability who he used to take swimming at Tunstall pool. One young lad wouldn’t get in the pool without Sam going in with him – and he still comes up and gives him a cuddle in the street now.

These listeners and friends, followed him to Focal Radio when it was launched in 2008 but it was short lived and Sam paid a lot of the staffs wages when it went into liquidation for a second time in May 2009.

Sam’s wife, Verity Hilton, worked with Sam for the majority of his time in Radio, and is currently the Station Manager of Moorlands Radio 103.7fm where he presented his last show in the middle of December. She paid tribute to her husband…

"I am so proud of the way Sam has had the courage to battle this illness, never moaning or complaining or asking why me – even though many of us around him asked that question. It has been a tribute to the man he is that so many people of all walks of life have called to see him or spoken to him over the past few days and weeks. Sam was passionate about the area he lived and the people in it, giving them every opportunity to be positive and giving them the ability to make things happen.

As well as family, close friends and colleagues he has been in deep conversation with MP’s, Business people and Football Chairmen who have all had to sit on his throne (or commode) by his bed.

Chairman for Moorlands Radio where Sam was continuing to sell airtime for the station until last week is Tony Mullins – he paid this tribute…

"I grew up listening to Sam on the BBC, he was one of my radio heros. When I got to work with Sam at Focal Radio in Stoke and here at Moorlands Radio it was a dream come true. Off the air Sam was just the same as his on air personality; a warm, friendly, generous man who had time for everyone. Sam’s passion for radio was infectious; at presenter and team meetings he would help develop our new presenters with advice and training, he always had time for our new recruits, even when they were a little starstruck!

I was always impressed at roadshows with the number of his listeners who would come up to Sam for a kiss and a cuddle, people he had never met! They were all friends to him, and that was the key to his success. Sam was truly a larger than life character both on and off the air. Sam worked for Moorlands Radio for over a year, helping to set the station up and doing his daily programme which was one of the most popular on the station, for this, he gave his time and expertise for free. He also looked after the sales at the station for no financial reward, just the will to see us succeed.

He was loved by the team at Moorlands Radio. Sam has left a big void in our lives and our thoughts are with Verity and his family."

Entertainment has always been Sam’s life, from 15 he was a drummer in bands such as the James Stone Pattern and later forming the duo SPARKY with fellow musician Norman Tempest ( MD of Royal Stafford). Not only did they tour around the country but also worked with a lot of the stars as support band at Jollies. Sam became one of the first "shock jocks" at the Vale Club, with he and Norman being resident DJ’s. In the early 80’s he started to concentrate on discos and also family entertainment enabling many to leave their hearts in SAM PLANKS disco!

For many years he was also responsible for bringing Santa in to town and many years enabled children to wake him up from his winter sleep at the Quality Hotel in Hanley.

Sam leaves behind his wife Verity 44, children Andrew, Mark, Thomas, Sophie and Josh and grandchildren Ben and Aimee.

Back ground information: Terry Hilton 22.05.1948

The eldest of three children born to Flo and Arthur in Middleport – dance
teachers who had their own school at the Odeon in Hanley as well as Stoke.

He moved to Bentilee with his Mum, Dad, sister Susan and Brother David when the sunshine houses were built in the early 50’s

Went to school at Middleport, Brookhouse and then Hanley High School.

An honorary member of the Staffordshire Regimental association raising money for them to go to Bayeux for the anniversary of D Day. He has had many listeners including the Queen when she toured Stoke on Trent with Sir James Hawley – as well as the late Sir Stan who used to call Verity to "tell Planky I am going out now"

Raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities over the years.

Sam has planned his own funeral in recent days with his wife. … A friend of Sam’s has accepted Sam’s request to take his funeral service - Ashley Cooper from Swan Bank, Burslem. He hopes to have the Veterans of the Staffordshire regimental association to parade him in and has requested his son mark to play for his Dad – a tribute which will be recorded with his eldest son Andrew and the other half of the duo Sparky – Norman as well as other musicians Sam has known for many years.

I will be there, Sam. Love you . There's a bright star shining in the sky tonight.