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Brian Clewer, 1928 - 2008

L.A. radio personality was the host of 'Cynic's Choice'

May 04, 2008|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Brian Clewer, a London-born radio personality who was the host of "Cynic's Choice," a program of British comedy and music that aired in Los Angeles for more than 40 years, and who owned the Continental Shop for British foods and other goods in Santa Monica, has died. He was 79.

Clewer, who had cancer, died April 16 of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his wife, Suzanne. He had lived in Los Angeles since the early 1960s.

His radio show began in 1962 and continued until 2005. Most of those years it was on the now-defunct KFAC.

Clewer conducted interviews and aired excerpts from skits by comics Spike Milligan, "The Two Ronnies" (Barker and Corbett) and others. He played British music, including the soundtracks of "Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats" soon after the musicals opened in London. He also kept listeners updated about British-sponsored events around the city.

"It was the sound of Brian Clewer's voice that I remember most," Diane Childs, one fan of the program, said in an interview. "It was deep and gravelly, with an accent that sounded exotic, but I couldn't pin it to any region in England."

Some customers, including Childs, first heard about the Continental Shop because Clewer promoted it on his show. He bought the store in 1967 after getting to know the previous owners, a European couple who opened the business in the late 1930s and advertised on "Cynic's Choice."

The original shop was in the mid-Wilshire district, but Clewer moved it to the nearby Ambassador Hotel. When the hotel closed in 1989, he relocated to Santa Monica. The narrow, deep store space at 1619 Wilshire Blvd. flies a British flag outside the door.

For many transplants from the United Kingdom, "the shop became a home away from home," British-born actress Karen Dotrice said. For some years, Clewer's poodle-mix, Fluffy Lambchop, was always with him in the shop.

"It felt like a village shop in England," Dotrice said. "We didn't go in just to buy chocolate or a newspaper. It was that we missed home."

Besides canned English foods -- among them baked beans, the shop's best seller -- the assortment of items, about 3,000 in all, includes biscuits, jams, candies and teas. There are British newspapers, teacups and pots and a large selection of English movies and recorded music.

Clewer also ran a travel agency in the shop, offering flights to Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

"Brian always tried to do the right thing and be helpful," said customer Paul Cain. If Clewer knew of a bargain price offered by an airline he didn't represent, he mentioned it.

Ninety percent of the shop's customers are from Britain. Most of the others are Anglophiles, according to Suzanne Clewer, who worked in the shop with her husband and plans to keep the business going.

Clewer was born April 24, 1928. He got his start in radio in the British Army during World War II when he worked with Radio Luxembourg, his wife said. After the war, he worked in the publicity office of Rank Films in England. In the mid-1950s, he moved to Toronto and became a radio announcer.

He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and worked in advertising for several years before starting his radio program.

He was married four times. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, Michael; two brothers in England; and several nieces and nephews.

Contributions in his name may be made to the Humane Society of the United States, 5551 Balboa Blvd., Encino, CA 91316.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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