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Dave Myers, make-up artist turned hugely popular TV cook as one of the Hairy Bikers – obituary

Dave Myers, right, with fellow Hairy Biker Si King on location in 2016
Dave Myers, right, with fellow Hairy Biker Si King on location in 2016 - Heathcliff O'Malley

Dave Myers, who has died from cancer aged 66, was one half of the Hairy Bikers, travelling the world by motorcycle with his taller, and just as extravagantly bearded, colleague Si King, for TV cookery shows that endearingly demonstrated middle-aged male bonding over the stovetop.

The cheery northern pair’s natural habitat was an outdoor market filled with fresh ingredients, and it was their infectiously amateurish enthusiasm for good grub that made them such “relatable” company on their gastronomic road tours – a sort of working-class lads’ version of the Two Fat Ladies series that had propelled Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson to stardom in the late 1990s.

The latest series, The Hairy Bikers Go West, is currently on BBC Two; the first since Myers began chemotherapy for cancer two years ago, it was hailed by The Guardian as “magical” for its celebration of enduring friendship in adversity.

“Every good journey starts with breakfast,” the zany Myers would roar as the bikers rode into an unsuspecting small town to celebrate the region’s culinary traditions. Some dishes were cooked for them, washed down with a local brew; others they cooked themselves, often by the roadside on a camping stove, while speaking into a hand-held camera.

The Bikers 'Go Local'
The Bikers 'Go Local' - Jon Boast/BBC

Whereas “fat lady” Jennifer Paterson had been a professional cook for more than a decade, Myers and King had no background in catering. Myers had been a television make-up artist when he met King, a location manager. They soon discovered a mutual love of food and biking, and before long were kicking around ideas, including one, they said, for a live stage show with some “mankini-style comedy madness”.

Eventually they came up with a programme concept that involved touring old pilgrim routes and learning what the pilgrims ate. They pitched it to several directors, one of whom bit. The pilot show, filmed in Morecambe Bay using Myers’s microlight and a couple of Suzuki GS1000 motorbikes, appealed to Roly Keating, who in June 2004 had been appointed controller of BBC Two. An email about the programme had “Hairy Bikers” as its subject line, a name that stuck.

Their first programme, a one-off that was broadcast in January 2005 as The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook, featured the pair riding from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Faro in Portugal. It was a critical and ratings triumph, and by the spring they were working on a full series, with a seven-week turnaround for each show.

In the Namibian desert they repelled mosquitoes by setting fire to elephant dung; they sailed by catamaran to the Isle of Man where their attempts at making crab soufflé failed, and docked in Fleetwood for fish and chips; and in an Irish pub they learnt that Coco Pops are the secret ingredient to the most delicious Irish stew.

In Vietnam the duo were alarmed to learn that a tough piece of grilled meat turned out to be dog, while in another café they were offered deer penis. They settled instead for the spicier goat, because it came with free testicles. An even bigger surprise was awaiting them in Transylvania: “Si came back from Romania with a straw hat and loads of vodka. I came back with a wife,” said Myers.

Cooking in Bangkok
Cooking in Bangkok - Sammy Jo Squire/BBC

Much of the hirsute pair’s charm lay in their gently civilised air. As one critic put it, instead of being “two fearsome geezers on great, roaring choppers” they were almost sedate, with their Scout-like cooking equipment. Even when one confessed to experiencing an erotic dream, it took the form of a naked Delia Smith with a bowl of garlic mash.

Not being trained chefs, Myers and King made it their mission to chat to local people, sniffing out tales that would illustrate the culture and food of wherever they were visiting. “When you boiled it down, it was really just the pair of us cooking our supper and having a laugh as we always had done, except that we’d be disseminating interesting information about our travels too,” Myers wrote.

They brought the foodie-travelogue format closer to home in 2009 with a 30-part daytime series, The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain, visiting a different county every day.

Other variants included The Hairy Bikers’ Mississippi Adventure for the BBC’s Good Food channel. And with concerns rising for their expanding waistlines, there was a Hairy Dieters television series, spawning a Hairy Bikers Diet Club and a string of further spinoff books, while their four-part campaign series Meals on Wheels was nominated for a Bafta.

By then Myers, a bespectacled figure with a Cumbrian accent, receding hairline and a Salvador Dalí-style twirled moustache above an unkempt beard, had become a celebrity, with appearances on Richard & Judy, This Morning and Lorraine. He also did guest slots on Countdown and Strictly Come Dancing.

Yet it was as a Hairy Biker that Myers will be best remembered by the public. “I really love what Kingy and me do,” he enthused. “I enjoy cooking and I’m lucky enough to travel with it too. It can be absolutely bezonkers sometimes, really good fun.”

Myers aged eight with his mother, Margaret: he had vivid memories of her baking
Myers aged eight with his mother, Margaret: he had vivid memories of her baking - Shutterstock

David James Myers was born in Barrow-in-Furness on September 8 1957, the son of Jim Myers, a papermill foreman, and his wife Margaret, née Anyon, a crane driver in the shipyard.

Of his mother’s cooking he said: “The smell of fresh cakes and pies always filled the room when I was a small boy; it was magic.”

One of his childhood holidays was to see the TT Races on the Isle of Man, a dream come true for the bike-mad boy who badgered every rider he could to sign his autograph book. Equally sharp were his memories the meals at the Metropole Hotel: “Bikes and food were vying for my attention, even then.”

At Cambridge Street primary school young Dave suffered from alopecia, a condition he hid from his taunting schoolmates by mixing soot from the fireplace with Vaseline and applying it to his bald patches.

His mother, meanwhile, developed multiple sclerosis, and Myers recalled a period of about three years when their kitchen staples were tinned mince with mashed potato and marrowfat peas. On one occasion his father mixed them all together and claimed to have created a risotto. Within a few years, however, his father had suffered a bad stroke and Myers cared for both parents, sometimes feeding them fillets of plaice he had caught himself.

At Barrow Grammar School he was taken under the wing of an art teacher called Mr Eaton, who arranged for him to visit galleries in Manchester and Liverpool. In the sixth form he created a mini curry club, inviting friends home after the pub for a concoction created from whatever was in the kitchen cupboard. Many years later he relived those “30p pub-grub days”, cooking a Hairy Bikers chilli con carne recipe enriched with dark chocolate.

Their many books included both conventional and 'diet' recipes
Their many books included both conventional and 'diet' recipes

Myers went on to Goldsmiths College, London, though on arriving at Euston Station for the first time he was stopped by police suspicious about the contents of his tobacco tin. The capital broadened his food horizons and he discovered south Indian cuisine, though in the summer he returned to Barrow, earning money by cleaning out the steelworks’ furnaces during the annual shutdown.

On the principle that “if I can paint a picture, I can paint a face”, he successfully applied to join the BBC’s make-up department. On his first day he was ordered to get a wig to hide his alopecia. But rather than spend the money – more than a month’s salary – he instead shaved his head and bought a nearly new Honda 185 Benly motorcycle. As the corporation’s only known male make-up artist, he appeared on the cover of the staff magazine Ariel with Hamble, the rag doll from Play School.

Before long, he was preparing guests for Blue Peter, arranging Des O’Connor’s copper-tinged highlights and painting Adam Ant’s white facial stripe for Top of the Pops. Gradually he branched out into prosthetics, making casts of Patricia Hodge and Julie Wallace’s breasts for The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1986). When filming finished he attached one of these artificial breasts to the back of the catering truck and watched it being driven away.

Going freelance he became a regular make-up artist on Coronation Street before moving on to larger-scale dramas with actors including John Gielgud. When Timothy West played Mikhail Gorbachev in the TV movie Breakthrough at Reykjavik (1987), Myers had to replicate the Soviet leader’s famous red birthmark, ensuring it looked exactly the same for each day of filming.

After a misguided foray into the antiques trade, Myers returned to his face paints, and while head of make-up for the Catherine Cookson drama The Gambling Man (1995) he met Simon “Si” King, “a big, blond-haired Geordie” (specifically, from Co Durham) who like him enjoyed a curry, a pint and motorbikes, though both were frequently beset by illnesses.

Myers’s first marriage, to Kate Fox, a costume designer he met on Breakthrough at Reykjavik, was dissolved. Early in 1998 he became engaged to Glen Howarth, a script supervisor whom he had met during filming of another Catherine Cookson tale, The Tide of Life, but four months later she died of stomach cancer.

In 2005 Myers was filming the first series of Hair Bikers in Transylvania when he encountered an austere but beautiful Romanian woman named Liliana (Lili) Orzac at their hotel check-in desk. They were married in 2011. She survives him with two stepchildren from her previous relationship.

Dave Myers, born September 8 1957, died February 28 2024