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Jean and Gene bid fond farewell to a Christmas tradition

Jean Howes' introduction to the world of television happened in a somewhat unexpected fashion.

She had just reached the age of 65 and retired from local retailer Gibbons Company when businessman Fernance Perry asked if she wanted work answering the phones.

After she had been there for some time, Ms Howes invited her new boss to a benefit concert she was throwing for her blind friends.

“I liked organising concerts and that next day when I went into work he said 'Jean that was such a good concert. Do you think your fellows [in your band] would like to come and put their concert on the TV?'”

It was there Ms Howes' iconic holiday television show 'Jean and Gene's Christmas' was born 20 years ago. The show will be air for the last time this year.

It's featured more than 300 performances from some of the Island's best talents including Gandhi Burgess, Jimmy Chamberlain, Wendell (Shine) Hayward and William (Cheese) Ray.

Dancers, singers and musicians have also had the chance to showcase their skills.

Ms Howes said she felt it was time to wrap up the show despite having had an outpouring of calls from people who don't want it to finish.

“I am proud of the show, but I am sad that it's finished. It has been a big thing and I am glad we could do this,” said the 86-year-old.

Ms Howes' mother taught her how to play the piano at age ten. She lost her sight the next year in a stone-throwing accident, but continued playing when she went to a school for the blind overseas.

Her father bought her an accordion when she turned 17 and she taught herself to play by ear; later she started playing with different country bands on the Island.

Soon after her band's first televised concert orchestrated by Mr Perry, Ms Howes invited Gene Steede to be the co-host of what would become an annual holiday show.

“I got the sponsors and performers, but Gene came on to talk along with me to introduce people and sing two or three songs,” she said. “And of course he was a beautiful singer and his humour has helped to make our show great.”

Her favourite thing about the programme was that it highlighted Bermuda's entertainers and performers and brought locals together “because everyone looked forward to it every year”.

Mr Steede said the experience was all fun as he got to mingle with new people and admitted it “hasn't been work at all”.

He said: “I really enjoyed doing it and more than anything I enjoyed doing it with, I call her 'little Jeanie'.

“And she was quite a convincing person. It wasn't my intention to do it for 20 years, but every year she would convince me to do it one more time.

“So it's been fun. My whole reason for being there was to make her comfortable and make her laugh and she did all the work.”

Mr Steede, 71, began his singing career in the 1950s in what he describes as the 'doo wop' groups of the time. He started performing with his first wife in the hotels as part of the Holiday Island Review and has been on stage ever since.

“I was always a singer, but I also played guitar and the congo drums,” he said. “I was never a dancer though. I am not a Michael Jackson at all.”

He said he never realised how popular the annual holiday show was until this year. People have approached him to say how sorry they are that it's finishing up.

“So many people just got used to it. It became a tradition because no one knew who would be on that year,” he said.

“People had a lot of fun seeing themselves and it was maybe their one and only time being on television so they made the most out of entertaining their family and friends.”

The final 'Jean and Gene's Christmas' show will highlight some of the producers' favourite performances from the past 20 years.

Ms Howes said the only 'live moments' will be a pre-taped introduction and the end, showing the two hosts on the Grotto Bay Hotel property. She said: “It was quite sad when we were going to the end, when I realised it was the last show we would ever do.

“We held hands and I think just when they ended filming me and Gene were walking away from the camera.”

The show premieres on ZBM at 7.30pm tonight and airs several times throughout the holiday season.

End of an era: Gene Steede and Jean Howse practice a song at Jean's house in Devonshire. Their long-running Christmas special is coming to an end.

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Published December 12, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated December 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm)

Jean and Gene bid fond farewell to a Christmas tradition

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