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Peter Feldman – the man who never missed opening night



The sudden passing this week of renowned entertainment critic and journalist, Peter Feldman, brought to an end his 50-year career across print, TV, and radio. For many, it was the end of an era of entertainment journalism, with Feldman as its leader and icon.

“He is one of the last of the important arts reviewers, whose body of work reaches back to the 1970s, when critics were feared, revered, and valued,” says music producer Bryan Schimmel.

He wasn’t born Peter Feldman. “Peter named himself, often regaling us with the story of how he was called Selwyn David Feldman by his parents,” says his friend, Janine Walker. “One of the few if not only Jewish students at his platteland primary school, the youngster made the decision to change his name the first time he walked into the classroom.

“When his ima [mother] visited for the first teacher/parent meeting, no one knew of a Selwyn Feldman, but they did have a Peter,” she says. “Peter’s explanation, complete with an accent, [was] ‘I wasn’t going to be called Shellvin Felldmin – ‘little Shelly’, so I called myself Peter after the Greek café owner in our street.’ Later, his parents officially changed his name.”

It was the beginning of an illustrious association with words, stories, and entertainment. “Recalling his career and working together for more than 30 years, Peter had a truly wonderful and rounded life – a time of many laughs, amazing experiences, and touching human moments,” says Walker.

“He was passionate about what he did, a hard grafter, and a lover of people. He was spiritual and believed in angels, and that his guardian angel protected him. This past February marked 30 years since he was shot in the stomach by a hijacker in the driveway of his then Parkmore home. He later told me he didn’t believe it was his time to go,” she says.

“Peter was the country’s foremost music critic in the heyday of arts journalism in South Africa,” says Walker. “He was punctual, professional, pedantic about grammar, and didn’t pick and choose only the better stuff to review. He sat through it all. His criticism was always constructive. Many former colleagues from The Star, paying tribute to him on social media, recalled his kindness to them, his willingness to share his immense knowledge, and his lack of ego.

“It’s Peter with a twinkle in his eye, his love of prawns, and his collection of watches that I will miss the most,” she says. “He was master of the pun, and happy to make fun of himself. He once arrived at The Star wearing a pair of over-the-top platform shoes purchased two decades before in London’s Carnaby Street, and paraded around to laughs and applause. With his thinning hair and bright red spectacles, he looked somewhat like a young Elton John.

“He was a dedicated family man. When you saw Peter, you usually saw his beloved wife, Carla. My heart goes out to her, their beloved daughter Janna, and grandson Quinn.”

Publicist Penelope Stein met Feldman in the 1980s, “at the beginning of my career. Peter was a highly respected, much-loved music and entertainment journalist, whose contribution to the arts in all forms was enormous.

“He had a love of many things: good food, watches, dogs, movies, theatre, and his great interest was ‘the artist’. As a young publicist, the fear we had of dealing with him was quite something – no spelling mistakes, and if you said 09:00, it had to be 09:00 not a minute after! Peter was always on time, reliable, and delivered on his word.

“In those days, we had no faxes, computers, or cell phones, so every press release was typed, photocopied, and delivered to The Star offices with pictures. Deadlines and spelling were everything to Peter! He loved having lunches with music-industry people, and enjoyed the different whacky personalities of those days. Zoo biscuits and tea were a regular event to chat about ‘what’s news’.

“Peter had a quirky sense of humour, always quick to chip in a funny pun. If he made it to your press conference, you were okay! He would often lead the way and in many instances, saved the day for me. He gave so many artists an opportunity to shine. He was fair. I know of numerous artists who still treasure the stories he wrote about them.”

For the owner of the Theatre on the Square, Daphne Kuhn, “his support for more than 25 years of Theatre on the Square was exceptional. He has probably reviewed almost every production since 1994 which he attended with Carla, who is a drama specialist. Janna [his daughter] is also a drama specialist and lives in London. His article about my theatre and our fundraising drive to keep it alive appeared in The Citizen a few weeks ago, and he regularly wrote for the SA Jewish Report,, The Citizen, The Star, The Saturday Star, The Sunday Independent, and other publications.

“He has also been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the South African record industry, and was a judge for the Naledi Theatre Awards,” she says. “He was a true gentleman, proud of his Jewish identity, warm, kind, and would do whatever he possibly could to promote the industry. There wasn’t an opening night that he missed! He simply understood the business. He was a true icon in the industry and a huge loss.”

He was a mentor to many. “He loved nothing more than to help a writer become their best self,” says entertainment blogger Mandy Strimling. “He always critiqued my writing before I published it. He had the ability to mould a writer of the arts in a profound way.”

As a critic, he never took advantage of his power. “He was an old-school writer, and never veered from it,” says Strimling. “Even when he gave a bad review, it was always done in a way that gave the show an optimistic tone, the way it could improve. He never just tore someone’s work to pieces like many do. He always said there was never a good reason to do that. That’s what I respected most about him as a writer – his criticism was always constructive, never mean.

“We would have an opening night where there were lots of journalists and bloggers invited, but the cast and directors of the production would wait for Peter’s review to come out because that’s the one that could sell the show based solely on his thoughts. It was incredible to watch.”

Says Stein, “I will always have a picture of him in my mind, which is Pete carrying his bag and recorder ready to get the exclusive at any time. It’s the end of an era. There will only ever be one Peter Feldman.”

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