Cockney Rebel singer Steve Harley, who died at the weekend from cancer aged 73, had a confession about his time as a young, rebellious ‘cloak and dagger’ reporter on the East London Advertiser in the 1960s.

He deliberately dressed “scruffy” to get the bullet so he could get on with his real love of music for his future career.

He joined the paper in the offices in Mile End around 1968 after beginning his short-lived career as a local reporter in Essex — but music was always in his soul.

The paper’s union representative for journalists, Ivan Waterman, advised him how best to leave the job, Steve later told the paper in 2016 when it celebrated its 150th anniversary.

“Make them sack you then I’d get Dole money straight away,” Steve recalled. ”But if I resigned I’d have to wait six weeks.

“So I grew my hair to annoy the editor, slackened my tie, forgot to shave and generally turned up late with a scruffier look than was acceptable in such a job.”

It worked and the editor eventually showed him his cards.

He had shared several ‘cloak and dagger’ investigations with fellow reporter Harvey Lee into drug abuse and prostitution. Harvey played bongo drums with him when he did a very early, unpaid gig at St Mary’s university college, a few doors along from the newspaper office in Mile End Road.

Steve was also playing guitar and trying out his first songs at Bunjie’s and Les Cousin’s folk clubs in Soho in the evenings, after daytime reporting from Thames Magistrates’ Court for the paper.

He remained friends with Ivan Waterman who would later become a showbiz reporter in Fleet Street.

“Ivan would probe me in West End nightclubs for gossip after I’d become a pop star,” Steve remembered. “I had taken his advice and rather regret it now — I never meant to show disrespect to the Advertiser or the great profession of journalism.”

He added: “Richard Madeley told me once on his Richard and Judy show that he got my seat at the Advertiser after I was fired in the early 1970s.”

Steve formed Cockney Rebel with their debut studio album The Human Menagerie released in 1973. Other hits included a cover of the Beatles' Here Comes The Sun in 1976. His best-known song was Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) which got to Number 1 in 1975. Harley also presented Sounds of the 70s on BBC Radio 2 from 1999 to 2008.

But half a century on from his time at the Advertiser and Steve Harley was being treated for cancer.

He cancelled the Steve Harley Acoustic Band shows scheduled to take place this January in Rugby and Ilkley, along with his planned appearance in the UK West Coast Folk Festival in Blackpool. Also cancelled were Cockney Rebel shows scheduled in Europe and the UK in November and December.

His official website said in December that he “cannot commit to any concerts in 2024".

Yet Steve himself looked on the bright side and wrote that “2023 has not exactly been an annus horibilis for me”, adding: “The first half was often magical with some great nights on stage with Barry, Oli and David and the full rock band in Holland and Belgium, and Denmark. Out there on the road — that’s where I come alive. The second half, cancelling live dates is heart-breaking.

“It saddens me deeply to have to cancel shows but let’s be clear — I aim to be back on the road ready for the spotlight for our January dates. That’s my goal.”

Sadly it was not to be. The website announced on Sunday (March 17) in a statement from his wife Dorothy and children Kerr and Greta: “We are devastated to announce that our wonderful husband and father has passed away peacefully at home, with his family by his side.”

Steve Harley, born Stephen Nice in New Cross 1951, became a “true Cockney Rebel” in his time with the East London Advertiser.