How entertainer Des O’Connor was a Norfolk favourite
- Credit: Archant
Fond memories of legendary entertainer Des O’Connor’s performances in Norfolk and Suffolk have been shared following his death at the age of 88.
The television host, singer and comedian was a familiar face to Norfolk and Waveney audiences, having performed in Norwich, Lowestoft, Gorleston, and, most regularly, Great Yarmouth.
Mr O’Connor presented prime time television for more than 45 years from the 1960s onwards, and was known for hosting quiz show Countdown, the chat show chat show Des O’Connor Tonight, and his appearances on the The Morecambe and Wise Show.
Chris North, a magician who lives in Happisburgh, got to know Mr O’Connor when they performed at the same shows together at the Ladbrokes Caister Holiday Camp in the early 1980s.
Mr North said: “He was top of the bill at some of their Sunday concerts and I was his support act. He was very much a great all-round entertainer and a very nice person. He didn’t have an attitude, he was just one of us, very approachable and very popular with the audience.”
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Debbie Thompson, director of Yarmouth’s St George’s Theatre, said she remembered seeing Mr O’Connor on stage in Norwich playing Buttons in the panto Cinderella in the late 1960s.
Mrs Thompson said: “It was when I was a young girl - I thought he was very dishy and very charming and I was totally in love with him.
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“I remember his singing Edelweiss.”
Mrs Thompson also fondly remembered his TV appearances on Morecambe and Wise.
She said: “He was always happy to have a laugh at his own expense. They used to tease him mercilessly and he was always such a good sport. He was a true, old-fashioned entertainer and it’s very sad that we’ve lost him.”
Entertainer Olly Day, from Thorpe St Andrew, also remembered how Mr O’Connor would play the foil to Morecambe and Wise’s wit.
Mr Day said: “They’d say things like ‘I’ve got something for Des’ latest record - it’s a hammer. But he took it all so well.”
Mr Day saw Mr O’Connor perform in a one-man show at the Norwich Theatre Royal in the 1980s.
He said: “He was on stage all night and he was fantastic. I hadn’t realised until then what a great comic he was. And he could really sing.”
Michael Jeal, Great Yarmouth’s mayor, also paid tribute to O’Connor having enjoyed his appearances on Morecambe and Wise.
Mr Jeal said: “He was very funny. He took the good with the bad, like everyone. He didn’t have a bad voice either.”
The writer said: “In the mid-1950s, I saw the then unknown Des along the A12 at Lowestoft’s Arcadia Theatre in a modest show called Jimmy Currie’s Water Follies, the finale featuring the entire cast in Highland dress singing by a ‘river’ crossed by a rustic bridge.
“Who would have guessed that he was to become one of Britain’s most popular entertainers?”
O’Connor was born in Stepney in London’s East End in 1932 to a Jewish cleaner and an Irish binman. Following the outbreak of the Second World War he was evacuated to Northampton.
After completing his national service with the Royal Air Force, Mr O’Connor had his first brushes with showbusiness when he began to appear in variety shows.
Mr O’Connor first fronted his own show in 1963, while the success of his singing career saw him sell 16 million records and spend 117 weeks in the top 10 of the charts.
His music career began in 1967 with the release of his first single Careless Hands.
The four-times married star appeared on stage around the world.
He was a regular part of Great Yarmouth’s summer season line-up, performing at the Royal Aquarium and the Wellington and Britannia Piers.
During the 2000s he appeared alongside fellow presenter Melanie Sykes in Today With Des And Mel, which saw the pair interview celebrity guests and run viewer competitions.
He was also known for appearing in game shows Take Your Pick and Pot Of Gold.
In 2007 he took over presenting duties at quiz show Countdown on Channel 4, where he remained for two years.
Mr O’Connor was made a CBE in 2008.
He continued working into later life and in 2012 he starred in a West End run of Dreamboats And Petticoats at the Playhouse Theatre.