How entertainer Des O’Connor was a Norfolk favourite

Des O'Connor played one-man shows at Norwich's Theatre Royal. Picture: Archant Library

Des O'Connor played one-man shows at Norwich's Theatre Royal. Picture: Archant Library - 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.

Des O'Connor (centre) in 1999 with Eric Morecambe (left) and Ernie Wise (right).Picture: PA Archive/

Des O'Connor (centre) in 1999 with Eric Morecambe (left) and Ernie Wise (right).Picture: PA Archive/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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.”

Des O'Connor being light-heartedly restrained by mace-bearing Yarmouth Town Hall staff and civic lea

Des O'Connor being light-heartedly restrained by mace-bearing Yarmouth Town Hall staff and civic leaders during one of his summer seasons in the town. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant


You may also want to watch:


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.

Most Read

“I remember his singing Edelweiss.”

Mrs Thompson also fondly remembered his TV appearances on Morecambe and Wise.

Des O'Connor in 2008 posing with his CBE for services to entertainment and broadcasting, which was p

Des O'Connor in 2008 posing with his CBE for services to entertainment and broadcasting, which was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, London, with wife Jodie and four-year-old son Adam. Picture: Johnny Green/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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.

Des O'Connor in 1968 with his wife Gillian and children Tracy-Jane, 6, and Samantha, 4, as they left

Des O'Connor in 1968 with his wife Gillian and children Tracy-Jane, 6, and Samantha, 4, as they left Heathrow Airport, London, to spend Christmas in Barbados. Picture:: PA/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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.”

A former nostalgia columnist for the Great Yarmouth Mercury, Peggotty, remembered one of Mr O’Connor’s very early performances.

Des O'Connor arriving for the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the centenary of the London Palla

Des O'Connor arriving for the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the centenary of the London Palladium theatre in 2010. Picture: Max Nash/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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.

Des O'Connor in 2001 with his Special Achievement Award at the National Television Awards at the Roy

Des O'Connor in 2001 with his Special Achievement Award at the National Television Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Picture: Myung Jung Kim/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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.

SHOWBIZ
SUMMER SEASON SHOWFOLK AT GREAT YARMOUTH
CIVIC BALL WITH DES O' CONNOR
DATED 1964

SHOWBIZ SUMMER SEASON SHOWFOLK AT GREAT YARMOUTH CIVIC BALL WITH DES O' CONNOR DATED 1964 PLATE P6373

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.

Des O'Connor, top left, was part of the line-up for a 1964 Midnight Matinee on the Britannia Pier in

Des O'Connor, top left, was part of the line-up for a 1964 Midnight Matinee on the Britannia Pier in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

He continued working into later life and in 2012 he starred in a West End run of Dreamboats And Petticoats at the Playhouse Theatre.

Des O'Connor Theatre Royal

Des O'Connor Theatre Royal - Credit: Archant

A cut-out from the Lowestoft Journal, showing Des O'Connor visiting five year old Lesley Slater in L

A cut-out from the Lowestoft Journal, showing Des O'Connor visiting five year old Lesley Slater in Lowestoft Hospital following his show at the Arcadia. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

File photo dated 20/08/2001 of Des O'Connor at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London. Des O'Connor, 88, sa

File photo dated 20/08/2001 of Des O'Connor at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London. Des O'Connor, 88, sadly passed away on Saturday 14 November. His agent confirmed he had been admitted to hospital just over a week ago, following a fall at his home in Buckinghamshire. Unfortunately yesterday evening his condition suddenly deteriorated and he drifted peacefully away in his sleep. PA Photo. Issue date: Sunday November 15, 2020. See PA story DEATH OConnor. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

File photo dated 02/12/08 of entertainer Des O'Connor receiving a CBE for services to entertainment

File photo dated 02/12/08 of entertainer Des O'Connor receiving a CBE for services to entertainment and broadcasting by Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace, London. Entertainer Des O’Connor has died at the age of 88, his agent has said. PA Photo. Issue date: Sunday November 15, 2020. See PA story DEATH OConnor. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Des O'Connor in 2008 with his wife Gillian and children Tracy-Jane, 6, and Samantha, 4, as they left

Des O'Connor in 2008 with his wife Gillian and children Tracy-Jane, 6, and Samantha, 4, as they left Heathrow Airport, London, to spend Christmas in Barbados. Picture: PA/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Des O'Connor in 2011, arriving at a press event for 'The Wizard of Oz' at the London Palladium. Pict

Des O'Connor in 2011, arriving at a press event for 'The Wizard of Oz' at the London Palladium. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Des O'Connor in 2001 with wife, the singer Jodie Wilson. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Des O'Connor in 2001 with wife, the singer Jodie Wilson. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Des O'Connor pictured in 1978.
Copy Sarah Hardy for EDP2 8/11/07.. *** Local Caption *** Picture

Des O'Connor pictured in 1978. Copy Sarah Hardy for EDP2 8/11/07.. *** Local Caption *** Picture from Library

Des O'Connor at the Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Archant Library

Des O'Connor at the Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

Des O'Connor (right) in 1978 with Eric Morecambe, in the Wellington Hospital, London. Picture: PA Ar

Des O'Connor (right) in 1978 with Eric Morecambe, in the Wellington Hospital, London. Picture: PA Archive/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Des O'Connor signed this programme from his show at The Arcadia. Image: Archant Library

Des O'Connor signed this programme from his show at The Arcadia. Image: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus