Matt Lucas, Paul O’Grady and former co-presenter Melanie Sykes are among the stars who will pay tribute to Des O’Connor in an TV spectacular as he celebrates his 80th birthday and fifty years in show business.
The 90-minute one-off show will celebrate O’Connor’s career including his comedy series, chat shows, game shows and music performances.
ITV’s Controller of Entertainment John Kaye Cooper says, “We are thrilled that Des is marking these two very special landmark occasions and treating ITV viewers to a unique celebration of his hugely successful career. He has a great history with the channel and, along with some special guests, it will be an unmissable show.”
A host of well-known names will appear on the tribute entitled, The One And Only Des O’Connor, to air later this year. “I am really looking forward to sharing a fun filled 90 minutes with the viewers.” O’Connor said.
Des had for 46 years in one form or another hosted a regular prime-time series on television. Last year he talked of how everyone remembers Michael Parkinson as a chat show host, but Des, speaking to Steve Wright on Radio 2 last October, said “I hosted a chat show for longer”.
His longest running being Des O’Connor Tonight which started in 1977 on BBC Two before moving over to ITV in 1982 where it remained until 2002. He also praises Lord Lew Grade, the boss of ATV Network, for making him an international star with shows such as The Des O’Connor Show – which ran from 1963 until 1971 and Des O’Connor Entertains, which ran from 1974 to 1976,
“I had a show for two years prime time [in America] at 8 o’clock every Wednesday night… …We made them here at the ATV Elstree studios and I worked with George Burns, Jack Benny, Bob Hope. I mean just fantastic to see all the great comics, and wonderful stars, it was great.
“And it opened a door and suddenly I was living in a world with no strangers as Lew Grade sold that show to forty-four different countries. Two or three hundred million people a week were watching the show.”
And advice for the current bunch of television presenters “Let the public see that you’re not phoney, that you’re just doing it for real. They’re not fools the viewers, they know. That’s a big microscope that screen, so you have to let them know you’re for real.”
Today with Des and Mel became one of the most successful daytime programmes in the 2000s, but was suddenly axed in 2006 by ITV with no real explanation given. Des O’Connor is still baffled by its demise.
The daily live hour-long show was also co-presented by Melanie Sykes and featured music, comedy features and celebrity guests dropping in for a chat. The format proved such a success a short-lived teatime version was also produced and the pair went on to host the primetime British Soap Awards. Des O’ Connor told Steve Wright last year, “I still don’t understand it [coming off air], as they’ve never quite got the viewing figures we got.”
Des also fronted a revived version of game show Take Your Pick in the 1990s and Countdown in more recent times.