Comedian, singer, presenter and chat show king Des O’Connor died yesterday following a fall.
“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.” – Des O’Connor
Des had for 46 years in one form or another hosted a regular prime-time series on television. Of course, everyone remembers Michael Parkinson as a chat show host, but Des, speaking to Steve Wright on Radio 2 in October 2011, noted: “I hosted a chat show for longer”. However, Des was probably most fondly remembered for his banter with the late Eric Morecambe, a close friend and the only comedian ‘authorised’ to mock Des’ records by O’Connor.
Des rehearsing for ATV’s Startime in 1958
On the set of ATV Elstree’s Des O’Connor Show in 1965
He praised 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 and several specials between. These shows mixed comedy performances, sketches, star guests and songs. From 1963 to 1969 the show was a big hit for ITV, with the arrival of colour the series was also screened stateside.
His Chat show reign began with Des O’Connor Tonight in 1977 on BBC Two before moving over to ITV with Thames Television in 1982 where it remained until 2002.
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 was left baffled by its demise.
Des hosted a revived Take Your Pick for Thames TV in the 1990s
Des entertains with a song on LWT’s An Audience with Des O’Connor
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 in 2011, “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 for ITV and Countdown on Channel 4 and last year filled theatres with a series of gigs alongside Jimmy Tarbuck.
In 2012 ITV marked his 80th birthday and fifty years in show business with The One And Only Des O’Connor.
Des sends himself up with pals Ernie Wise and Eric Morecambe on the Beeb
Des and Melanie Sykes host The British Soap Awards from Carlton TV
Born in London in 1932, Desmond Bernard O’Connor, as well as his television work, was a popular singer in the sixties and seventies. He released 36 albums, had four top-ten singles including a number one with I Pretend in 1968. Des first entered the world of showbiz in the not so glamorous world of Butlins, Filey before heading onto theatre variety bills across the UK. In 1954 he made his first television appearance on the BBC’s Music Hall showcase.
In 2012 he offered 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.”
Des passed away yesterday aged 88, in hospital, following a fall at home two weeks ago. O’Connor leaves behind his wife Jodie, their son Adam, and his four daughters, Karin, TJ, Samantha and Kristina.
Des makes a guest appearance on ATV’s Golden Shot with Bob Monkhouse