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ATV Icon: Des O’Connor

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ATV Icon: Des O’Connor

Comedian, singer, presenter and chat show king Des O’Connor is the latest entry to ATV Icon’s Hall of Fame.

“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 songs recorded by O’Connor.

Des on ATV’s Star Time

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 ATV series mixed chat, comedy performances, sketches, star guests and songs. From 1963 to 1969 O’Connor 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.

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 BBC Radio 2’s 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 on The Des O’Connor Show for ATV

Des also fronted a revived version of the game show Take Your Pick in the 1990s for ITV and Countdown on Channel 4 and in 2019 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.

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, and had four top-ten singles including a number-one with I Pretend in 1968. Des first entered the stages 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.

Des hosted ‘Today with Des and Mel’ for ITV

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 on November 14th, 2020, aged 88, in hospital, following a fall at his home a couple of weeks earlier. O’Connor left behind his wife Jodie, their son Adam, and his four daughters, Karin, TJ, Samantha and Kristina.

In December of 2020, ITV paid tribute to the entertainer with Des O’Connor: The Ultimate Entertainer. A fittingly titled programme for a man who was a singer, comedian, presenter, chat show host – and those are just some of the things all-round entertainer Des O’Connor fitted into his nearly 70-year career.

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