Desmond Bernard O'Connor
12 January 1932
|Died||14 November 2020 (aged 88)|
|Television||The Des O'Connor Show (1963–1973)|
Des O'Connor Entertains (1974–1976)
Des O'Connor Tonight (1977–2002)
Take Your Pick (1992–1999)
Today with Des and Mel (2002–2006)
(m. 1953; div. 1959)
(m. 1960; div. 1982)
(m. 1985; div. 1990)
Jodie Brooke Wilson
Desmond Bernard O'Connor CBE (12 January 1932 – 14 November 2020) was an English comedian, singer and television presenter.
He was a long-time TV chat-show host, beginning with The Des O'Connor Show in 1963, which ran for ten years. He also presented several U.K. television game shows, including Take Your Pick from 1992 to 1999, and the long-running Channel 4 game show Countdown for two years between 2007 and 2008.
O'Connor recorded 36 albums and had four top-ten UK singles, including a number-one hit with "I Pretend", with global sales of more than sixteen million records. Well known for his friendship with comedians Morecambe and Wise, his singing ability was often light-heartedly mocked on their show, with O'Connor taking part in the sketches.
O'Connor was born in Stepney, East London, to Maude (née Bassett), a Jewish cleaner, and Harry O'Connor, an Irish dustman. He was raised in his mother’s faith and often joked that he was the first O’Connor to have a bar mitzvah.
In his childhood, he had rickets and was later badly injured in a hit-and-run car accident which meant he had to be in an iron lung for six months. He had a brother, William, and a sister, Patricia, one year his junior. He was evacuated to Northampton during the Second World War, where he worked in a shoe factory and was a schoolboy and reserves player with Northampton Town.
After completing his national service in the Royal Air Force, he worked as a Redcoat at Butlin's holiday camp in Filey, where he met his first wife Phyllis, and as a shoe salesman at Church's in Northampton, and for United Counties, both on the road and in the office, before entering show business. Prior to his break on television, his first fully professional stage appearance in variety, was in a Newcastle theatre. Later, while he was in Leeds, he invited the Welsh singer Shirley Bassey out on two dates. In 1958, when Buddy Holly toured the UK, O'Connor was the show's compère for which he was paid £100 per week.
O'Connor appeared at the Glasgow Empire, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, the Opera House, Sydney, and the O'Keefe Centre, Toronto, and made more than one thousand solo appearances at the London Palladium.
In late 2011, O'Connor starred in Dreamboats and Petticoats at the Playhouse Theatre.
In May 2012, O'Connor replaced Russell Grant in the West End musical, The Wizard of Oz, at the London Palladium, as Professor Marvel, Doorman at the Emerald City, Tour Guide, and The Wizard.
In October 2015, O'Connor and Jimmy Tarbuck starred in their own one-off show at the London Palladium to raise money for the new Royal Variety Charity. Due to the success of this show, they toured the country in 2016 from April to October. The venues they visited were (in chronological order), the Southampton Mayflower Theatre, Leeds Grand Theatre, Southend Cliffs Pavilion, Bristol Hippodrome, Bournemouth International Centre, and Milton Keynes Theatre.
In 2017, O'Connor and Tarbuck toured the UK again from May to December. The venues they visited included Theatre Royal, Norwich, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Blackpool Opera House, Princess Theatre, Torquay, The Hexagon, Reading, Theatre Royal, Newcastle and Grand Theatre, Swansea.
In 2017, O'Connor toured theatres around the UK with his one-man show.
O'Connor starred in mainstream television shows in almost every year from 1963 until the 2000s, a feat that only one other television personality has achieved worldwide (U.S. game show host Bob Barker, who hosted mainstream television shows from 1956 until 2007, with 1966–1972 being in syndication).
O'Connor had a successful career as a singer, recording 36 albums, five of which reached the Top 40 of the UK Albums Chart. O'Connor appeared with Morecambe and Wise on several of their Christmas Shows. He worked with many pop stars, including Adam Faith, Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, and Cilla Black. He toured with Buddy Holly (during Holly's 1958 stay in Britain) and Jason Donovan.
He recorded four top 10 singles – including "I Pretend", which topped the UK singles chart in 1968, and "The Skye Boat Song", a 1986 duet with Roger Whittaker.
His singing ability was often parodied on The Morecambe & Wise Show, with O'Connor taking part in the sketches.
O'Connor was the first subject of the second incarnation of the long-running television programme This Is Your Life, when the show returned to screens after a five-year absence, produced by Thames Television. He was surprised live on the stage of the London Palladium by Eamonn Andrews in November 1969.
In 2001, O'Connor was presented with the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards for his contribution to television.
In 2002, his autobiography, Bananas Can't Fly!, was published.
He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
A month after his death, ITV aired a tribute, titled Des O'Connor: The Ultimate Entertainer, on 13 December 2020.
O'Connor was married four times:
On 14 November 2020, O'Connor died in his sleep in hospital, aged 88, following a fall at his home in Buckinghamshire a week earlier. In a January 2021 interview, his widow Jodie revealed that in 2017, he had been privately diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, although he thought that he had suffered from effects of it for a few years previously. The episode of Countdown that aired on 16 November 2020 was dedicated to his memory.
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