Monday, November 16, 2020

Des O'Connor RIP

Des O'Connor has died at the age of 88, after a fall at his home in Buckinghamshire.

Desmond Bernard O'Connor was born on 12 January 1932 in Stepney, East London, the son of a Jewish cleaner and an Irish dustman. He contracted rickets while he was a child which resulted in him having callipers on his legs until he was seven. He was also badly injured in a car accident and spent some time in an iron lung which disrupted his primary school education.

Despite all this, after starting his career with National Service and being a Butlins Redcoat after the war,  he became a highly successful entertainer and an almost ever-present face on UK television, he held the record for more mainstream appearances on the small screen than any other performer. O'Connor, also carved out a successful career as a singer including four Top 10 hits and more than 30 albums. 

Des O'Connor once said that all he did was walk on to the stage, chat to the audience and sing a few songs. It was a formula that made him one of Britain's best-known stars, an old-fashioned showman who could turn his hand to almost anything - fronting his variety programme, hosting chat shows or presiding over the quiz Countdown. 

Almost inevitably the TV obituaries have featured some of the good natured joking between O'Connor and two other entertainers of his generation, Morecambe and Wise, who were constantly making jokes at his expense - jokes, it has to be said, which he always was the first to laugh with. He got his "revenge" in one edition of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show, after the actors' union Equity had successfully blocked a scene in which Eric and Ernie would have supposedly been shot by a "German firing squad" consisting of four of Britain's most powerful trade union leaders (because the four union general secretaries concerned did not have Equity cards) so Des O'Connor got to command the firing squad instead. 

My late mother commented after the broadcast that the grin on O'Connor's face was a sight to behold - but it was all in fun. According to one of the obituaries I have read, Des O'Connor actually wrote many of the jokes which Morecambe and Wise delivered about him; they had all been great friends since their early days in show business.

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours. He was married four times and had five children.

I usually end obit posts with "Rest in Peace" unless another ending seems more appropriate. In Des O'Connor's case I can just imagine Eric Morecambe's voice saying, in a line which Des O'Connor might well have drafted himself. something like "And if he doesn't the rest of us certainly will."

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