DES O’CONNOR reveals how Britain laughed along as he was mocked by friends Morecambe and Wise


One morning, I suppose it was round Christmas 1967, a cellphone name punctured my completely happy temper. I used to be strolling on air that day — my single, Careless Palms, was perched close to the highest of the charts. I had my first Prime Ten hit.

Not everybody was delighted. A voice I knew very properly complained down the cellphone line: ‘Des, I’m having my breakfast and so they’re taking part in your music on the radio. Can’t you do one thing? It’s scaring the pigeons.’

That was Eric Morecambe, in fact. And it didn’t occur simply the as soon as. He was at all times doing it.

Eric and I had been at loggerheads over my new singing profession, ever since I confessed to him that I needed to be greater than only a stand-up comedian. We have been chatting in a espresso bar close to the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth between exhibits that summer time once I advised him my ambition. I noticed myself as a star, like Tom Jones.

Eric’s glasses waggled in sheer shock. ‘You need to be a star like Tom Jones?’ he repeated. I stored a straight face and nodded.

The Beatles with Des O'Connor at the Daily Mirror Golden Ball 18th February 1965 The Royal Albert Hall London Wearing suit Desobit

The Beatles with Des O’Connor on the Every day Mirror Golden Ball 18th February 1965 The Royal Albert Corridor London Sporting swimsuit Desobit

‘Effectively, I need to have an affair with Brigitte Bardot however all issues will not be doable,’ he stated. I insisted I’d be a profitable singer. Eric insisted that, in that case, he would be part of the Royal Ballet.

You may perceive why I made certain to ship him a replica of each new monitor I recorded. It turned a sport and, in fact, it wasn’t a sport I may ever win — not in opposition to Eric. He discovered new methods to insult each music and I need to admit, I cherished it. I by no means dreamt that our non-public joke would at some point develop into a nationwide sport.

At first he began dropping gags and rhymes about me into his act: ‘In order for you me to be a goner, purchase me a document by Des O’Connor!’ I assumed that was hilarious and I even wrote one-liners for The Morecambe And Sensible Present:

Ernie: ‘I’ve bought some excellent news.’

Eric: ‘Has Des O’Connor bought a sore throat?’

However Eric being Eric, he discovered methods to make the jokes larger and funnier. Once I had to enter hospital to have cartilage faraway from my knee, Eric came visiting me — then advised 20 million viewers that it wasn’t cartilage that was taken out, it was a cartridge. Somebody had taken a potshot at me with a rifle whereas I used to be singing.

His agent, Billy Marsh, thought that one went a bit too far, and stated so. ‘All proper,’ Eric promised, ‘I’ll inform the viewers that I like him actually.’

On the subsequent present, he stated: ‘Now, girls and gents, a few of you’re questioning about myself and Des O’Connor, questioning, do I like the person? Effectively, let me let you know, Des O’Connor got here and sang at my daughter’s marriage ceremony. He did. He wasn’t invited, however he did.’

The late Eric Morecambe (left) and Ernie Wise (right) with their guest singer Des O'Connor (middle)

The late Eric Morecambe (left) and Ernie Sensible (proper) with their visitor singer Des O’Connor (center)

The reality is Eric, Ernie Sensible and I had been mates for a few years. We met once we appeared in selection collectively on the Hull Regal in 1954. The boys, as everybody referred to as them, had simply began to high the payments across the nation, whereas I had solely been in showbusiness for a couple of months.

The boys quickly twigged that I used to be a rookie and took me beneath their wing. They gave me recommendations on find out how to survive and would counsel gags and methods of bettering my act.

I used to be incomes £20 per week, which might have been OK if I used to be getting booked each week — however one week’s work in 4 meant I averaged lower than a pound a day. It was hardly sufficient to cowl my digs, meals and agent’s fee, by no means thoughts the rest, and sometimes I actually didn’t have a penny in my pocket.

That week in Hull, I didn’t have the practice fare to get again to Northampton, the place I used to be staying with my dad and mom. Ernie and his spouse, Doreen, provided to provide me a elevate — he was the proud proprietor of a lime-green Austin A30. It was a sensible little automotive however with three adults and all the baggage, the four-hour journey was a little bit of a nightmare. I’m fairly certain Ernie and Doreen may have finished with out their passenger.

However they cheerfully performed down the discomfort. They knew I didn’t have any money and must hitch-hike in any other case. The on-screen Ernie was typically portrayed as a imply, tight-fisted man however in actual life nothing may have been farther from the reality.

Being penniless was nothing new to me. I grew up that method. As a baby in Stepney, East London, I had rickets, a illness brought on by vitamin deficiency. The physician fitted me with leg callipers and advised my dad and mom I’d by no means have the ability to stroll with out them.

My Dad wasn’t having that. Day-after-day he spent not less than an hour encouraging me to face up unaided, urging me to aim a step or two. If I fell down, he fell down too and we’d lie on the ground, laughing collectively. Someday, he held out a banana — a uncommon deal with. ‘You may stroll when you actually need to,’ he stated. ‘You may have the banana when you come and get it.’

I attempted and I fell. I attempted once more, fell down once more. I begged my dad to throw the banana to me and he shook his head. ‘Bananas can’t fly,’ he stated. I didn’t succeed that day nor the subsequent, however lastly I bought my banana. Then Dad began encouraging me with bits of chocolate or a sip from his glass of Guinness.

One night time I managed to stroll the size of the room. The callipers went into the cabinet beneath the steps and I by no means wore them once more.

My dad was at all times cracking jokes. Everybody knew him as Harry however his actual identify was Harris and his personal father had come to England from Cork. In London, my grandfather met and married Catherine Barrs, the daughter of an East Finish orthodox Jewish household.

Neither the O’Connors nor the Barrs have been greatest happy by the match, and in 1909 my father should have been one of many few O’Connors to be bar mitzvahed. He at all times used to joke that he went to high school at St Cohen’s.

O'Connor realised he could make people laugh while in the army after an ill-time impression of his commanding officer

O’Connor realised he may make individuals snicker whereas within the military after an ill-time impression of his commanding officer

When our house was destroyed within the Blitz, we moved to Northampton. I left faculty there aged 14 and signed up for a seven-year apprenticeship with an area printer, which lasted three days earlier than I realised that wasn’t the profession for me.

I switched to an workplace job in a shoe manufacturing unit —however what I needed was to be a footballer, and I performed a couple of occasions for the city membership’s reserves. Then the RAF modified my life.

I bought my Nationwide Service call-up a couple of weeks earlier than my 18th birthday and was assigned clerical duties. Within the workplace, I found I may make the opposite guys snicker. One night, I used to be standing on a desk within the NAAFI canteen, doing an impression of our commanding officer, when the laughter all of the sudden died.

One individual stored applauding. I turned to see it was Captain Stewart, the commanding officer. ‘Very humorous, O’Connor. I believe the entire camp ought to see that. We’re having a expertise contest in two weeks — and also you’re in it!’

I cherished my new position. I used to be definitely cocky: after seeing Max Bygraves on the Embassy in Peterborough, I wrote him a fan letter. ‘Expensive Max,’ I joked, although he didn’t know me from Adam, ‘how come once I’m better- trying than you, sing higher than you and am funnier than you, I’m nonetheless incomes 28 shillings per week within the RAF while you’re high of the invoice? Severely, I’d worth your recommendation.’

Max despatched me a protracted reply, full of recommendation about working my technique to the highest — taking any gig, whereas remembering {that a} paying viewers deserved one of the best I may give them. I adopted each phrase, first as a Butlin’s redcoat after which as a slapstick comedian on the Windmill Theatre.

O'Connor described his night at the Glasgow Empire in which he broke a sweat trying to make people laugh

O’Connor described his night time on the Glasgow Empire through which he broke a sweat making an attempt to make individuals snicker

However nothing may put together me for my first night time on the Glasgow Empire. From the second I walked on, the viewers checked out me like an intruder at a funeral. Nothing I did may make them crack a smile, not to mention give me fun. I broke out in a sweat, then my coronary heart started to pound and my lips went dry.

Clutching my aspect, I keeled over and lay nonetheless. The musical director’s head bobbed up over the footlights. ‘Son,’ he hissed, ‘is that this within the act?’

‘No,’ I whispered again. ‘I’ve fainted.’ A stagehand dragged me into the wings and, because the panic subsided, I realised I had a selection — I may hand over the enterprise for ever and go house to my dad and mom, or I may return on the market for the second present.

The following time, it took three lengthy minutes of silence and hostility. Then someone weakened and gave me fun. That’s all it took to revive my confidence. It wasn’t an important efficiency however I completed it standing by myself ft.

For years after that, Eric used to do an impersonation of me — however solely when he and Ernie have been taking part in the Glasgow Empire. It went: ‘Good night, girls and gents — thud!’

The reality is, that wasn’t the hardest crowd I ever performed. Nothing might be tougher than stepping out on stage in entrance of two,000 shrieking Beatles followers who have been determined to see their idols . . . and bought Des as a substitute.

It was my first look on Bruce Forsyth’s Sunday Night time At The London Palladium, in October 1963 — simply as Beatlemania reached its hysterical peak in Britain. I used to be as a consequence of do six minutes earlier than the band got here on.

I’d identified the youngsters can be loud however I couldn’t have guessed how shrill and deafening the din can be. As I ready to go on, I knew nothing I stated might be heard. Telling jokes can be ineffective.

A bag of sandwiches and a French loaf have been on the stage supervisor’s desk. His supper, in all probability. I pinched them, ripped up the bread and stuffed it within the bag.

One Christmas, O'Connor counted 13 insults on nine TV programmes in five days: 'There were stories about my songs clearing bats out of old buildings and frightening fleas off dogs'

One Christmas, O’Connor counted 13 insults on 9 TV programmes in 5 days: ‘There have been tales about my songs clearing bats out of previous buildings and scary fleas off canine’

Then I walked out right into a barrage of screams, and began throwing bread into the group. They have been stamping their ft and the entire place was shaking, however my enterprise with the bread began to lift a couple of laughs too. ‘It’s feeding time on the zoo,’ I yelled.

One lady caught a bit of bread and began leaping round. ‘She loves me Yeah Yeah Yeah!’ I sang, and the viewers may not less than see me shaking my head like a moptop. The laughter constructed up.

That was my complete act. There was by no means any likelihood of getting a joke heard, so I simply stored flinging bits of bread till, out of the nook of my eye, I noticed the Fab 4 clutching their guitars. I simply threw the bag into the viewers, gave them a wave, and ran.

Whenever you’ve confronted an auditorium like that, nothing will faze you once more. So I took it in my stride, 20 years later, once I met the Duke of Edinburgh and bought a royal heckle.

At a Lord’s Taverners cricket charity dinner on the Mansion Home, I used to be standing in a line of celebrities ready to be offered to Prince Philip. David Frost was introducing us to HRH: ‘That is Michael Parkinson . . . that is Shirley Bassey . . .’ and so forth.

When he reached me, the Duke shook my hand. Then he stated, ‘Des O’Connor . . . you’re the chap who’s at all times on Morecambe & Sensible.’ I identified that I didn’t often seem however they typically talked about me. ‘Oh sure,’ he stated. ‘Inform me, are you actually that unhealthy?’

By then, I used to be used to being the butt of nationwide hilarity. Eric’s gag was not a non-public joke.

It simply by no means stopped. One Christmas I counted 13 insults on 9 TV programmes in 5 days. There have been tales about my songs clearing bats out of previous buildings and scary fleas off canine. Youngsters at a faculty in Bristol had a sponsored Des-athon and raised £1,250 for charity by listening to my data for seven and a half hours. I rang the college to thank them and the headmistress stated, ‘I’m afraid you may’t discuss to them proper now — they’re nonetheless beneath sedation.’ 

On one other event I used to be signing autographs on the stage door of the Palladium. An expensive little previous girl beckoned me nearer, as if she needed to whisper one thing confidential. I leant in direction of her and he or she slipped an envelope into my hand.

After Eric Morcambe had suffered a heart attack at the wheel of his car, O'Connor asked his audience to pray for his friend. Morcambe quipped: ‘Those six or seven people probably made all the difference’

After Eric Morcambe had suffered a coronary heart assault on the wheel of his automotive, O’Connor requested his viewers to hope for his pal. Morcambe quipped: ‘These six or seven individuals in all probability made all of the distinction’

I requested her what was inside and he or she stated critically: ‘That’s my handle and there’s ten kilos inside. Will you ship me your subsequent album?’ I identified that it could price lower than that in a store. ‘Oh,’ she stated, ‘I’m not going to go in and ask for it.’

I couldn’t take it an excessive amount of to coronary heart. Eric would possibly name me Deaf O’Connor however my singles spent a complete of greater than two years within the charts. And extra typically than I’d wish to admit, the gags have been genuinely humorous.

My favorite of all got here out of a neardisaster. In 1968, Eric had a coronary heart assault on the wheel of his automotive. Fortunately somebody bought him to hospital nevertheless it was an in depth factor. Once I heard the information, I used to be about to go on stage in Paignton. On the finish of my present, I requested the viewers to affix me in a prayer for my pal Eric Morecambe, who was in a cardiac ward that night time.

A couple of days later, the previous rascal had the nerve to provide a press convention from his hospital mattress. A journalist requested if he was conscious that Des O’Connor had requested his complete viewers to hope for him.

‘Effectively,’ stated Eric, ‘these six or seven individuals in all probability made all of the distinction.’

Sadly, Eric died of one other coronary heart assault, in 1984. His widow Joan advised me later how fond he had been of me . . . and my music.

One night, Joan stated, she went into Eric’s research and located him enjoyable on the sofa, smoking his pipe and listening to one in all my albums on his stereo.

As Eric favored to comment, ‘You may’t say fairer than that.’

Tailored from Bananas Can’t Fly: The Autobiography, by Des O’Connor, revealed by Headline, £20. © Des O’Connor 2001. To order a replica for the unique worth of £10 (plus £2.99 P&P), go to

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