When it comes to being well-preserved, sun-bronzed entertainer Des O’Connor makes Cliff Richard look more like Cliff Michelmore. The man with the tan started his showbiz career in the 1950s and has never looked back.
Des was born in 1932, the son of road sweeper. He was a sickly child and fought to overcome illnesses such as rickets, diptheria and glandular fever.
Des’s early ambition was to be a professional footballer, which ironically led to his showbiz career. ‘I played in one match,’ says Des. ‘And the manager said I ought to be a comedian. And here I am.’
Des’s first job was as a complaints clerk in a shoe factory. He then broke into showbiz as a redcoat at Butlins holiday camp.
In the late 1950s Des appeared on the musical quiz game Spot the Tune.
The Des O’Connor Show, a mixture of comedy, music and chat which ran throughout much of the Sixties. Des was ably assisted by the likes of Jack Douglas with his legendary Alf Ippititimus act.
Des has had a string of hits and, although they have been the butt of many a joke (most notably the running Morecambe and Wise gag of Des’s lack of singing skills), it has been ol’ smiler himself who has been laughing all the way to the bank. His first big hit was Careless Hands in 1967, which reached Number Six in the charts. This was followed by his only UK Number One I Pretend. Although never quite reaching those dizzy heights again, Des had a string of lesser hits including the memorable 1-2-3 O’Leary, Dick-a-Dum-Dum, Loneliness, I’ll Go On Hoping, The Tip of My Fingers and together with Roger Whittaker The Skye Boat Song in 1986.
Apart from being a regular sparring partner of Morecambe and Wise and having his singing being the butt of many of their jokes Des hosted long running The Des O’Connor Show. He has also hosted Des, Des O’Connor Entertains, Des O’Connor Tonight, Take Your Pick and Pot of Gold. He has also been compere of Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He also found time to host Countdown for a couple of years from 2007-2008.
Des has been divorced three times and married four times. He married his first wife, Phyllis, in 1951 and they divorced in 1958. They have a daughter, Karen. In 1962 he married wife number two, Gillian. This time the marriage lasted 19 years and they have two children, Tracey and Samantha. Des married for the last time in 1987 to Jay and the marriage ended in 1991. They have a daughter, Kristina. In 1992 Des began stepping out with 31-year old singer Jodie Wilson, who used to bang the gong for Des on Take Your Pick, they married in 2011.
Des on Des
‘I have been called a workaholic but I have never done a day’s work since I came into showbusiness. Anyone who is lucky enough to love what they’re doing is not really working.’