Des O'Connor was the ultimate entertainer as a comic, singer, dancer and host across six decades

Des O'Connor was the ultimate entertainer as a comic, singer, dancer and host across six decades


DES O'Connor brought laughter and smiles to the faces of millions of viewers as he enjoyed six decades in the world of entertainment.

The TV legend died "peacefully" in his sleep at the age of 88 – and Eamonn Holmes put it best when he said: "They don't make them like Des anymore."

The veteran entertainer could do it all – sing, dance, make an audience laugh and be at ease in front of the camera as he hosted top shows.

He made a name for himself on both sides of the Atlantic and became best known in the UK as a chat show host and as presenter of Channel 4's Countdown.

The TV icon enjoyed success as a presenter, comedian, dancer and notably for his singing.

Des was born on January 12, 1932 in Stepney, East London but was evacuated to Northampton during the Second World War. 

He enjoyed a brief stint as a professional footballer at Northampton Town FC before working a succession of odd jobs, including as a complaints clerk in a boot and shoe factory.

He kicked off his showbiz career appearing in variety theatres across the country, but got his big TV break in the late 1950s as a presenter for ITV’s ‘Spot The Tune’.  

Des worked with some of the biggest names in the industry recording 36 albums and nabbing four top 10 singles including hit song I Pretend reaching number one in 1968 and five of which reached the UK top 40.

The TV-all rounder forged a successful musical career with four top 10 singles to his name.

The country fell in love with his music, hits including Careless Hand, Remember, Loneliness and The Tip Of My Fingers among many others.

O'Connor worked with many pop stars, including Frank Sinatra Barbara Streisand, Shirley Bassey and Cilla Black.

Des teamed up for a collaboration with singer Kim Wilde for a rendition of Something Stupid in 1988 and toured with music icon Buddy Holly during his 1958 stay in the UK.

He was a natural on the stage and starred at the Glasgow Empire, London Palladium and Sydney Opera House.

Des was popular with generations of fans, hosting shows including Take Your Pick, Countdown and Today with Des and Mel.

He had an international TV career, presenting his own prime-time TV shows for over 45 years.

O'Connor was one of Britain's most loved entertainers and worked with a string of celebrities who have flooded social media with tributes.

Between 1963 and 1971, he presented the British variety show The Des O’Connor Show for eight series, before going on to host Des O’Connor tonight from 1977 until 2002 – with seven series on BBC Two and a further 17 on ITV.

The TV legend became one of Britain's most loved entertainers and continued to delight fans with his humour and charisma.

In 2002, he began hosting Today with Des and Mel, light entertainment programme aired on ITV.

The star bagged hit gameshow Countdown alongside Carol Vorderman in 2007 replacing Des Lynam for two years. He left the show in 2008 to spend more time on theatre and entertainment-based projects.

O'Connor was probably best known for his beloved gameshow Take Your Pick, on which he met his wife Jodie.

The star went onto to air a one-off show that celebrated his 80th birthday with best pals including Melanie Sykes in attendance.

The star forged a great friendship with comedians Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise with much-loved gags including ‘The Des in Des O’Connor is short for desperate’ and, ‘Des has just done a one-man show. Let’s hope two turn up next time’.

In a 2014 interview with the Daily Mail, O’Connor recalled: "When Eric had his first heart attack in 1968, I was doing a show in front of 2,000.

I went for a sip of water and the stage manager said, “Eric Morecambe’s had a heart attack. He’s dying.” ‘I went back on and, at the end of the show, I said, “If you believe in such things, please remember Eric in your prayers. He’s not well.”

Happily he recovered and six weeks later he was in a meeting with some journalists. One of them said, “Are you aware Des O’Connor asked his entire audience to pray for you?” Eric said, “Well, those six or seven people probably made a difference.”'

O'Connor was recognised for his lifetime of entertainments with a special award at the National Television Awards for contribution to television in 2002.

He also conquered the stage starring in Dreamboats And Petticoats and The Wizard Of Oz, and toured with Jimmy Tarbuck in 2015 and 2017, while he made over 1,000 solo appearance on stage at the London Palladium. 

Co-host and good friend Melanie Sykes paid tribute to her "darling" friend saying  that he had the "kindest of hearts" and will be "forever missed".

Mel shared a photo alongside the legendary star of the pair smiling.

The 50-year-old wrote on Instagram: "Des had the softest hands of anyone I ever met and the kindest of hearts.

"He had talent in every fibre of his being and was stubborn as a mule.

"He was the full ticket as a friend and colleague. When he chose me to be his co host on the ‘Today’ daytime show it was one the greatest days of my professional life.

"It was an education and a privilege to work with him for the years that followed.

"We worked long hours but always laughed lots, not least because when it it was showtime he would always tell me I looked like robbers dog!

" These years I will never forget and nor will I forget him. Darling Des you will be forever missed. Melanie x."

Des is survived by wife Jodie Brooke Wilson and five children. 

O’Connor was married four times – from 1953 until 1959 to Phyllis Gill, with whom he shared daughter Karin.

He later married Gillian Vaughan from 1960 to 1982 whom he had daughters Tracy and Samantha.

The star then married Jay Rufer from 1985 until 1990, with whom he had daughter Kristina, and Jodie Wilson, who he married in 2007 and remained with until his death, with the couple sharing son Adam. 

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