It’s more than 60 years since Des O’Connor started out in showbiz and more than 50 years since he launched his first TV show in 1963.
But some things don’t change.
It’s all still, just as it ever was, about making people laugh, says Des who brings his An Evening with Des O’Connor show to the Martlets Hall, Burgess Hill, on Saturday, June 11. It’s part of the town’s Summer Festival, which runs until June 12.
“People take themselves too seriously,” Des states. “You have just got to have a laugh.”
Des’ long-running gag with the late, great Morecambe & Wise proves his point. Des was the butt of their endless jokes, but the fact is it was Des himself writing a fair number of them.
Remember that line where Des said he had just done a one-man show, to which Eric & Ernie replied “I hope a couple more turn up next time”? That was Des’ line. Similarly, when Des labelled himself a self-made man, to which Eric & Ernie quipped ‘It’s nice of you to take the blame!,’ that was Des’ joke as well.
“It was all part of the fun,” says Des, who recalls the sparring all started with Eric Morecambe’s writer Eddie Braben: “He was mad keen on music, and his wife was keen on real singers. I was in one day when they were doing the show and Eddie knew I was going to be there. He gave them a gag about me and it got such a roar that it just carried on from there!
“It changed my life. I would get into taxis, and the driver would say ‘You’re not going to sing, son!’ That used to happen all the time.”
And it could all have been so different.
Des was briefly a footballer with Northampton Town.
“I was told ‘You are very fast, son, but it would be nice if you took the ball with you.’ I used to play like Walcott… except I didn’t have the ball.”
On one famous occasion, his parents switched on the telly to watch him play… just in time to see him being stretchered off: “The goalkeeper had struck me right in the chest, and I was in hospital for a few days.”
So no, the football was not to be: “You have just got to do what you are good at. And I am still stage struck, even now. It’s a fantastic thing to do, to be in front of an audience and to make them laugh.”
In his brand-new show, Des will be celebrating his stage and screen career, chatting about his life and times while offering stories of the greats he has worked alongside. The show features a show-reel of clips featuring stars including Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones, Tina Turner, Morecambe & Wise, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Pavarotti, Oliver Reed, Shirley Bassey, Will Smith, Robert Redford and many more. There might just be a few bloopers, Des hints.
“Over the years, I suppose you have got to change with the times, but you don’t have to change what you do. You just change how you present it. I have got another six concerts like this. People say ‘How do you do it?’ but I just love it.
“I really love the first half of the show where I just ad lib. I just clown around. I say to the audience ‘What do you want to talk about?’ I ask if there is anyone that can play the piano, and I just sing along. Sometimes they are so bad, it’s wonderful. People say ‘Is that person a plant?’ I just say ‘If they were a plant I would have dug them a lot deeper than that!’”
Tickets cost £25 (£23 concessions).
Call the box office on 01444 242888 or visit www.martletshall.org.
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