Desmond Bernard O'Connor, CBE (born 12 January 1932) is an English comedian and singer. A former chat show host, he was the presenter of the long-running Channel 4 gameshow Countdown for two years. He has also recorded 36 albums and has had four top-ten singles, including a number-one hit with "I Pretend", with global sales of more than ten million records.
Desmond Bernard O'Connor was born in Stepney East London to Maude (née Bassett) and Harry O'Connor. O'Connor has a sister, Patricia, who is one year his junior. He was evacuated to Northampton during the Second World War and was briefly a professional footballer with Northampton Town. After completing his National Service in the Royal Air Force, he worked as a shoe salesman before entering show business. Before his break in television, his first theatre appearances were in variety, where he appeared in venues throughout the country.
On stage he has starred at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, the Opera House, Sydney and the O'Keefe Centre, Toronto, and has made more than 1,000 solo appearances at the London Palladium.
He has worked with many personalities of the day, from rock and pop stars, actors and TV performers, to politicians, princes, to luminaries such as Frank Sinatra, Adam Faith, Sean Connery, Liberace, the Beatles, Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Cilla Black, Tony Blair and members of the Royal Family.
He has toured with Buddy Holly (during Holly's 1958 stay in Britain) and Jason Donovan.
He was the first special guest on the second - and most popular - incarnation of the long-running TV guest show This Is Your Life.
O'Connor replaced Russell Grant in the West End musical The Wizard of Oz as Professor Marvel, Doorman at the Emerald City, Tour Guide and the Wizard.
O'Connor has starred in a mainstream television show in almost every year since 1963, a feat that only one other television personality has achieved worldwide (US game show host Bob Barker, who hosted mainstream television shows from 1956 until 2007, with 1966-1972 being in syndication).
Between 1963 and 1971, O'Connor hosted The Des O'Connor Show, a British variety show for eight series on ITV. This was followed by Des O'Connor Entertains, a show which ran for two series between 1974 and 1976 and featured singing, dancing and comedy sketches.
Between 1977 and 2002, Des presented his own celebrity chat show series entitled Des O'Connor Tonight. The show lasted for 7 series on BBC Two and later 17 on ITV.
In 1992, he became the presenter of the long-running game show Take Your Pick. The show came to an end in 1998. From 2002 to 2006, O'Connor co-hosted Today with Des and Mel alongside Melanie Sykes. The show was a live afternoon chat and light entertainment with was aired on ITV. On 12 May 2006, the channel announced that the show would be one of a number to be axed in a "painful, but utterly necessary" move.
In 1996 and 1997, he compèred the Royal Variety Performance. On 20 January 2001, ITV aired An Audience with Des O'Connor.
On 2 January 2007, he replaced Des Lynam as co-presenter of the Channel 4 game show Countdown, alongside Carol Vorderman. He left the show in 2008 to spend more time on theatre and entertainment-based projects. Vorderman also left the show. In 2009, O'Connor was replaced by sports presenter Jeff Stelling.
In 2012, Paul O'Grady hosted The One and Only Des O'Connor, a one-off show that celebrated O'Connor's 80th birthday, with guests including Katherine Kelly, Olly Murs, Robert Lindsay and Melanie Sykes contributing. The show aired on 8 April 2012 on ITV.
On 4 May 2012, he took part in the TV game show Would I Lie to You.
O'Connor appeared as a guest on The Morecambe and Wise Show a number of times. He was the butt of many a joke by Morecambe, being referred to as "Des - short for 'desperate", and "Death O'Connor". One line, sung to the tune of "Crazy Words - Crazy Tune" was, "Roses are red, violets are blue, Des can't sing, we know that's true!".
On 3 December 2012, O'Connor was invited to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Variety Performance in a one-off ITV programme. On 20 December, O'Connor appeared alongside Lee Mack in a celebrity edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
On 21 December 2013, O'Connor appeared in a celebrity edition of The Chase. He was caught by the "chaser", Mark Labbett.
O'Connor has had a successful career as a singer, recording 36 albums, five of which reached the Top 40 of the UK Albums Chart. O'Connor has always taken criticism in good humour, even appearing with Morecambe and Wise on their 1975 Christmas Show in a sketch that mocked him. He got his own back on the 1976 Christmas Show when he was in the firing squad at the end of the main sketch.
In 1969, thirteen of his variety hours were sold to NBC in the United States, as a summer replacement for the network's Kraft Music Hall. This series was broadcast in more than forty countries and was seen by 200 million people worldwide.
Awards and honours
In 2001, he was presented with the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards for his contributions to television.
He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
O'Connor has married four times:
- Phyllis Gill (married 1953, divorced 1959)
- Gillian Vaughan (married 1960, divorced 1982)
- Jay Rufer (married 1985, divorced 1990)
- Jodie Brooke Wilson (married 23 September 2011)
He has five children: Karen with Phyliss Gill; 2 daughters, Tracy and Samantha, with Gill Vaughan; 1 daughter with Rufer; and 1 son, Adam, with Jodie Wilson.
O'Connor received some criticism for having his fifth baby (Adam) later in life. Of this he said, "Happily, though, I'm not experiencing that at the moment. I had people saying I was selfish. But what's selfish about that? How can you say to a woman you've been with for 15-odd years, 'No, I've got four and we're not having any more?'. That would be selfish."
|1970||"I'll Go On Hoping"||30||-|
|"The Tips Of My Fingers"||15||-|
|1972||"Don't Let The Good Life Pass You By"||-||-|
|"Three Times A Lady"||-||-|
|1986||"The Skye Boat Song"||10||-|
|1972||Sing A Favourite Song||25||-|
|1980||Just for You||17||-|
|1984||Des O'Connor Now||24||-|
|2001||A Tribute to the Crooners||51||-|
- Just For You - 20 Special Songs (Warwick) (1979)
- Remember Romance - 20 Great Love Songs (Warwick) (1980)
- Now - 16 Classic Songs (Telstar) (1984)