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Sunday, September 2, 2012

We wanna tell you a sad story... Max Bygraves is dead at 89 after battle with Alzheimer's

•Born the son of a dockworker, Bygraves grew up to be a millionaire
•Celebrities tweet condolences for beloved father-of-six
•Topped the London Palladium bill dozens of times
•Beloved entertainer awarded OBE in 1982

By Anna Edwards

Max Bygraves, one of the household names of British entertainment for more than 50 years, has died at the age of 89.

The star, whose catch phrase was ‘I wanna tell you a story...’, died at his daughter’s home in Australia after battling Alzheimer’s disease.

Bygraves, who enjoyed enormous success as a singer, comedian, film star and quiz show host, emigrated to Australia from Bournemouth four years ago, hoping the warmer climate would help his wife Blossom overcome her health problems.

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Legend: Max Bygraves enjoyed enormous success as a singer, comedian, film star and quiz show host

Wartime love: Max with his wife Blossom in 1992

Wartime sweethearts, they had two daughters and a son of their own and their 69-year marriage survived revelations in later years that Bygraves had fathered children with other women.

Following Blossom’s death last year aged 88, the entertainer moved in with their daughter Christine in Queensland. She was by his bedside when he died on Friday evening.

His son Anthony said: ‘I only saw Dad two weeks ago. He became terribly frail but somehow I hoped he would see his 90th birthday.

‘It wasn’t to be. He just slipped away. We’re all terribly sad. It is hard to imagine a world without him but at least I saw him recently. I got a chance to give him a hug and be with him.’

Much loved: Singer Max Bygraves pictured with Barbara Windsor (right) and Ellie Lane (lane) when he celebrated his 70th birthday, 50 years in show business and his 50th wedding anniversary

Battle with Alzheimer's: Max Bygraves, seen here at the 'Talk of the Town', thrilled crowds with his stand up routine

Until quite recently, he said his father had still been able to sing along to the songs – such as Tulips From Amsterdam and Fings Aint What They Used To Be – that had made him famous.

He said: ‘He knew all the words and even which track was coming next but when I saw him in Australia last month, he’d lost all that. It was very upsetting because Dad was always so on the ball.’

The performer’s death is a double blow for his daughter Maxine, who received the news just hours after having to flee her home as the Spanish wildfires threatened her neighbourhood near Marbella.

Tributes last night poured in from the world of showbusiness.

Bygraves’s agent Johnny Mans said he ‘was one of the icons of the business and there will never be another one like him’. Comedian Jimmy Tarbuck said: ‘He could be very cheeky, he wasn’t above that.

Funny man: The veteran entertainer regularly topped the bill at the London Palladium

Couple of jokers: Max Bygraves and Frankie Howerd started touring with each other

'I mean he was a rascal. I have nothing but lovely memories of him.’ Ronnie Corbett described Bygraves as a ‘lovely, lovely man’, adding: ‘He was an early stand-up, he didn’t go in for sketches, but just spoke to the audience. He was a personality in the truest sense of the word.’

Several celebrities took to Twitter to pay their tributes. Les Dennis, who took over from Bygraves as host of Family Fortunes, called him ‘a great performer and a gentleman’. And magician Paul Daniels said he was ‘truly one of the greatest live acts I ever saw’.

Born Walter Bygraves on October 16, 1922, in Rotherhithe, South-East London, he later changed his name to Max in honour of his comedy hero Max Miller. Bygraves was the son of a docker and one of nine children.

To earn pocket money he would drag the River Thames for driftwood – before realising he could make more cash by exploiting his talent for music.

Laugh a minute: Max Bygraves, Bernard Bresslaw and Tony Hancock at the rehearsals for the Royal Command Performance

The performer emigrated to Australia with his wife Blossom, and was due to celebrate his 90th birthday in October

Aged 13, he won a school talent contest, and as an altar boy made his first public appearance singing Handel’s Largo in Westminster Cathedral.

After he was demobbed from wartime service in the RAF he began touring the club circuit, where success came quickly. By 1950 he was second on the bill to Judy Garland at the London Palladium.

He was a hit in the Fifties radio comedy Educating Archie and also starred in the films Charley Moon, A Cry From The Streets and Spare The Rod.

Bygraves topped the bill at the Royal Variety Performance 17 times and sold millions of records around the world, including his Singalongamax albums.

Despite his success – which made him a millionaire by 1960 aged 38 – his family-friendly image was damaged in 1987 when he admitted fathering a son with actress Pat Marlowe in 1961.

A similar revelation followed in 2002, when it emerged he had had another son, with landlady Margaret Garriock, four years after his marriage. Last year, after his wife’s death, Beverly Sass, 57, claimed to be the star’s third love-child.

TV host: Max fronting ITV quiz show Family Fortunes in the Eighties

Max Bygraves: The man behind the laughs

Critics poked fun at his repertoire of music hall numbers but he had the last laugh, because they helped make him a multi-millionaire.

The chirpy cockney, who made his name with songs like You Need Hands and Tulips from Amsterdam, did not have the easiest start in life.

He was born Walter William Bygraves on October 16, 1922, in Rotherhithe, south-east London, the son of Henry Bygraves, a boxer and a docker, and Lilian.

Bygraves was one of nine children in a staunchly Roman Catholic family, living in a council flat in Rotherhithe rented for 8s 4d (about 42p) a week. He used to drag the River Thames for driftwood to earn pocket money.

But his way out of poverty opened up when he realised he could make money from his talent for and love of music.

He won a school talent competition at the age of 13, and as an altar boy made his first public appearance singing Handel's Largo in Westminster Cathedral.

The comedian and singer is seen here with his family - he was known as being an all-round performer who stuck with his familiar routine and became known for his catchphrase 'I wanna tell you a story'

The veteran entertainer died peacefully in his sleep at home in Hope Island, Queensland, Australia, yesterday

As a teenager, he sang at a pub in Dagenham for 10 shillings (50p) a night.

Later Max was to start work with an advertising agency, carrying copy to Fleet Street.

He made his first home in a Romford council house. When the Second World War broke out, he volunteered for the RAF and served five years as a fitter.

During this time he realised he could make people laugh and was christened Max for his impressions of the cockney comedian Max Miller.

After the war, Bygraves's commanding officer tipped him off about some auditions at the BBC for a show for ex-servicemen. He went along and got work, singing, telling jokes and doing impersonations.

He turned professional in 1946 and toured variety theatres throughout Britain and three years later made his West End debut at the London Palladium. From then on there was no looking back.

The dashing presenter, seen here in 1958, appeared in 17 Royal Variety shows

Seen here in 1986, the beloved personality from London last appeared in the UK in 2006

It was around this period he met the comedian Frankie Howerd. He recalled later: 'Frankie read my palm and told me that I was going to be a millionaire and top of the bill one day. I thought he had got his wires crossed. Years later, he reminded me of it and used it to get a free lunch out of me.'

By 1956, Bygraves was earning £1,000 a week, worth around £20,000 in today's money.
His albums sold over 6.5 million copies, earning 31 gold discs.

Bygraves also topped the bill at more Royal Variety Performances than any other artist, appearing in no fewer than 17 royal shows.

He took to the good life easily, buying the first of 53 Rolls-Royces with the registration MB 1 — which he liked to boast he changed every year.

He was a hit in the 1950s radio comedy Educating Archie - with his catchphrase 'That's a good idea, son' - and had TV series like Singalongamax, Max Rolls On, Side by Side and the game show Family Fortunes.

Bygraves also appeared in films including Charlie Moon, A Cry From The Streets and Spare the Rod, and also starred in numerous pantomimes.

He turned his hand to writing in 1976 with his aptly-named autobiography I Wanna Tell You A Story, and his novel The Milkman's On His Way. Later, in 2002, he was to have another book published, Stars in My Eyes, which he described as 'about name-dropping, the laughter moments'.

He was awarded an OBE in 1983 but simply described himself as 'Just an ordinary cockney bloke who made it'.

The death of the singer, seen here with Shirley Bassey, 'is a great loss to the entertainment profession and a great loss to all of his friends in the industry,' his agent Johnny Mans said

Entertainer Max Bygraves on the day he was granted an OBE by the Queen, at Buckingham Palace, London

He met his wife Gladys - known as Blossom - at a concert at RAF Hornchurch in 1941.

She died in 2011, a few years after the couple had moved to Australia.

They had three children, Christine, Anthony, and Maxine.

The singer also has three other children: John Rice, Beverly Mayhew-Sass, and Stephen Rose.

Max last appeared in public in the UK at revival shows in Blackpool and London in 2006.

Anthony, who recently visited Max on the Gold Coast in Australia, had organised a campaign for the public to send him their stories on how they affectionately remembered him.

The appeal came after more than 2,000 people sent well-wishing postcards and messages of support to Max in March when it was revealed he was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's.

'I had wanted to compile it with the help of the public. Dad still had a loyal fan base all around the world,' said Anthony.

'I had wanted people to contribute a written memory of Max to appear in 'I Wanna tell you a Story'.

'Their own personal recollection of my father, a meeting, of a show, a time, a place - anything that was interesting or unusual.'

VIDEO: Max Bygraves at the 1960 Royal Variety Performance



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