Veteran entertainer Max Bygraves dies


A look back at the career of Max Bygraves, who has died aged 89

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Veteran entertainer Max Bygraves has died in Australia, aged 89.

The comedian, actor, and singer, whose catchphrase was "I wanna tell you a story", died in his sleep at home in Hope Island, Queensland, on Friday. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

He emigrated from Bournemouth, Dorset, to Australia in 2005.

"We have lost one of the best entertainers that Britain has ever produced," his agent Johnny Mans said.

"His death is a great loss to the entertainment profession and a great loss to all of his friends in the industry."

"He was a friend to everyone and there was no 'airs and graces' about him, he was just a superstar, but didn't realise he was a superstar."

Born in Rotherhithe, south-east London, in 1922 as Walter William Bygraves, the former Family Fortunes presenter gained the nickname Max from his impersonations of comedian Max Miller while serving in the RAF.

'Very cheeky'

After World War II, Bygraves rose to fame as a variety entertainer, also writing a string of comic songs.

He performed on stage with Spike Milligan, Benny Hill, Harry Secombe and Frankie Howerd, and often appeared at the London Palladium in later years.

Recalling a conversation with Frankie Howerd, he once said: "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."

Bygraves, whose career spanned five decades and made him a multi-millionaire, also went on to star in radio and television shows, and films, including Charley Moon. He also bought the rights to a then-unknown musical - Oliver! - from its creator Lionel Bart, which then went on to make him huge amounts of money.

Bygraves was popular in the US, where he performed with Judy Garland at the Palace Theatre in New York during a tour in the 1950s.

He was awarded an OBE in 1983, describing himself as "just an ordinary cockney bloke who made it".

He married Blossom Murray in 1942 and had three children. She died last year.

Comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, who was an old friend of Bygraves, described him as "a great favourite" who "really enjoyed" being on stage.

"They loved him - you don't get that love very often. Max had it in handfuls.

"He could be very cheeky, he wasn't above that. I mean he was a rascal. I have nothing but lovely memories of him," he added.

Speaking of his friend's impact on his own work, Tarbuck said: "He was a lovely and big, big influence on me, and a very big influence - the way he works - on Des O'Connor.

"I mean (he was) the King of the Palladium. He ruled it when he was on there, it was a joy to watch him win an audience and he would have them roaring with laughter, he would have them singing along, he could have them with a tear in their eye if he did a sentimental song, just a great, great all round entertainer.

"I'll miss him and I'm sad today because I was very fond of him - because he was so nice to me when I was a kid, with advice."

'A great character'

Former radio presenter and friend Ed Stewart said Bygraves was a "unique talent" who "gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people".

"He as a person never dated."

"He was a great character with a great sense of humour, a lovely family and it's just a shame that he's gone, but at nearly 90, he had a good run. He was an entertainer through and through.

"There were one or two others at the time but Max was the doyen of them all, and this likeable lad was just on everybody's radio sets in the days of the BBC when you only had the live programmes.

"Those programmes and those records of his gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people and were huge sellers."


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  • Comment number 176.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 175.

    I know there are a lot of miserable people out there, but why try to inflict your unhappiness on others? Max Bygraves was a poor singer but so were many other all-round entertainers. He had a great deal of charm, and knew how to attract and hold an audience; making him an excellent compere. He was a very successful businessman and family man. How many of his jealous detractors can say the same?

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    Comment number 174.

    #172 Dr_Ads - I'm not 50 for another 15 years and I've heard of Max Bygraves, stop exaggerating! Must admit I thought him dead for the last 20 years, so this genuinely shocked me. Also, having not had a pay rise in two years and enduring the wettest summer in over 100 years, I happen to think he could have done a lot worse than leave here for Australia! He paid tax somewhere! RIP to the man.

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    Comment number 173.

    #172: As far as I know, Bygraves moved to Australia because his daughter had moved there and he needed care due to his condition. And it is a story because he was a performer for many years who millions enjoyed. (I cannot say I was one of them but I still dislike your use of quotation marks around the word entertainer - he was one, and a good one in his style.)

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    Comment number 172.

    So yet another multimillionaire 'entertainer' that emigrated to avoid paying UK tax (who no-one under 50 has heard of) has died at a very old age?

    Sorry, but I'm not seeing a story here.


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