Entertainment & Arts

Veteran entertainer Max Bygraves dies

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

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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