Entertainment & Arts

Max Bygraves: Stars lead tributes

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

Veteran entertainer Des O'Connor has led the tributes to "lovely man" and "top, top professional" Max Bygraves, who has died at his home in Australia.

O'Connor said the London-born comedian, actor and singer had given him a two-page letter of advice when he started out which he used as "a rule book".

Comedian Ken Dodd, meanwhile, said Bygraves was "a giant of showbusiness - a wonderful, wonderful man".

The 89-year-old had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Bygraves, who died in his sleep at home in Hope Island, Queensland, on Friday, emigrated from Bournemouth to Australia in 2005.

Image caption Bygraves was a regular guest on his friend's Des O'Connor Tonight show

He rose to fame as a variety entertainer after World War II and, in a career spanning five decades, went on to star in radio and TV shows as well as films, including the 1956 musical Charley Moon.

Des O'Connor said Bygraves was "a good all-round performer" and "a lovely man" who had "a really homely humour".

"When I was in the Air Force I used to go to the Peterborough Embassy [theatre] every Tuesday where we would usually see people in funny hats and one week Max walked on in a smart suit," he said.

"He was so pleasant and completely controlled the audience and I remember thinking, 'that's the way to do it'.

"So I wrote him a bit of a cheeky letter to get his attention and he wrote me a two-page letter back giving me advice on what to do.

"I used to use it as a rule book when I was starting out and over the years everything he's said has been helpful to me."

Image caption Bygraves, left, performed on stage with stars including Frankie Howerd, right

Ken Dodd hailed Bygraves as "absolutely brilliant - an excellent comedian, a very good singer and quite a good actor".

He added: "He had tremendous charisma, he could handle any big audience, had them in the palm of his hand.

"He was a quiet, gentle, modest man, but once he entered that stage something happened, a transformation took place, it was like a miracle."

Bygraves wrote a string of comic songs - including You're a Pink Toothbrush - and performed on stage with Spike Milligan, Benny Hill, Harry Secombe and Frankie Howerd.

He often appeared at the London Palladium in later years and was also well known from presenting ITV's Family Fortunes.

His successor on the quiz show, Les Dennis, writing on Twitter, paid tribute to "a great performer and a gentleman" who had been "very gracious when I took over Family Fortunes".

'Palladium king'

Bygraves' fellow comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, meanwhile, said his audiences "loved him - you don't get that love very often".

"Max had it in handfuls," he added.

"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 described his old friend as "the king of the Palladium".

Image caption Bygraves married his wife, Blossom, in 1942

"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."

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

"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."

Bygraves, who was born in Rotherhithe, south-east London, in 1922 as Walter William Bygraves, 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.

His agent, Johnny Mans, said he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease two years ago.

"He had become confused and often wasn't sure where he was," he said.

He added: "He was one of the greatest entertainers Britain's ever produced and one of the nicest guys."

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