Des had his own prime time TV show for 45 consecutive years, longer than anyone, anywhere on the planet.
"The Daily Express"
Des was one of only a handful of British entertainers to be acclaimed internationally on stage and television. When he was given an American series of his show it went out to over 40 countries and was seen by 200 million people world-wide. He was established as one of the world’s most popular and best loved entertainers. Since landing his first television series in the UK in 1963 he starred in his own mainstream television show for over 45 years – longer than anyone anywhere in the world.
He was born in the East End of London and during the war was evacuated to Northampton. After National Service in the RAF he entered show business. His first theatre appearances were in variety all over the country before his break in television.
On stage he starred at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, the Sydney Opera House, The O’Keefe Centre, Toronto and over 1200 solo appearances at the London Palladium….starring in cabaret, theatre and sell-out concerts at almost every leading venue throughout the world.
From 1967 and onwards, he was a hugely successful recording star. He had his first hit single with Careless Hands, followed by I Pretend which went to No 1. His recording career produced 36 albums with sales of over 16 million and he spent 117 weeks in the top ten charts.
In 2001 he received the coveted Special Recognition Award at the National TV Awards at the Royal Albert Hall. His top-selling autobiography Bananas Can’t Fly was published in June 2002.
He met and worked with all the major personalities of the day, from rock and pop stars, actors and TV performers, to politicians to Princes, to luminaries such as Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Liberace, The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Shirley Bassey, Hugh Grant, the Spice Girls, Robbie Williams, Mel Gibson, Pavarotti, Sir Elton John, Tony Blair and many members of the Royal Family.
Photo Credit - ITV REX Features
His TV shows included The One And Only Des O’Connor, an ITV celebration to mark Des’s 50 years in prime time television; Des O’Connor Tonight specials; Des O’Connor Comedy Tonight; a series of prime time Des O’Connor With one-to-one specials and, of course, the many series of Des O’Connor Tonight and The Des O’Connor Show.
His award winning ITV1 daily celebrity talk showToday With Des & Mel with co-host Melanie Sykes proved such a hit with viewers, with the couple’s lively and spontaneous banter, that the show more than doubled its audience and won an RTS Programme Award after its launch in autumn 2002. It was a huge daytime success running for more than 400 episodes.
Photo Credit - ITVREX
In 2007 Des took over the helm of the hugely popular words and numbers daily quiz Countdown on Channel 4 for 2 years.
Des was awarded a CBE by the Queen in her Birthday Honours list in June 2002 and he proudly collected his award at Buckingham Palace a few days after the release of his 36th album “Inspired”.
Photographer - Lewis Whyld / Getty Images
In 2012 he starred in the hit West End musical Dreamboats and Petticoats at the Playhouse Theatre London. It marked his debut in a stage musical. Later that year, he took over the iconic role of The Wizard in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s reimagining of The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium for the season.
Two years later, Pan Macmillan persuaded Des to put his own lines of comic verse into a book, Laughter Lines, which went straight to the official number one spot in Poetry sales and became No1 Best Seller of Amazon Poetry.
In 2015 Des starred in Sunday Night At The London Palladium with his pal Jimmy Tarbuck. The two legends of The Royal Variety Performance and The London Palladium appeared live on stage, raising huge funds in aid of The Royal Variety Charity. They later took the show on tour at selected major UK theatres receiving standing ovations at every venue until November 2019.
In 2020, during the pandemic, Des had started working on a TV show with ITN Productions for ITV documenting his career but, sadly he passed away during the making of the programme. The documentary, a beautiful tribute to Des and his amazing life, was screened on ITV1 in December 2020.