On this day in history : 19th May 1932 – The birth of singer Alma Cogan – the highest paid British female entertainer of her era and dubbed the ‘girl with the giggle in her voice’….
Alma was born in Whitechapel, East London to Jewish Russian/Romanian parents…. She was one of three children, with a sister Sandra, who was to become a successful actress – and a brother, Ivor…. The family moved around quite a bit due to their father’s work as a haberdasher – but settled for a longer spell in Worthing, Sussex…. Even though Alma came from a Jewish family she was educated at St. Joseph’s Convent School in Reading….
Alma’s father sang but it was her mother who had show business dreams for the children…. Alma’s first public performance was at a charity show held at the Palace Theatre, Reading…. Then at the age of 11 she won £5 at a singing contest in Brighton…. When she was 14 Vera Lynn recommended her to perform in a variety show…. She was then to audition for the then band leader (later to become Prime Minister) Ted Heath when she was 16…. Only he was to tell her that although she had a good voice she was too young for the business and should come back in five years time…. He was later to say letting her go was one of the biggest mistakes of his life….
After leaving school Alma was to study fashion design at Worthing Art College – at the same time she sang at tea dances…. She went on to sing in a couple of musicals and then in 1949 became the resident singer in a hotel…. It was there that she was spotted by EMI producer Walter Ridley, who began to coach her and signed her to EMI….
Her first release ‘To Be Worthy Of You’ was recorded on her 20th birthday….. It was to gain her a regular spot on Dick Bentley’s BBC radio show ‘Gently Bentley’’…. She then went on to be the vocalist for radio comedy ‘Take It From Here’ between 1953-1960…. It was during 1953, whilst recording ‘If I Had A Golden Umbrella’ that she gave a little giggle – and this was to become her trademark, earning her the name the ‘girl with the giggle in her voice’….
Although she wrote some of her own songs Alma would often cover American hits – she would frequently be compared to Doris Day…. Her first chart success was with ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ which reached No.4 in April 1954…. She was to appear in the UK charts 18 times during the 1950s, including a No.1 with ‘Dreamboat’ in 1955….
By the early 1960s the British public had begun to find her music too tame and unfashionable – her highest chart position in the 60s reaching just No.26 with ‘We Got Love’…. However, she maintained her popularity abroad, especially in Japan, Germany and Scandinavia…. She reached No.1 in Sweden in 1965 with ‘The Birds and The Bees’….
After the death of her father she continued living with her mother in Kensington – and she would often entertain famous friends at home…. The likes of Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Roger Moore, Michael Caine, Frankie Vaughan, Bruce Forsyth, Noel Coward – and even royalty – Princess Margaret all visited…. She became close friends with John Lennon after meeting him on TV show ‘Ready Steady Go’ in 1964…. Her sister believes they had a secret romance….
By the mid 1960s her record label was becoming unhappy with how her releases were performing – her health was also beginning to fail…. During a tour of the North of England in 1966 she collapsed – and had to receive treatment for stomach cancer…. Her final TV appearance was in the August of 1966 – and she was to collapse again whilst in Sweden…. Alma died in London’s Middlesex Hospital on the 26th of October 1966 of ovarian cancer…. She was only 34 years old….