On this day in history….19th May 1932

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 Cogan, 1963 – Public domain

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….

On this day in history….14th April 1999

On this day in history : 14th April 1999 – The death of English singer, songwriter, actor and icon of the 1960s, Anthony Newley….

Anthony Newley – Fair use

Newley was born Anthony George Newley in Hackney, London on the 24th of September 1931, to parents Frances Grace Newley and George Kirby…. His parents never married and went their separate ways when Newley was still very young – he was to be brought up by his aunt and uncle….

He left school at the age of 14 and started working for an advertising agency in Fleet Street…. However, he had always been tempted by an career in acting – and when he saw an advertisement for ‘boy actors’ in the Daily Telegraph he decided to apply…. Only things weren’t quite so straight forward….. The ad was for available places at the Italia Conti Stage School – and it was obvious that Newley could not afford the high fees the school demanded…. But it must have been his lucky day! He was allowed to audition anyway – and was offered a job as an office boy, his wage being 30 shillings a week and lessons at the school….

Newley came to the attention of producer Geoffrey de Barkus, which landed him the role of ‘Dusty’ in the children’s film series ‘The Adventures of Dusty Bates’ in 1947…. The following year he was cast as ‘Dick Bultitude’ in Peter Ustinov’s ‘Vice Versa’ and then in 1948 as the ‘Artful Dodger’ in ‘Oliver Twist’….

Anthony Newley and Petula Clark in ‘Vice Versa’ – Fair use

After completing his National Service Newley resumed his acting career…. He married his first wife, Ann Lynn, in 1956 and they had one son, Simon – who sadly died in infancy…. It was always a turbulent marriage and ended in divorce in 1963….

Newley’s singing career was launched with his appearance in the 1959 film ‘Idol on Parade’ – about a rock singer called up for National Service (and inspired by the true story of Elvis Presley)…. From the film came Newley’s hit song ‘I’ve Waited So Long’ – which reached No.3 in the charts…. A string of a dozen or so top 40 hits were to follow between 1959 and 1962, including two No.1s – ‘Why?’ And ‘Do You Mind?’ – both written by Lionel Bart….

Poster of film ‘Idol on Parade’, 1959 – Fair use

1961 saw the beginning of Newley’s collaboration with Leslie Bricusse – when they started work on the hit stage show ‘Stop the World: I Want to Get Off’… After a successful run in London and on Broadway it was later made into a film….and included the song ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I?’ – for which Newley won the 1963 Grammy Award for Song of the Year….

Newley married Joan Collins in 1963 and the couple had two children, a daughter, Tara and a son, Sacha…. The marriage ended in 1970….

Newley was to become a prolific songwriter, showing great versatility…. From comical songs, such as ‘The Oompa Loompa Song’ to hard hitting ballads…. He was a great influence to many – including a young David Bowie, who was a big fan….

He wrote the theme song for the James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’, – which was performed by Shirley Bassey…. He also wrote the hit song for Nina Simone ‘Feeling Good’…. He continued to collaborate with Bricusse on song writing projects and on the productions ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd’ in 1965 and ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ in 1971….

Poster for ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ – Fair use

He was to marry his third wife, Dareth Rich, in 1971 and became father to another daughter, Shelby and a son, Christopher…. Only this marriage was once more to end in divorce in 1989….

Newley’s last main acting role was in 1998, as Vince Watson in the soap ‘Eastenders’…. It had meant to be a main, long lasting character role in the series but by now Newley’s health was failing and he had to pull out…. He had first been diagnosed with cancer in 1985 and in 1997 it returned, spreading to his liver and lungs…. He died of renal cancer at the age of 67 in Florida, on the 14th of April 1999…. At the time of his death he had been working on a musical production of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’

On this day in history….20th March 1917

On this day in history : 20th March 1917 – The birth, in East Ham, London, of singer, songwriter and actress Dame Vera Lynn – known as ‘the Forces’ Sweetheart’….

Dame Vera Lynn in 1962 – Eric Koch / Anefo – National Archief Netherlands CC BY-SA 3.0

Born Vera Margaret Welch, into a working class family, she began to sing in working mens’ clubs at the age of 7…. When she was 11 she took her grandmother’s maiden name of ‘Lynn’ as her stage name and joined a singing troupe – ‘Madame Harris’s Kracker Kabaret Kids’….

Vera left school at the age of 14 and was spotted by a booking agent, who found her work at events and parties…. She began to perform on the radio in 1935 with Joe Loss and his orchestra….and in 1936 her first solo recording ‘Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire’ was released…. Her first hits came in 1937 with ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot’….

But Vera is probably best known for her 1939 trademark song ‘Well Meet Again’, written by the young composers Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, which became popular in World War 2 – as did ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’….

In 1941 Vera was given her own radio show, ‘Sincerely Yours’, which sent messages to the troops serving overseas….she and her band would perform requests…. It was also in 1941 that Vera married Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist…. They had one child, a daughter, Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis….

Singing in a munitions factory 1941 – Ministry of Information, Photo Division photographer – Public domain

Vera appeared in the films ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘Rhythm Serenade’ in 1943…. During the War she also toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving concerts as a member of the Entertainments National Service Association….

After the War the family moved to Finchley, North London…. It was the early 1960s that they relocated to Ditchling in East Sussex – and is where Vera lived for the rest of her life…. Her husband died in 1998….

Dame Vera Lynn in 1973 – Allan Warren – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Her popularity continued after the War and then in 1952 her record ‘Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart’ became the first release by a British artist to top the US charts – where it stayed for nine weeks….

During the late 1960s and early 70s Vera hosted her own variety shows on BBC1 – she also appeared as a guest on other shows, such as Morcambe & Wise …. She appeared at the Royal Variety Performance four times…. In 1969 Vera was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE)…. Then in 1975 she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)…. In 2017 Dame Vera became the oldest living artist to have an album in the top 10 of the British charts – with ‘100’ to celebrate her 100th birthday….

Dame Vera Lynn 2009 – at the War and Peace Show…. Photo credit : Nicki via Flickr

She wrote three memoirs – ‘Vocal Refrain’, 1975, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, 1989 and ‘Some Sunny Day’, 2009….

Dame Vera Lynn died on the 18th of June 2020, aged 103, at her home in Ditchling…. She was given a military funeral, with a procession from her home to Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton on the 10th of July 2020…. The route was lined by those wishing to pay their respects – members of the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal British Legion accompanied her cortège….and she was honoured with a Battle of Britain Spitfire flypast….

National Archief Netherlands