Peter Carroll is the author of Queen of Misfortune – A Lady Jane Grey Novel and Doodlebugs & Spitfires. For more information, see his website.
I was so sad to learn that Max Bygraves has died on 31st August 2012 after suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
His late wife Blossom died of a chest complaint on 24 May 2011 which, after a marriage lasting 69 years, Max really never got over.
The not so young will undoubtedly remember him for his particular style of humour and those very catchy songs.
How considerably humour has changed since Max and the like entertained us in the last century.
He will be remembered by the phrase: “I wanna tell you a story.” Now aged 89 this remarkable guy, whom I remember as a budding star living in Edgware, Middlesex, – made his debut in a radio broadcast shared with a very nervous Frankie Howard. This led to a job on a touring revue called “For the Fun of it.” Soon after, in 1950 he was offered the wonderful opportunity to take part in Educating Archie (1950)
I remember seeing Max relaxing in the lounge of the Princess theatre, Torquay where he played in 1967 – wearing a sailors cap and blazer and that certain broad smile of his acknowledging me.
That’s how it was with Max, always appreciative and friendly with his fans. Valerie Edgecombe of Brixham, Devon was a member of the Torbay and Newton Abbot Vespa club and in the seventies, along with the annual Hotel’s Queen of Hotels day escorted celebrities appearing locally, well remembered stars like Frankie Vaughan, Roy Hudd, Harry Worth. Val Doonican, Charlie Drake and of course May Bygraves. She says Max was the most friendly and the only one to ask them into the Grand hotel for a drink.
He always gave rousing performances, sometimes accompanied by the Beverley Sisters and arguably will be best remembered for his Singalongamax’ TV shows and records, his spirited personality soon recognised in the very popular radio show, Educating Archie with Archie Andrews and Peter Brough. He made films too like Spare the Rod (1961) when he showed his acting ability.
He lived in a nice house on Hope Island, Queensland, Australia. Before Blossom passed away and was often visited by friends like Ian and Janet Tough (The Krankies) who also had property nearby. His son Anthony, affectionally known by his parents as Ant, regularly visited. During his last days, Max was cared for by Christine Green, one of his six children in her home
I remember Anthony Bygraves taking an interest in the Babbacombe theatre in Torbay
back in the seventies and running it for a couple of years.
Max is indeed a legend and, along with the Beverly Sisters, received an OBE in 1962. He had had a remarkable career in variety, films and TV as well as radio, song writing and records.
Many over the age of fifty will remember his Tulips from Amsterdam, Pink toothbrush and Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer songs. When Max got going, there on the stage before you, or just hearing him over the radio, you could just not help singing along-a-max. It was an overspill I remember from those days of the war when we all kept our spirits up in the air raid shelters, singing the songs of the time, when, for most families a Christmas singalong was standard. And Max wonderfully encapsulated all that. Perhaps he first realised his vocation, not as an apprentice carpenter in taking up his first job, but entertaining in local air raid shelters. Then, joining the RAF he appeared in numerous RAF concert parties and was voted the Best Act in Fighter Command.’
Gradually he worked his way up the bill playing in the 200 Variety theatres throughout the land. He was a tonic and folks adored his rendition of those carefree songs to which they were invited to join in – to free all their cares and troubles of those post war days. Escapism by way of music and film was how it then was and, after a dose of singalongamax one felt all ready to face the world again.
Perhaps Winston Churchill was the right man politically for the time but young Max had to be one of the foremost musical entertainers when, given that certain charisma he’d to get them all going in those public air-raid shelters, blotting out all the horrible sounds of war. Some guy, some performer!
He last played the Princess theatre, Torquay with the Beverley Sisters whilst touring in 2003 and on the 13th September, 2006 made a farewell appearance in Alive and kicking’ at the Grand theatre, Blackpool.
His plan was not to overstay his public welcome as the years aged him, remembering how his occasional golf partner Bob Hope continued performing almost until he dropped, appearing on stage like a shell of the star he once was. Max wants to be remembered as he once was. He has indeed given so much pleasure to many and that alone must provide him with lots of wonderful and endearing memories, knowing that he has given so much delight to young and old throughout the years.
He often kept in touch with the mother country to be sure, when on the 10th January 2008 he wrote a letter to the Daily Mail being dismayed over the vetting of scripts for broadcasting in the 21st Century. Some of his deep held morals we all knew in the past showed his concern when recently watching a Catherine Tate show presented in Australia by the BBC. He was obviously taken back when in his day -phrases like “not too cocksure” and “dammed” were banned by the BBC – when now in the anything goes climate, the language was shocking. He expressed concern for the youngsters who would hear Miss Tate “eff and blind”.
He stated he was once Britain’s highest paid entertainer and sometimes wonders how standards have been allowed to drop so low.
He concluded he is no paragon of virtue and he is not knocking it, but wishes he was back in the old routine.
Maybe Max’s comments say it all. Time has moved on so rapidly and all the time, the young are growing up accepting that is how it is now, as if it was never different. Perhaps we should remind the modern world of just how it was, and how much better it was then, when life was so very much simpler and respect was all around.
I believe Max was simply expressing the frustrated thoughts of many in his generation. Many of us will remember your stories. Max. And thanks for all those happy, wonderful and memorable songs that will forever buzz in the corners of the mind.
DOODLEBUGS & SPITFIRES
Memories and Short Stories by Peter Carroll
“Doodlebugs & Spitfires” is a delightful collection of memories and short stories written by Peter Carroll, the author of “Queen of Misfortune,” in his trademark poetic and profoundly thoughtful style.
Most of his stories, previously published in limited form in local English newspapers and magazines, like “Brave New World”, “The Forties Street Tradesmen”, “Doodlebugs”, or “The Christmas of 43” evolve around his childhood in the Northern part of London during and after World War II. He describes the horrors that came with the V1 flying bombs, nicknamed the “Doodlebugs.” Heroic British pilots in their “Spitfire” airplanes would attempt to divert the flying bombs from the populated areas, sometimes successful, and sometimes not.
Doodlebugs & Spitfires is available at Amazon.Com and its Kindle store, Amazon.co.uk and its Kindle store, Barnes & Noble, and any other good bookstore.