Des O’Connor, poor kid from Stepney who went on to steal the nation’s heart
- Credit: PA
The East End has lost its most famous all-round entertainer, singer and comedian with the death of Des O’Connor at the weekend.
The 88-year-old TV star and chat show host had a stage career spanning almost six decades—yet came from a humble start in life in Stepney.
He was born in 1932. His mother Maude was Jewish and worked as a cleaner while his Irish father Harry O’Connor grafted as a council binman.
Des grew up in the poverty of the East End during the Depression and was eight years old when War broke out and was evacuated to Northampton.
He recalled years later how he was “the first O’Connor” to celebrate his bar mitzvah.
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“We were poor when I was a kid,” he once said in an interview. “But there wasn’t a day when we didn’t laugh or have something to look forward to.”
He developed a love of football as a kid kicking a ball about on the streets in Stepney with his school pals which later led to playing professionally briefly for Northampton Town before the lure of showbiz drew him to the stage.
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That was his ‘take’ on life, always having something to look forward to whatever the circumstances, whatever the poverty, the force that propelled him into one of the most successful careers in showbiz.
He is remembered for hosting variety shows like The Des O’Connor Show and others bearing his name as well as TV quiz shows like Take Your Pick, Pot of Gold and more recently Countdown.
But Des was also a singer with a string of hits including his first single Careless Hands in 1967, followed by I Pretend that topped the Singles chart in 1968. He had four top 10 hits and recorded 36 albums.
O’Connor was made a CBE in 2008 and continued working into later life. He starred in a West End run of Dreamboats And Petticoats in 2012, the year ITV broadcast The One And Only Des O’Connor in tribute to his 50 years in showbusiness.
Des was married at the time of his death to Jodie Brooke Wilson, his fourth wife. He is also survived by his son Adam and four daughters, Karin, TJ, Samantha and Kristina.