Singer and entertainer Val Doonican dies aged 88

Family said he died ‘peacefully’ on Wednesday night

A YouTube screen grab of Val Doonican during the Val Doonican Show on BBC in 1983

A YouTube screen grab of Val Doonican during the Val Doonican Show on BBC in 1983

 

The Waterford-born singer Val Doonican has died aged 88. His penchant for individually styled casual pullovers, middle-of-the-road crooning and a gentle repartee that won him legions of fans in Ireland and Britain has been remembered fondly following the announcement of his death.

“He had a true charm about him,” broadcaster Gay Byrne told The Irish Times. “He was a very good guitar player and had something of Perry Como/Bing Crosby-style about his singing. He could tell stories and had a tremendous career.”

That career had a 21-year peak, from 1965 to 1986, during which he was a staple on BBC television with a weekend slot for his light entertainment The Val Doonican Show.

The show featured requests but the centrepiece was Doonican himself, sitting in a rocking chair or on a bar stool, chatting amiably to his studio audience – and to millions in their living rooms – and singing songs, often accompanied by his guitar playing. He usually wore a sweater with a distinctive pattern on the front and was often photographed holding a pipe, a symbol of relaxation in bygone decades.

At the height of his fame, Doonican was as well known in England as fellow Irishman Terry Wogan.

Comic Irish

Doonican’s most popular songs were often what might be described as comic Irish. They included foot-tapping numbers such as O’Rafferty’s Motorcar, Paddy McGinty’s Goat, and Delany’s Donkey. But there were also more mainstream,middle-of-the-road songs including Walk Tall, I Gonna Get There Somehow, and the somewhat sentimental The Special Years.

Their tone reflected the man himself. Sarah Doonican said her father was in real life as he appeared on television.

“I don’t think there’s a person in the world that would have a bad thing to say about him,” she said. “There was no [nasty] side to him at all. He was a delightful, delightful man.”

Val Doonican was born in Waterford in February 1927 to Agnes (née Kavanagh) and John Doonican. He was the youngest of eight and was christened Michael Valentine Doonican but chose Val because “there were too many Michaels, Mikes and Mickeys around” for him to stand out. In 1941 when he was a teenager, his father died and he had to leave De La Salle College, Waterford, to get work.

He began his entertainment career in the early 1950s appearing in, among other locations, the seafront at Bray, Co Wicklow. Gay Byrne recalled that Doonican and his colleagues at that stage would play on the bandstand and, for 6p, audience members willing to pay got deckchair seating inside a roped-off area.

Four Ramblers

Doonican wrote the musical ditty for the Donnelly’s Sausages advertisement which attracted widespread notice in the light entertainment world. In 1951, he joined The Four Ramblers, and began to make a substantial impression in England, earning a loyal following over 17 years before happening upon his big break.

“He was on radio here and on the BBC for a long time,” said Gay Byrne, “and then, at short notice, when someone fell off the bill at the London Palladium, he was asked to stand in and was an overnight sensation.”

Handsome, smiling, chatty and effortlessly relaxed, Doonican was nonetheless a hard-working and astute professional whose career lasted more than 60 years. He recorded more than 50 albums and sold millions around the world.

Gay Byrne said the laid-back persona was evidence of his “great expertise”.

Fellow singer Daniel O’Donnell who is also hugely successful in the UK, said yesterday that watching The Val Doonican Show when he was growing up “ was a big part of the week”.

“He was a lovely man, he was a really nice gentle man,” said O’Donnell.

While living in England, Val Doonican married Lynette Rae, an entertainer in her own right who he met while both were supporting acts for singer-songwriter Anthony Newley on tour. The couple had Sarah and another daughter, Fiona. The family lived in Knotty Green, a village on the edge of Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.

Freeman of Waterford

In 2011, he was made a Freeman of Waterford, having previously been Grand Marshal of the city’s St Patrick’s Day parade.Clare Hartley of the Council said yesterday that the singer, who died on Wednesday in a nursing home in Buckinghamshire, where he lived, has a great fondness for the city.

“He was a very approachable man. He was very generous and spent time visit voluntary organisations and time with older people when he was here,” she recalled. “We are truly saddened that a freeman of the city has died. He will be fondly remembered by the people of Waterford.”

Although he died on Wednesday in a nursing home in England, Doonican had otherwise been in good health. “Until 87, he was as fit as a flea,” Sarah Doonican told the Guardian newspaper. “It was just old age, I’m afraid – the batteries ran out.”

Doonican retired from light entertainment in 2009 and concentrated on watercolour painting, at which he excelled.He also indulged himself in his favourite sport which was golf and spent time at a home he owned in Spain.

In a statement, his family said: “ He was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather and will be greatly missed by family, friends and his many fans.”

He is survived by Lynn, Sarah and Fiona and grandchildren Bethany and Scott.

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