Max Bygraves Biography

Walter Bygraves, 16 October 1922, London, England. Performing as a soloist in his school choir and employing Max Miller impressions in the RAF, with music hall dates in the late 40s, led Bygraves quickly to his recording debut and first Royal Command Performance in 1950. His debut record, with the Carroll Gibbons Band, contained impressions of Al Jolson, and was followed by a string of novelty hits through the 50s such as ‘Cowpuncher’s Cantata’, ‘Heart Of My Heart’, ‘Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen By The Sea’, ‘Meet Me On The Corner’, ‘You Need Hands’/‘Tulips From Amsterdam’, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and ‘Fings Ain’t Wot They Used To Be’. On the popular BBC radio show Educating Archie, scripted by comedian Eric Sykes, he gave a receptive nation catchphrases such as ‘a good idea son!’ and ‘bighead!’. Bygraves became enormously popular on stage and television with his clever mix of song and patter, defying the dramatic changes in music and entertainment taking place in the 60s. In the early 70s with Pye Records musical director Cyril Stapleton and the Tony Mansell Singers, Bygraves recorded an album of standard songs in medley form, called Sing Along With Max. It was the first of an amazingly successful series for which he has now earned over 30 Gold Discs. Surprisingly, he has never successfully adapted his ‘song and dance’ image to films, although he has played several, mainly dramatic, roles to substantial critical acclaim, including A Cry From The Streets and Spare The Rod. As early as the late 50s he formed his own music publishing company, Lakeview Music. It was intended to publish his own songs, including ‘You Need Hands’. However, he bought the publishing rights to a 16-song show score for £350 because he liked one of the numbers. The show was Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, and in the 80s Bygraves is said to have sold the rights to Essex Music for a quarter of a million pounds.

In 1982 he received the OBE, and 10 years later, celebrated his 70th birthday by attending a lunch given in his honour by the Variety Club, and including in his theatre act a cheeky topical parody of the old number ‘They’re Changing Guard At Buckingham Palace’, entitled ‘They’re Changing Wives At Buckingham Palace’. In 1994 Max Bygraves released ‘The Bells Of Arnhem’, a powerful and emotional 50th anniversary commemoration of the men in Britain’s World War II Airborne Forces who were defeated in the nine-day massacre that came to be known as ‘A Bridge Too Far’. The song was written by Les Reed and Geoff Stephens, and all proceeds from the recording went to Airborne Forces charities.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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