Des O’Connor: Late TV star’s swipe from Prince Philip over ‘really bad singing

Des O'Connor: Carol Vorderman remembers late performer

The TV legend died “peacefully in his sleep” last month after a fall at his Buckinghamshire home, at the age of 88. O’Connor will be remembered tonight as part of the ITV documentary The Ultimate Entertainer, which honours his remarkable five decades in showbusiness. During that time, the variety performer rubbed shoulders with celebrities from all generations and even the royals.

O’Connor’s encounter with Prince Philip, who is known for his brash comments and dry sense of humour, ended sourly for the star.

He believed the Queen’s husband had watched The Morecambe and Wise Show, where the comedy duo would regularly rib him.

Of the many jokes at his expense, was that ‘Des’ was “short for desperate” and their poem: “Roses are red, violets are blue, Des can’t sing, we know that’s true!”

What many viewers didn’t know was that O’Connor wrote a good many of the snipes.

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He recalled: “I used to send Eric and Ernie jokes to insult me with and people would come up to me and say: ‘Did you hear what he said?’ 

“And I’d say under my breath, ‘Yes I know, I wrote that one.’”

The late Sir Bruce Forsyth remarked that because he didn’t “take himself too seriously” but remained “a consummate professional” he became a beloved figure. 

He said: “I think what the British like, more than anything else, is a man who can take a joke against himself.”

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O’Connor’s guest appearances on the Morecambe & Wise Show, which ran for eight years from 1969, appeared to have made a mark on Prince Philip.

Often the butt of their joke, the star was also targeted for his singing talents – despite releasing 36 albums, of which four hits became Top 10 singles in the UK. 

O’Connor later confessed that the swipes wore him down and hurt him over time as it “went from being a joke” to regular “ridicule”.

He recalled: “A woman once came up to me after a show and offered me £5 to send her my album because she was too embarrassed to go into a shop to buy it!”

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O’Connor met the Duke of Edinburgh when the singer was awarded a CBE as part of the Queen’s 2008 Birthday Honours list.

The joke about his vocal talent seemed to have reached the Royal Family too. 

O’Connor recalled: “When I met Prince Philip he asked, ‘Are you the man from the Morecambe and Wise show?’”

In 2011, The Sun reported that the star received a blunt follow-up question, when the royal asked: “Are you really that bad?”

O’Connor continued: “I laugh at myself, but it did hurt sometimes. Thankfully it waned a bit after Eric sadly died.”

The TV star, who made his break at a Butlin’s holiday camp when he bribed Redcoats to pull a sickie so he could perform, spoke of his closeness to Morecambe.

In a Guardian obituary for O’Connor last month, they reported how the star admitted his dream of becoming an international star in 1964.

Morecambe told him: “Well, I’d like to have an affair with Brigitte Bardot but we can’t have everything we want, can we?”

In another cheeky exchange between them, O’Connor explained that he asked his audience “to pray for” the comedian “when he had a heart scare”.

Morecambe, who died after a heart attack in 1984, quipped: “Those six or seven prayers must have made a real difference!’”

Des O’Connor: The Ultimate Entertainer will air tonight at 9pm on ITV.

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