Saddened to hear of the death of Val Doonican today. He was 88 years old. He has been retired for a number of years but he was a major star from the 1960s to the 1980s.
He was from Waterford but moved to London around 1960. His first hit was “Walk Tall” circa 1964, basically a “country” song. He followed that up with a number of other hits, including “The Special Years”, “Elusive Butterfly” and “If The Whole World Stopped Lovin'” and he was a regular fixture in the LP charts with his brand of easy listening songs. One album was entitled “Val Doonican Rocks…But Gently”.
The words “overnight success at 38” were usually applied to him but in fact, he was a regular BBC radio performer as a soloist with (but not of) The George Mitchell Singers. Indeed on YouTube you can find an album “The Blue and the Grey” of American Civil War songs. val Doonican is a soloist.
But rather than the hot records, he would be best remembered as a star of Saturday night variety, having his own TV show thru to the mid 1980s. A Golden Age of Variety, that included Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, Mike Yarwood, Morcambe and Wise and er….Rolf Harris.
And also remembered for his trademark rocking chair, on which he performed at least one ballad. And of course, the sweaters and the cardigans. And no show was complete without a humourous ???? Irish songs like “Paddy McGinty’s Goat” and “Delaney’s Donkey”
I am not sure what to make of his legacy. Some things strike me. He performed on TV when there were only three TV channels available and we would have watched just about anything. This explains “The Generation Game”, “Cannon and Ball” and “Little and Large”.
I suppose he exuded some Irish charm and despite the “Irish” songs, he never became “Oirish” in the stereotypical show biz style. He was an antidote to the negative stereotyping of the “Irish joke”. He was very “BBC”, “very Establishment” and the worst aspect of his show was his “show business mates” like Harry Secombe, Cilla Black, Arthur Askey, who were always guaranteed a guest spot in every season. On the plus side, he did promote genuine talent such as Tom Paxton.
He was very much part of the showbiz aristocracy in South East England.
If he achieved anything, it might have been to present a positive image of Ireland to British audiences on for several seasons during dark days when the British TV audience was seeing daily images of horror in Belfast, Derry….and indeed London and Birmingham.
But there is a certain compromise involved. Eamonn Andrews from the 1950s to the 1970s was the acceptable face of Irishness on British TV. Likewise “Sir” Terry Wogan. And Val Doonican was part of that kinda Irishness…Obviously Irish but without any threat. Arguably Andrews was an Irish nationalist and his career pre-dated The Troubles.
Likewise Graham Norton is heir to Terry Wogan. And maybe Dara O’Briain is accepted because like Andrews, his career began as The Troubles ended.
It is an old story of “big fish” (Andrews, Doonican, Wogan, Norton, O’Briain) being too big for a “small pond” (Ireland) and to succeed in the “big pond” (England) means compromising on some aspects of Irishness.
Can anyone seriously doubt that Graham Norton will become a knight of the Greater England realm. Andrews never accepted an honour. Maybe O’Briain would lose street cred if he accepted an honour.
I suppose I could look up Wikipedia to find out if Val Doonican has a MBE or OBE. I dont think it matters any more than finding out that a nurse born in Waterford, eighty years ago has a MBE or OBE for moving to London and working in the National Health Service for fifty odd years.