Val Doonican RIP….He Rocked But Gently

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.

Val Doonican….RIP.

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6 Responses to Val Doonican RIP….He Rocked But Gently

  1. Political tourist says:

    Your right about the two or three channels.
    Some of what past for “light” entertainment was dreadful and probably racist.
    And some of the Irish comics came across as complete Uncle Toms.
    To be fair to VD, he did i believe come from poverty.
    I always thought VD was laughing at the camera.

    • Oh yes….Mike Newman, Pat Mooney, Jimmy Cricket and Frank Carson to name but a few.
      Id also say Dave Allen had a touch of self-loathing about him….although he was more intellectual.
      I think Light Entertainment WAS good….undemanding maybe but Billy Cotton Bandshow (early 1960s) the shows I mentioned, Two Ronnies as well were essentially class shows.
      Their replacements…Cannon and Ball, Russ Abbott, Little and Large were poor. And maybe cheaper. Or maybe the critics were too severe.
      Arguably the earlier Light Entertainment Shows had come from a music hall background and later acts from working mens clubs….
      There was a lack of class….Jim Davidson for example.
      But I always found the Show Biz elite ….Cilla Black, Tarbuck, Forsyth, Morcambe and Wise, The Ronnies, Monkhouse, Rolf Harris, Ken Dodd, Ted Rodgers, Leslie Crowther to be very “conservative” politically.
      We could add Jimmy Savile.
      There is something igoing back to Max Miller….I saw a documentary recently….where all these people are Tory to the point of Thatcherite.
      As in the case of Ken Dodd and allegedly others….a lot of show biz people had the same respect for the tax system as Lester Piggott.
      I dont believe its entirely about MONEY but rather a quest for respectability and acceptance in the best variety performance tradition, best golf clubs etc.

  2. deiseach says:

    I don’t know if Val got a gong from the Queen. What he did get was the Freedom of Waterford City, and immensely proud of it he was too – RIP.

    • Thank you.
      I do recall an interview (maybe with Michael Parkinson). Val Doonicans father died when he was young. The father seems to have been a good man who made a good impression on the young Val.
      As I recall the interview featured a photograph of his father (my recollection is that it is from Vals autobiography.
      Seemingly at the end of his life, Vals father moved into the garden shed as he knew he was dying and the young Val used to sit with him.

  3. Declan says:

    He seems to have retired quite young, his TV contract ended in the 80s when he was only about 60.

    • I think he just knew his time at the very top had stopped. He certainly appeared in Belfast and I know a friend saw him in Ardee, County Louth.
      Probably continued to perform because he enjoyed it rather than financial need. And apparently had paintings exhibited.
      He certainly wrote a memoir.
      There is a lot to be said for retiring early….I did!!! And really its a whole new life that opens up IF YOU DO IT EARLY ENOUGH….I went back to Queens, got heavily involved in blogging (the Czar of Russia is only one of them). I travel all over Norn Iron for free and in less than two years, I will be able to travel all over Ireland for free.
      And I get to watch a lot of Under 12 and Under 8 GAA matches.
      And I am an expert on Doc McSuffins, Peppa Pig, Sofia the First, Sheriff Callies Wild West, Ben and Hollys Little Kingdom and most cartoons aimed at 2 year old girls.
      I can fill my time rightly 🙂

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