Kenny Lynch obituary

Singer, songwriter, actor and all-round entertainer who enjoyed huge popularity in the 1960s and 70s

Kenny Lynch, who has died aged 81, was one of the few people of Caribbean origin prominent in the British entertainment world of the 1960s and 70s. A talented singer and songwriter, with Top 10 hits to his name in both guises, he became a familiar television presence via his frequent appearances on variety shows, sitcoms and quiz programmes.

Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Kenny Lynch at the launch of their Christmas single in 1996. The three entertainers were good friends.
Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Kenny Lynch at the launch of their Christmas single in 1996. The three entertainers were good friends. Photograph: PA

He formed close professional and personal relationships with Bruce Forsyth and the comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, appearing as a guest on their shows, and for many years formed a double act with Tarbuck, performing with him at summer seasons in Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight and elsewhere; they also appeared together at Royal Variety Performances in 1981 and 1987.

In sitcoms he appeared unfazed either by the casual racism of Curry and Chips (1969), which also starred Spike Milligan, or by the more direct satire of Till Death Us Do Part. There were also guest appearances in series such as Z-Cars and The Sweeney.

Kenny Lynch being interviewed

His films ranged from the pop music feature Just for Fun (1963), through comedies such as Carry on Loving (1970) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972), to horror (Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, 1965) and sexploitation movies such as The Playbirds (1978) and Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair (1979).

Kenny Lynch performing at Weston Park, Leicester, in 2002.
Kenny Lynch performing at Weston Park, Leicester, in 2002. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty

A self-styled “black cockney”, Lynch was born to Oscar and Amelia (nee Spring) in Stepney, east London, and grew up in the nearby Custom House area in a family of 11 children. His mother was British, of mixed-race heritage, and his father was a Barbadian seaman who had served in the merchant navy during the first world war, later working as a stoker at Beckton gas works.

Kenny Lynch and Leo Sayer in 2001. They both had hits with Up on the Roof.
Kenny Lynch and Leo Sayer in 2001. They both had hits with Up on the Roof. Photograph: William Conran/PA

Lynch’s first public appearance as a singer came at the age of 12, with his sister Gladys, who later became the jazz and pop singer Maxine Daniels. He went to Farrance Street school and appeared in Peggy O’Farrell stage school shows at Stratford town hall and the Poplar civic theatre. At the same time he earned money by fly-pitching, selling goods on the street illegally; when he finished his education he took on various jobs, including as a porter in Billingsgate fish market.

In 1957 he began his national service as a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps, where he became the regimental featherweight boxing champion, and after demobilisation he was a barman in a Stepney pub, where he also sang. That work led to engagements with dance bands and at Soho nightclubs, where he was spotted by Shirley Bassey and the agent Jean Lincoln, who got him a recording contract with HMV.

Lynch was chosen to compete in the heats of A Song for Europe in 1962, although his entry, There’s Never Been a Girl, lost out to Ring-a-Ding Girl by Ronnie Carroll, who went on to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest.

In early 1963 Lynch was booked to tour with Helen Shapiro; also on the bill were the yet-to-be famous Beatles. During the tour, John Lennon and Paul McCartney composed the song Misery, which they offered to Shapiro, who was at the height of her fame. When it was rejected by Norrie Paramor, her recording manager, Lynch released it himself, becoming the first singer to record a version of a Lennon and McCartney composition. The song failed to reach the charts, but the Beatles connection was maintained when Lynch was portrayed with other celebrities on the sleeve of Band on the Run, the 1973 album by McCartney’s band, Wings.

The album cover of Band on the Run, 1973, by Wings, which featured Kenny Lynch and other celebrities.
The album cover of Band on the Run, 1973, by Wings, which featured Kenny Lynch and other celebrities. Photograph: Apple Records

Lynch released a number of singles throughout the 60s, and he had Top 10 hits with a version of Up on the Roof (1962), competing with the original by the Drifters, and You Can Never Stop Me Loving You (1963), which became a US hit when it was recorded by Johnny Tillotson.

Lynch also composed or co-wrote songs recorded by Dusty Springfield (He’s Got Something), Cilla Black (Love’s Just a Broken Heart), the Drifters and the Everly Brothers. He worked briefly as a songwriter at the Brill Building in New York, where he met the singer, pianist and songwriter Mort Shuman, and the pair wrote Sha La La La Lee for the Small Faces, which became a No 3 hit in 1966.

In common with some other showbiz personalities, Lynch sometimes brushed shoulders with the seamier figures of London life. His circle of friends included associates of the Kray family and members of the East End boxing fraternity, and in 2014 he attended the funeral of Joey Pyle, a former boxer who had worked for the Krays.

In addition to his musical and acting talents, Lynch had an astute business sense. Many of his compositions were published by his own company, and he was briefly an artist manager, as well as the owner of a Soho record shop. He later owned a north London restaurant.

Lynch was also known for his charitable efforts, especially in sporting circles. A supporter of West Ham United, as a young man he had played football alongside Tommy Steele in a Showbiz XI, later playing cricket for a team led by Michael Parkinson and competing in pro-celebrity golf tournaments with Tarbuck and Forsyth. He was appointed OBE in 1971.

In later years Lynch performed only occasionally, with a show at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in 2011 and a tour in 2015 with The Rat Pack, a tribute show to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

He is survived by his daughters, Amy and Bobby.

• Kenneth Lynch, singer, songwriter and actor, born 18 March 1938; died 18 December 2019

• Dave Laing died in January this year

Contributor

Dave Laing

The GuardianTramp

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