The best show I ever played was with Des O’Connor, Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett, the four of us presenting the 100th Royal Variety Show.
Des was as excited as me. There was a boyish enthusiasm that never left him. This command performance in 2012 was at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time, by special request of Her Majesty, but for me that wasn’t the only reason it felt so special.
Bruce, Des and Ronnie were three of the very best mates I had in show business, and yet this was the first time that we’d all appeared on one stage.
The best show I ever played was with Des O’Connor, Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett, the four of us presenting the 100th Royal Variety Show. Pictured: Des and Jimmy in ‘It’s Tarbuck’
As the curtain came down, and we got ready to walk down and take our bows, I turned and said: ‘Let’s not rush this one, cos we’ll never do it again.’
We took our time, and I had a lump in my throat that kept me quiet for a good while. The Queen came to greet us backstage.
She said, ‘It’s nice to see you four boys together.’
Boys! Des must have been 80, Bruce and Ronnie were older. I was the only young man there.
And now I’m the last of the line-up. Des and I worked so closely, many times over the decades and especially in the past five years. We toured as a pair, doing An Evening With Des and Tarbie, and wherever we went the places were packed, sold out.
He was a joy to work with, the most easy-going and charming guy. The laidback smoothie you saw on stage was exactly the same in the dressing room – never flustered, always upbeat.
What made him unique was his generosity with the laughs. Whether he delivered a gag or left the punchline to me, it made no difference – he just wanted to see the audience happy.
Des and I worked so closely, many times over the decades and especially in the past five years. We toured as a pair, doing An Evening With Des and Tarbie, and wherever we went the places were packed, sold out. Pictured: Jimmy, Des, Ernie Wise and Bruce Forsyth in 1984
And they adored him. He had that rare appeal across all ages, and it didn’t hurt that he was such a good-looking guy. I’m a bit of a matinee idol myself, but when Des walked out on stage you could hear the fluttering of a thousand female hearts.
I was just a fan myself, the first time we met. He was on the bill with Lonnie Donegan in the mid-Fifties at the Liverpool Empire. Barely into my teens, I hung around backstage, hoping for autographs, and Des stopped for a chat. That really impressed me – I never forgot that little act of kindness.
He was already on his way up like a rocket. When he toured with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, he used to write one-liners for the band to use between songs. Buddy gave him an electric guitar and signed it, as a thank you.
It must have been worth a fortune but Des donated it, 50-odd years later, to the Buddy Holly charity foundation. That’s the kind of guy he was.
We first worked together in the Sixties, when we both had our own shows at the Elstree Studios.
He had that rare appeal across all ages, and it didn’t hurt that he was such a good-looking guy. Pictured: The last photograph of Des O’Connor
Whenever we met, Des loved to chat about football: he had a trial for his boyhood club, Northampton Town, and he often turned out for showbiz sides.
Northampton’s nickname, of course, is the Cobblers, and I’d tell him that was what he was talking… a load of old Cobblers!
Our two-man show used to end with that grand singalong number, Amarillo.
We’d get it started and the audience would stand, belting it out, entertaining us. Des would stand, beaming that brilliant smile, swaying with the music and loving every moment of it. He was a man of impeccable style.
I set off for those shows, knowing it was going to be fun from the first moment. ‘This isn’t work,’ he told me once. ‘I’ve never worked a day in my life.’ What a prince among men.