Alma Angela Cohen was born in London in May 1932. The family name was originally Kogin, from which emerged the stage name Alma Cogan.
Following the family’s move to Worthing, 11-year-old Alma entered the Sussex Queen of Song competition and won £5. Three years later in 1946, Alma was spotted by Vera Lynn who recommended her for a spot in Brighton’s summer variety show.
At 16, Alma came to the attention of bandleader Ted Heath who told her to come back in five years time – a decision he would later regret.
In 1949, during a residency at the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch, EMI producer Walter Ridley saw the teenager’s true potential and signed her to the HMV label. She started with the Sid Phillips Orchestra in 1950 and her first single, To Be Worthy of You, was recorded on her 20th birthday, in 1952.
When Joy Nichols left the BBC programme Take It From Here with Jimmy Edwards, Cogan replaced her as the resident singer, performing many types of songs but, most successfully, upbeat ballads and novelty songs.
In 1953 she was working on the song If I Had A Golden Umbrella and broke into a giggle while recording it. The people decided that they liked the sound, and she was dubbed “The Girl With A Giggle In Her Voice”.
In 1954 she had her first chart hit, a cover of Teresa Brewer‘s Bell Bottom Blues.
Cogan’s chart career ran from 1954 to 1961 as she sang innumerable hits on the cusp of the rock era. She had many UK chart hits, some of which were covers of US hits, – including some Rock & Roll flavoured ones as the 1950s progressed.
Between 1956 and 1960 she was voted Outstanding British Female Singer four times and she was the highest-paid British female entertainer of her era. She had her own ATV series, Startime, in the early 60s and headlined the Talk of The Town.
In 1965 EMI Records decided that they would not renew her contract with the company and requested that their newly hired young producer, David Gooch, produce an album of material that would bring the association to a conclusion.
Cogan had wanted to make an entire album of Beatles material, but EMI felt that that was unsuitable since there were a number of other similar recordings available at the time.
By late 1965, Alma was in ill health. To lose what she felt was excess weight, it is believed she tried a controversial injection therapy. In early 1966, she collapsed after two dates of a tour of northern clubs and was diagnosed with cancer.
Undaunted, she appeared in TV’s International Cabaret in August, but never performed publicly again. She died in Middlesex Hospital in October 1966 of ovarian cancer at the criminal age of 34. She is buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Bushey in Hertfordshire and commemorated by a blue plaque on her former residence in Kensington.
For many years there were rumours that Alma had been involved in an affair with John Lennon.
Cynthia Lennon became convinced that Alma and John were lovers. “I could see the sexual tension between them,” she recalled, “and how outrageously she flirted with him. But I had no real grounds for suspicion . . . just a strong gut feeling.”
It was revealed after Cogan’s death (by her sister, Sandra) that Cynthia’s suspicions were correct.
Alma and Lennon, both heavily disguised, took to meeting for passionate interludes in anonymous West End hotel suites, where they sometimes registered as ‘Mr and Mrs Winston’ (Lennon’s middle name). “John was potty about her,” George Harrison revealed later. “He thought her really sexy and was gutted when she died”.