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Val Doonican

It would be a mistake to think that in 1968 everybody dressed like a hippie, smoked pot and listened to Cream. The average person in the street still dressed quite conservatively and had little interest in rock music.

Val Doonican was the other side of the coin – a crooner with a natty line in colourful sweaters, and one of the most popular TV entertainers of the sixties and seventies.


Michael Valentine Doonican was born on 3 February 1927 on the South East Coast of Ireland (where, no doubt, Paddy McGinty had a goat, and Delaney had the donkey that won the half-mile race).

Val learned to play the mandolin and guitar as a boy and later toured Ireland in various bands before travelling to England in 1951 to join an Irish vocal quartet called The Four Ramblers.

He wrote the group’s vocal arrangements as well as singing and playing guitar in their BBC radio series Riders Of The Range.

In the late 50s he went solo and appeared on television in Beauty Box, and on radio in Dreamy Afternoon, later to be renamed A Date With Val.

In 1963 he gained a spot on ITV’s top-rated television show Sunday Night At The London Palladium and made such an impact with his friendly, easy-going style that in 1964 he was given an annual series for BBC television, which ran until the 1980s.

For many years he was the star of Saturday night television on BBC1, attracting many millions of viewers every week, where you could find him firmly ensconced in his rocking chair, wearing cringe-worthy sweaters and surrounded by a troupe of adoring female backing singers.

His first record hit was Walk Tall in 1964, followed by a string of chart entries through to the early 70s, including The Special YearsElusive ButterflyWhat Would I Be?, Memories Are Made Of ThisIf The Whole World Stopped LovingIf I Knew Then What I Know Now and Morning.

Equally popular were his novelty songs such as O’Rafferty’s Motor CarDelaney’s Donkey and Paddy McGinty’s Goat.

Val lived in retirement mainly in Spain and spent much of his time painting watercolours. He died at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire on the evening of 1 July 2015, aged 88. He had not been ill.

His daughter Sarah told The Guardian, “Until 87 he was as fit as a flea. It was just old age, I’m afraid – the batteries ran out”.