Max Bygraves, OBE (born Walter William Bygraves; 16 October 1922 - 31 August 2012) was an English comedian, singer, actor and variety performer. He appeared on his own television shows, sometimes performing comedy sketches between songs. He made twenty Royal Variety Performance appearances. Shows which he presented included Family Fortunes.
Bygraves was born to poor Catholic parents, Henry and Lilian Bygraves, in London. He grew up in a two-room council flat with his five siblings, his parents and a grandparent. His father was a professional flyweight boxer, known as Battling Tom Smith, and a casual dockworker. He attended St Joseph's School, Paradise Street, Rotherhithe, and sang with his school choir at Westminster Cathedral.
He left school at 14. He went to the Savoy Hotel in London to work as a pageboy, but they threw him out for being too tall. He then became a messenger for an advertising agency in Fleet Street, before serving as a fitter in the RAF in World War II and working as a carpenter. He changed his forename to Max in honour of comedian Max Miller.
Bygraves' catchphrase was "I wanna tell you a story". He portrayed Charley Moon in the 1956 film of the same name. It was revealed that Bygraves had bought the past and future rights to the Lionel Bart musical Oliver! for £350 to help Bart out of his severe financial difficulties. Bygraves later sold them on for £250,000.
In the 1950s and 60s, Bygraves appeared as a guest on several television variety programs in the United States, including Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny, and Jackie Gleason.
From 1983 to 1985, Bygraves hosted Family Fortunes, taking over from fellow comedian and friend, Bob Monkhouse. He would later be succeeded as host in 1987 by Les Dennis.
In 1982 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Bygraves married WAAF sergeant Gladys "Blossom" Murray in 1942. The couple had three children: Christine, Anthony, and Maxine. Bygraves also had three other children from extramarital affairs: John Rice, Beverly Mayhew-Sass and Stephen Rose.
On 9 August 1974, Bygraves became stuck on cliffs near his house in Westbourne, Bournemouth when a kite flown by his grandson Michael became trapped beneath the edge of the cliff. He suffered friction burns to his hands and was in shock with police and firefighters helping him to safety. Max and Blossom Bygraves moved from Bournemouth to Queensland, Australia, in 2008. She died there in 2011, aged 88.
In 1999, Bygraves underwent treatment for an ear disorder having cancelled a number of performances on his doctor's advice.
Bygraves died on 31 August 2012, aged 89, at his daughter's home in Hope Island, Queensland, Australia, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
|Born||Walter William Bygraves|
16 October 1922
Rotherhithe, London, England
|Died||31 August 2012 (aged 89)|
Hope Island, Queensland,Australia
|Occupation||English comedian, singer, actor and variety performer|
|Spouse(s)||Gladys "Blossom" Murray|
(m. 1942–2011, her death); 3 children