John O'Neill (musician)

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For other people named John O'Neill, see John O'Neill (disambiguation).

John O'Neill (1926–1999)[citation needed] was a professional singer, born in Stanley, County Durham, England to Northern Irish parents from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He was in demand for his tenor singing as well as his whistling skills. He was also a trumpeter. O'Neill was largely self-taught and was able to sight-read music scores.

He began his musical career playing in a dance band in Craghead, Durham where he met his soon-to-be wife, Catherine Collins. He was drafted to India to entertain the officers and on his return was a founder member of 'The Four Ramblers' with Val Doonican. In the 1960s he was regularly booked to be in popular light entertainment TV shows such as 'The Black and White Minstrel Show' and 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium'. He frequently worked as a session singer alongside many contemporary comedians and entertainers such as Tommy Trinder, Charlie Drake and Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise of 'The Morecambe and Wise Show'.

He had a UK top five hit single with "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman" credited as Whistling Jack Smith (a play on "Whispering" Jack Smith). He recorded this as the solo whistler for a set fee and was never acknowledged as the performer of this unusual hit, nor paid any royalties. When the track was aired on Top of the Pops, O'Neill and his family were shocked to see an actor appear on stage to mime to the recorded backing track. Some sources incorrectly[citation needed] attribute the single to British Decca/Deram producer Noel Walker, as producer and performing artist[1] although the b-side of the single The British Grin and Bear is co-attributed to Walker.[2]

One of his most well-known whistling achievements was as soloist whistler on the 'Spaghetti Western', The Good, the Bad and the Ugly main theme to the original 1966 version by Ennio Morricone, although this is also sometimes incorrectly[citation needed] accredited to Alessandro Alessandroni. He also sang the theme tune to the American TV series Wagon Train, where he was credited as Johnny O'Neill. In addition, O'Neill was the solo whistler for the Flambards theme and for The Eagle Has Landed.

Among his many accomplishments were vinyl recording of traditional Irish songs. One such example, The Gordon Franks Singers And Music With John O'Neill[3] was recorded with The Gordon Franks Singers and Music, in which he was the solo tenor. On these recordings, O'Neill sings in an Irish accent, though his actual voice was rather more Geordie/London.[citation needed]

Living with his wife for the majority of their life in Ilford in Essex, they raised four daughters and later retired to Dovercourt, Essex.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "I WAS KAISER BILL'S BATMAN". Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  2. ^ "Whistling Jack Smith – I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman". Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Gordon Franks Singers And Music* With John O'Neill (5) – Irish Melodies Vol. 2". All Music. Retrieved 17 July 2013.