Max Bygraves

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Max Bygraves
BornWalter William Bygraves
(1922-10-16)16 October 1922
Rotherhithe, London, England
Died31 August 2012(2012-08-31) (aged 89)
Hope Island, Queensland, Australia
OccupationComedian, singer, actor, variety performer
Years active1943–2006
Spouse(s)Gladys "Blossom" Murray (1942–2011, her death)
Children6 (three with Blossom, three from extra-marital affairs)

Walter William Bygraves OBE (16 October 1922 – 31 August 2012), best known by the stage name Max Bygraves, 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 and presented numerous programmes, including Family Fortunes.

Early life[edit]

Bygraves was born to Henry and Lillian (née McDonnell) Bygraves (who wed in 1919) in Rotherhithe in London,[1] where he grew up in poverty in a two-room council flat with his five siblings, his parents and a grandparent.[2] His father was a professional flyweight boxer, known as Battling Tom Smith, and a casual dockworker.[3] Brought up Catholic, he attended St Joseph's School, Paradise Street, Rotherhithe, and sang with his school choir at Westminster Cathedral.[1]

He left school at 14, working at the Savoy Hotel in London as a pageboy, but was sacked for being too tall. He later put some of his success as a variety performer down to his lanky physique. He was 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) tall, but weighed only 13 stone (83 kg) in adult life. He then became a messenger for an advertising agency in Fleet Street, before serving as a fitter in the Royal Air Force in the Second World War and working as a carpenter.[4] He changed his name to Max Bygraves in honour of comedian Max Miller.[5]


Bygraves' catchphrase was said to be: "I wanna tell you a story".[5] It was actually Mike Yarwood who made up that phrase, from Bygraves' "I want to tell you a joke". He portrayed the title character in the 1956 film Charley Moon. It was revealed that Bygraves had bought the past and future rights to the Lionel Bart musical Oliver! for £350 at a time when Bart was experiencing severe financial difficulties. Bygraves later sold them for £250,000.[6]

In the 1950s and 1960s, Bygraves appeared as a guest on several television variety programmes, both in the UK and United States. These included Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason, in America, but his place as a broadcasting icon was founded, along with several fellow artists, by appearing as guest "tutor" to Peter Brough's ventriloquist dummy, Archie Andrews, in the long running BBC radio show Educating Archie.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1961 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews while rehearsing his new show, Do Re Mi at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre.

In 1977, UK Publishing House W. H. Allen published Bygraves' comic novel The Milkman's on His Way.

From 1983 to 1985, Bygraves hosted Family Fortunes, taking over from his friend and fellow comedian Bob Monkhouse. He would later be succeeded as host in 1987 by Les Dennis.[7]

In 1982, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).[8]

Personal life[edit]

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,[5] Beverly Mayhew-Sass[9] and Stephen Rose.[5]

On 9 August 1974, Bygraves became stuck on a cliff 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 on his hands and was in shock when police and firefighters helped him to safety.[10]

In 1999, Bygraves underwent treatment for an ear disorder, having cancelled a number of performances on his doctor's advice.[11]

Max and Blossom Bygraves moved from Bournemouth to Queensland, Australia, in 2008.[5] She died there in 2011, aged 88.[5]


Bygraves died on 31 August 2012, aged 89, at his home in Hope Island, Queensland, Australia, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.[12][13]


  • Whack-O! (1960)
  • Jack Meets Max Bygraves (1963) The Jack Benny Program Season 13 - Episode 13
  • The Royal Variety Performance (1963)
  • It's Sad About Eddie (1964)
  • Max (1969–74)[14][15]
  • Max Bygraves Says "I Wanna Tell You a Story" (1976–77)[16]
  • Singalongamax (1978–80)[17]
  • Max Bygraves - Side by Side (1982)[18]
  • Family Fortunes (1983–85)
  • The Mind of David Berglas (1986)
  • Call Up the Stars (1995)
  • Against the Odds RAF Documentary (2001)

Partial filmography[edit]


Chart singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Positions
1952: "Cowpuncher's Cantata" 6
1954: "Heart of My Heart" 7
"Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea" 7
1955: "Mr Sandman" 16
"Meet Me on the Corner" 2
1956: "Ballad of Davy Crockett" 20
"Out of Town" 18
1957: "Heart" 16
1958: "You Need Hands" / "Tulips from Amsterdam" 3
"Little Train" / "Gotta Have Rain" 28
1959: "My Ukulele" 19
"Jingle Bell Rock" 7
1960: "Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be" 5
"Consider Yourself" 50
1961: "Bells of Avignon" 36
1969: "You're My Everything" 34
1973: "Deck of Cards" 13
1989: "White Christmas" 71


  • Sing Along with Max (1972) No. 4
  • Sing Along with Max Vol. 2 (1972) No. 11
  • Singalongamax Vol. 3 (1973) No. 5
  • Singalongamax Vol. 4 (1973) No. 7
  • Singalongapartysong (1973) No. 15
  • You Make Me Feel Like Singing a Song (1974) No. 39
  • Singalongaxmas (1974) No. 21
  • 100 Golden Greats (1976) No. 3
  • Lingalongamax (1978) No. 39
  • The Song and Dance Men (1978) No. 67
  • Singalongawaryears (1989) No. 5
  • Singalongawaryears Volume 2 (1989) No. 33



  1. ^ a b The Guardian obituary. Retrieved 1 September 2012
  2. ^ "Max Bygraves BBC obituary". Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  3. ^ Mercer, Laurie. "Max Bygraves bio". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
  4. ^ "Obituary. Retrieved 1 September 2012". The Daily Telegraph.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Simon Cable, "Agony of Max Bygraves as his wife of 69 years dies three years after they left Britain", The Daily Mail, 24 May 2011.
  6. ^ "Max Bygraves - Obituaries". The Stage. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  7. ^ "Max Bygraves, Veteran Entertainer, Dies Aged 89". Sky News. 2012-09-01.
  8. ^ Caitlin Marsh, "Fans send Max Bygraves best wishes from Bournemouth", Bournemouth Daily Echo, 4 April 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  9. ^ Helen Weathers (29 July 2011). "Dad was such a coward to turn his back on me: Max Bygraves' THIRD lovechild bares her pain at being spurned for half a century by the star whose love she craved". Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  10. ^ "Max Bygraves rescued from cliffs". The Glasgow Herald. 10 August 1974. p. 7.
  11. ^ "Entertainment: Bygraves suffers ear problems". BBC News (BBC). 21 May 1999. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  12. ^ Edwards, Anna (1 September 2012). "Veteran entertainer Max Bygraves dies aged 89 after battle with Alzheimer's". Daily Mail. Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  13. ^ "Veteran entertainer Max Bygraves dies". Retrieved 1 September 2012
  14. ^ "BFI &No. 124; Film & TV Database &No. 124; MAX". Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  15. ^ "BFI &No. 124; Film & TV Database &No. 124; MAX". Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  16. ^ "BFI &No. 124; Film & TV Database &No. 124; Max Bygraves Says "I Wanna Tell You a Story"". Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  17. ^ "BFI &No. 124; Film & TV Database &No. 124; The DESERT SONG". Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  18. ^ "BFI &No. 124; Film & TV Database &No. 124; Max Bygraves - Side By Side". Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  19. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 120. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.
  20. ^ "The Official Charts Company - Max Bygraves". The Official Charts Company. 5 May 2013. Archived from the original on 30 June 2013.

External links[edit]