Obituary: Marion Ryan

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The Independent Culture
ONCE DUBBED "the Marilyn Monroe of popular song" by the Press, but perhaps preferably recalled as "the sunny songstress", a phrase coined by Tise Vahimagi in his comprehensive catalogue British Television, Marion Ryan was certainly a curvaceous cutie.

She was a pop singer of the Fifties. Her beauty was a rare sight at the time and was more than enough to confirm her television stardom in the early years of ITV. As the regular singer in the hugely popular musical quiz Spot the Tune, a Granada programme, she helped the series run for an incredible seven years from 1956, with a total of 209 half-hour programmes (it was later revived as Name That Tune). She survived several star hosts including the Canadian pop singer Jackie Rae, and the comedians Ken Platt and Ted Ray. The big band in support was that of Peter Knight and his Orchestra.

She was born Marion Sapherson in Middlesbrough in 1933 and grew into a well-formed lady of petite proportions (height 5ft 1in), big blue eyes and red-gold hair. She went to school at Notre Dame in Leeds, and studied music and singing under a Madame Coran.

She entered show business at the age of 21, singing with a dance band at the Locarno in Leeds. This was an evening escape from her daytime job as sales girl in a ladies' lingerie shop. Spotted for her blossoming potential by Ray Ellington, he of the famous Quartet that provided the jiving song breaks in The Goon Show, she was swiftly signed up to sing with his group. She made her debut with Ellington at the Locarno, Glasgow, on 24 August 1953. She made only one recording with Ellington, "All's Going Well", in March 1954.

After a few years she left the group in company with Ellington's pianist, Dick Katz, who became her personal manager. Her first solo recording was for Nixa, a cover job of the Rosemary Clooney hit "Sailor Boys Have Talked to Me in English". Although nothing special, it launched her on a good recording career which scored her several entries in the Top Twenty, beginning with "Hot Diggity" (1956).

A quick follow-up was "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" and a string of titles in which she was supported by the harmonious singing of the Beryl Stott Chorus, beginning with "Mr Wonderful" (1957) and reaching No 5 in the Hit Parade with "Love Me Forever" (1958). In the same year she made minor recording history by singing Britain's first-ever stereo single, "The World Goes Round and Around", at 45rpm.

Her television career, apart from Spot the Tune, was equally exceptional. Shows included Off The Record, The Festival of British Song, Music Shop, Number Please, Starlight, Cool For Cats, Sunday Night at Blackpool and the well-remembered teenage series Six-Five Special. She even turned up in an episode of the top comedy series of the day, The Army Game. Topping the lot was, of course, The Marion Ryan Show for Granada.

Then there were variety tours, an appearance in a Royal Command Performance in 1960, and several specials made for American television. These included The Bob Hope Show at Christmas 1958 and The Bing Crosby Show two years later. In this bumper number she shared billing with the gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas, Shirley Bassey and the forgotten funster Dave King. In 1961 she starred in a London Palladium stage show alongside Harry Secombe, the trumpet star Eddie Calvert and the all-round entertainer Roy Castle.

Ryan's film career was somewhat less satisfactory. She made a Cinemascope debut in the Hammer musical short. This was followed by her only appearance in a feature film, It's All Happening (1963). In this musical, starring Tommy Steele, she played herself among a galaxy of Sixties pop stars including the pianist Russ Conway, the singer Shane Fenton, the Clyde Valley Stompers and the entire George Mitchell Show from BBC television's Black and White Minstrels. She sang two goodish numbers, "Love A Man" and "You Are Maximum Plus".

By the Sixties, Ryan's two sons had grown up into a duet of singing teenagers, and as Paul and Barry Ryan made swift headway into the recording charts. Their first big hit was "Don't Bring Me Your Heartaches" which reached No 13 in 1965.

In 1967 she retired after a second marriage. Her new husband was the millionaire impresario Harold Davison, who handled Frank Sinatra. The couple moved to Florida in 1988.

Ryan's personality may be gauged by her entry in the 1962 Radio Luxembourg Book of Record Stars. "Pet likes: lounging casually at home. Pet hates: rude, loud, ill-mannered people. Favourite food: Chinese. Hobbies: reading."

Marion Sapherson (Marion Ryan), singer: born Middlesbrough, Yorkshire 4 February 1933; twice married (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Boca Raton, Florida 15 January 1999.