Jackie Rae

Singer, songwriter and entertainer


John Arthur Rae (Jackie Rae), television host, singer and songwriter: born Winnipeg, Manitoba 14 May 1922; DFC 1943; CM 2001; four times married (three sons, one daughter); died Toronto, Ontario 5 October 2006.

The entertainer Jackie Rae loved every aspect of show business - he hosted such television favourites as Spot the Tune and The Golden Shot, was a popular recording artist and wrote the standard "Happy Heart".

In the 1960s, the comedian Bob Monkhouse was impressed by the German game show Der Goldene Schuss and suggested to ATV that they should produce a UK version. The ATV boss Lew Grade had seen a comedy routine with Charlie Drake joking with Rae and considered Rae ideal for The Golden Shot - although he didn't realise that the exchange between Drake and Rae was not spontaneous but scripted.

The programme, based on the William Tell story, was promoted as a live programme: a crossbow was attached to a camera and contestants would instruct a blindfolded cameraman on how to hit the target - "Up a little. Stop. Down a little." They would telephone their instructions whilst watching the screen at home or from a booth in the studio. To start the game, Rae would say, "Heinz, the bolt", summoning Heinz Schmid, who had come from Germany to oversee the programme. Monkhouse, however, thought Rae was humourless and, when asked to be a celebrity guest, he sabotaged the proceedings by taking over the show. As a result, Rae's contract was terminated and the programme became a tremendous success under Monkhouse's auspices.

Rae was born in Winnipeg in 1922. He worked in variety from the age of three, performing with his brother and sister as the Three Little Raes of Sunshine. In his teens, he developed into a competent popular singer, but he then enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He flew Spitfires during the Second World War and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1943. He also married for the first time.

After the war, he produced radio series for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) featuring the singer Gisele McKenzie and the comedians Wayne and Shuster, but he enjoyed performing himself and in 1956 had his own successful TV variety showcase, The Jackie Rae Show. The bland show attracted controversy when a knife-throwing act was followed, off camera, by a thud and a scream. Rae announced, "The show will be four minutes short, but that's show business." Although this was a stunt, the phone lines were jammed with complaints.

In 1958, Rae moved to London, and made a good start, hosting his own variety show and appearing on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The following year, the well-groomed performer hosted ITV's Spot the Tune. Contestants had to recognise a song from a few notes of music, usually performed by Marion Ryan: if they claimed, "I'll name that tune in two", they were given two notes. It was an era of popular quiz shows and its viewing figure of five million homes was not far short of Double Your Money, Take Your Pick and Dotto. During the 1970s, but without Rae, the show was revived as Name That Tune.

Rae was a soft-voiced singer, best suited to romantic ballads. Although he never had a hit record, he made several singles including "More Than Ever" (1958) and "Theme From a Summer Place" (1960). He took part in the 1961 Royal Variety Performance. In 1959 Rae married Janette Scott, the actress daughter of Thora Hird, but they divorced in 1965 and Scott went on to marry the singer Mel Tormé.

In 1962, Rae realised he had an aptitude for songwriting. His best-known song, "Happy Heart", was recorded by Andy Williams in 1969 and there are scores of other versions. Rae's "Please Don't Go" was a Top Ten hit in 1969 for the veteran performer Donald Peers, then 60 years old. "We couldn't think of what to write for him," Les Reed, Rae's co-writer on "Please Don't Go", recalls, "so we stole a classic and wrote a lyric to it, 'Please Don't Go'. I'm fairly sure we took it from Saint-Saëns." Reed and Rae wrote several more songs together including "When There's No You", recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck. Another of Rae's songs, "Dream Just a Dream", was recorded by Tony Bennett.

In 1976, Rae went to Toronto and continued to work in radio and television. In 1981, he revived the big band sound with the Spitfire Band: Mickey Erbe was bandleader, he was vocalist and compere.

Spencer Leigh

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