Joan Regan: Singer who had hits in the 1950s and became the toast of the London Palladium

 

Always looking glamorous and with golden hair and blue eyes, Joan Regan was one of the foremost entertainers of the 1950s. She had many hit records, starred in revues at the London Palladium and had her own television series. Her big hits were often with uplifting songs such as "May You Always" and "Happy Anniversary". "I always like to sing songs with a positive message," she told me at her home in Orpington in 2001, and her positive attitude to life had enabled her to cope with the many problems she encountered.

Joan Regan was born Siobhan Bethel in Romford in 1928. She had rheumatic fever as a child which left her with a damaged mitral valve, although this did not cause problems until she was in her seventies. During the war, her father fell from a train, thinking he had arrived at a platform. The accident cost him his arm but he was determined not to let it bother him and he would roll his cigarettes with one hand.

Regan's brothers were in the navy and they befriended a paratrooper from Phoenix, Dick Howell. "He was very nice," recalled Regan, "and we fell in love, more or less by correspondence." Regan was married on her 18th birthday in January 1946 and they settled in Burbank, California. They had two sons and a daughter, but the daughter died as a baby.

Howell had been married before and when their relationship ran into trouble, Regan, a Catholic, was able to have their marriage dissolved. She returned to the UK with her sons and had a part-time job working on accounts for her brother-in-law, a fruit retailer in Covent Garden. She became friendly with his bank manager who discovered that she could sing well. He asked her to make a private recording, which he would play to one of his clients. As a result, she was signed to the Delfont Organisation and she passed an audition to replace Lita Roza, who was leaving Ted Heath's band. However, Regan felt that she could not commit to a long touring schedule.

When Regan signed with Decca as a solo artist in 1953, the label appreciated her melodic voice but thought it was too derivative of another of their artists, Vera Lynn. "They felt that I had to get away from ballads," said Regan, "They found me an uptempo song called 'Ricochet' and I sang it in a higher key. There was no way I could sound like Vera Lynn on that. Jack Jackson went crazy for it on BBC and when I did some television appearances, I found out, just by good fortune, that I was photogenic and could sing as though I was performing for just one viewer."

With her big records, "Ricochet", "Someone Else's Roses" and "If I Give My Heart To You", Regan was soon starring on variety shows around the country. Her first pianist was Trevor Stanford, who became Russ Conway. On an early tour she was hit by the safety curtain but continued her schedule with a fractured wrist. The public warmed to her and loved her five-year-old son Russ singing with her on her Top 20 hit "Open Up Your Heart".

Regan would close her shows with the religious ballad "In The Beginning", but in 1955 she recorded another, "Croce Di Oro" [Cross Of Gold], which was banned by the BBC. The Head of Religious Broadcasting disliked the song because "religion is sentimentalised in the name of one aspect of human love." When the music publisher complained, the Director of Sound Broadcasting said the BBC "should not encourage such sloppy songs."

In July 1957 Regan married Harry Claff, the box office manager for the London Palladium. Regan received hate mail when the Daily Herald announced that they would be having a baby in February. She successfully sued them for libel and their daughter Donna was born in April 1958.

The hits continued with "May You Always" and "Happy Anniversary" – in which Harry was the mystery voice on the record – and "Papa Loves Mama", which was made with two-year-old Donna. She was billed as "England's answer to Dinah Shore" when she performed at St Regis Hotel in New York: "Salvador Dali had an apartment in the hotel and he had seen the photographs of me in the lobby. He said, 'You come to my apartment tonight and we will have a party.' I said, 'I can't come to your room because I know of your reputation,' and smiled. Later, the lift attendant said to me, 'Nobody says no to Dali' and I said, 'Well, now you've met somebody who has.'"

In 1963 Harry rang Joan from a police station when she was rehearsing a live TV show with Maurice Chevalier. He had been arrested for embezzlement from the London Palladium and Joan had no idea how she did that TV show that day. He was imprisoned for five years and she commented, "Harry had paid the penalty for what he did and right to the end, he maintained that he had only borrowed the money from the Palladium and was going to pay it back. I still cared for him but we did get divorced."

Regan thought it best to leave the country for a while and she found a new audience in Australia. In 1968 she married a doctor, Martin Cowan, and in 1980 they settled in Florida. In 1984 she slipped in the shower, banged her head and had a brain haemorrhage. "I couldn't speak and I was paralysed down one side and I didn't even recognise my children. It took two years for my memory to come back and to be able to sing again. I think it was my determination that got me through. My dear friend Russ Conway was in touch all the time and in 1984, he billed me as the Surprise Guest Star for a show he was doing in Eastbourne. I was very apprehensive but when I walked on the stage, the reaction from the audience was enormous. Russ called it the magic show."

Regan lost her third husband and her final years were spent in the UK. She sometimes sang with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, appeared in Warner holiday centres, and made a new album, Remember I Love You. Russ Conway died in 2000 and she fondly remembered him. "People used to talk about us but we were like brother and sister. I recorded one of his songs, 'Love Like Ours', and he wrote it about us. He says, 'A love like ours is more precious than gold', and it was."

Siobhan Bethel (Joan Regan), singer: born Romford, Essex 19 January 1928: married three times (two sons, two daughters): died London 12 September 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert