Patrick O'Connor: Critic, author and broadcaster with particular expertise in vocal music

The many friends who loved him knew the critic, writer and broadcaster Patrick O'Connor as a polymath repository of knowledge. His subjects ranged from music hall performers to French poster art, from cinema to ballet, and from opera to food. With a forever-youthful sparkle in his eye and a talent for friendship, he was a large cuddly bear of a man, tall and sometimes mistaken for the actor, Peter Eyre. Despite his profound expertise, especially in vocal music – he was the first person you'd consult if you wanted to know something about a long-gone music hall performer or a 19th century operatic soprano – he was almost entirely self-taught.

Born in London, Patrick O'Connor was the elder child of Armand Stiles O'Connor (always known as Paddy, he was born in Glasgow, though his own father, who died before his birth, was American) and Peggy Constance Blandford. His father's Merchant Navy ship was torpedoed, and Paddy O'Connor was reported missing, thought killed in action – but following the War he turned up safe and alive in Glasgow. A publisher of specialist medical and dental magazines, Paddy O'Connor was also a large, jovial man, who died in 1999. Patrick had a younger sister, Louise, and an elder sister, Patricia, from his mother's previous marriage.

At first the family lived near Paddington Green, where they had easy access to cinemas and to the Metropolitan Music Hall on Edgware Road, where a precocious Patrick remembered seeing Max Miller. In the mid-1950s they moved to a large, semi-detached Victorian house in Richmond, which housed the various magazine businesses as well as the family. He went to Surbiton County Grammar School, which he loathed and left at 15, saying that the day he left school was when his life began. He had been a plump child, but on leaving school he lost weight and became a strikingly good-looking young man. At first he worked for his father as the production editor on the medical journals.

Soon he had a new circle of friends. The most important, at first, was the slightly older Jeffrey Tate, with whom he travelled to Venice. He enjoyed introducing his friends to each other, and had a wide circle, including the American sociologist, Richard Sennett; and, during the last two years, delighted in the company of a rediscovered nephew, Tim Fleming. He had five surviving nephews, and took much pleasure in them. We shared a godson, Leo Hornak; and I suspect that Patrick was the better godparent.

The Richmond house was a mixed blessing. He stayed in it after the businesses were sold, and his mother died in 2001, but he found that the dash for the last train from Waterloo blighted his cultural and social life; and he felt that existence had almost begun anew recently when he sold it and moved to a new flat in Bloomsbury. (While that was being refurbished, he was a lodger in Virginia Ironside's house, his room so packed with books and gramophone records that he only once allowed her in it.) As at the Richmond house, the walls of the flat displayed his collection of old opera and ballet posters, drawings and etchings of Gertrude Stein and Diaghilev, of Yvonne Printemps and Josephine Baker (of whom he wrote biographies), photographs of ancient actresses and music hall turns, and paintings by his friends, particularly Glynn Boyd Harte (who made a portrait of him) and the American garden designer, Hitch Lyman. A generous host and cook, O'Connor loved good food and wine, and knew a good deal about it.

O'Connor's pleasant voice made him good radio company, and most people will have known him as a frequent contributor to Radio 3's CD Review, where he was often to be heard talking about the French repertory, Reynaldo Hahn, Francis Poulenc, or discoursing on his vast acquaintance with Belle Époque opera and operetta.

He wrote for a huge variety of papers and magazines, including this one. The Times Literary Supplement recognised his catholicity of interests by allowing him to review a wide range of performances and books. From 1981 to 1986 he was employed by the old Harper's & Queen, then in its features-oriented heyday of Sloane Rangers and Foodies, and worked closely with Ann Barr. Here he was properly valued for his encyclopaedic knowledge of just about everything. But in 1988 he surprised us all and moved to New York, to be editor-in-chief of Opera News, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Though this allowed him to meet some composers he idolised, such as Virgil Thompson and Ned Rorem (who became a friend and correspondent), New York wasn't entirely a success. So when he got involved with the US Immigration services in the usual green-card wrangle, and the official, looking at his job description, said he could see no reason why an American could not be doing the job of editing Opera News, O'Connor said, "You're quite right," and happily upped sticks back to London.

It is not hyperbole to say that O'Connor's knowledge of some subjects was probably unique. We have to hope that he wrote it all down somewhere, and that someone will undertake what will be the enjoyable task of collecting Patrick's pieces and unpublished work. The substantial obituaries of artistes he wrote for The Guardian alone contain a wealth of fugitive information. His books included the life of Yvonne Printemps (1978, self-published, but he managed to talk Sir John Gielgud into writing the introduction); Josephine Baker (1988), with photographs from Bryan Hammond's collection, The Amazing Blonde Woman: Dietrich's Own Style, 1991); and, the same year, Toulouse-Lautrec: The Nightlife of Paris, which my wife, who commissioned it from him for Phaidon, considers one of the great pleasures of her own career.

Paul Levy



Patrick O'Connor, critic, writer, broadcaster, collector; born London 8 September 1949; died London 16 February 2010.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Geotechnical Director of Engineering

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Renewables Grid / Power Systems Specialist

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Wind Package Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: T...

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices