Renato Pagliari: Singer who had a No 1 record across Europe alongside Renée

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Though he impinged more insidiously upon national consciousness as the tenor who soundtracked a long-running Wall's ice cream TV commercial, Renato Pagliari, who has died aged 68, was one half of Renée and Renato, whose sonorous 1982 ballad, "Save Your Love", topped charts throughout Europe.

Born into a large and impoverished family, he grew up in Blera, a village near Rome, where he shone as a soloist in the church choir. Nevertheless, he was not encouraged to think of singing as a viable career. At 17 he enrolled at a catering college to qualify as a multi-lingual waiter. By the early 1970s he had emigrated to Britain and was working in the West Midlands, where he was permitted to entertain diners with operatic arias. While he lacked formal training, delighted responses to his efforts prompted him to seek semi-professional club engagements, and, in 1975, he entered a regional heat for the ITV talent contest New Faces, a forerunner of Britain's Got Talent, seizing the ultimate prize of a winning appearance on the show.

As well as this exposure gaining him a fuller, more lucrative booking sheet, he attracted the interest of the songwriters Sue Edward and her husband Johnny, a former pirate radio presenter, who was to create the children's television series Metal Mickey. In Pagliari, they had found a suitable vocalist for their new composition, "Save Your Love".

Record companies, however, were not instantly impressed. It was to take seven years and the addition to the track of the soprano Hilary Lester, then a member of an all-female outfit, before the single was released. Attributed to "Renée and Renato", it slipped into the lower reaches of the UK chart in October 1982.

Within seven weeks it rose to No 1, aided by a promotional video in which Lester, busy with her group, was replaced by Val Perry, a model. Lester was available, however, to mime to the song on Top of the Pops and similar showcases overseas, especially in Norway and the Netherlands where "Save Your Love" also reached pole position. It was a hit too in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and, in the teeth of competition from a domestic version, Sweden. Despite being cited regularly on those "worst records ever made" compilations that rear up periodically on trash TV, "Save Your Love" has endured, most conspicuously via a revival by Daniel O'Donnell with Mary Duff, and in a television advertisement.

In its immediate aftermath, an album, Save Your Love, by Renato alone, was a moderate success; "Just One More Kiss", a follow-up single, hovered on the edge of the Top 50, and a third offering, "Jesus Loves Us All", was poised to do the same. That, however, was that for Renée and Renato as far as general pop consumers were concerned.

Yet, after the sundering of the duo in 1986, Pagliari was able to continue as a recording artist, concentrating chiefly on albums such as 1988's A Taste of Italy and was guaranteed a well-paid living where current chart status has no meaning. As well as wedding receptions (for which his rendering of Julie Rogers' 1964 million-seller "The Wedding" ["La Novia"] was a particular favourite, and cabaret seasons on luxury liners, he cut a portly (and well-received) figure on TV variety programmes. His "Just One Cornetto" (to the melody of "O Sole Mio") was used by Wall's for over a decade. With his overall repertoire more light classical in content now, he also became a wanted performer at Italian song festivals as far afield as North America.

Closer to home, he was intermittently the resident singer in the family restaurant in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Moreover, as an enthusiastic supporter of Aston Villa he was persuaded by their then manager Ron Atkinson during one 1994 match to emote "Nessun Dorma" – Pavarotti's signature tune – at half-time to rally a losing team. On finishing, Pagliari made a chin-up speech to the players, who went on to win that year's League Cup. In parenthesis, reviling each other affectionately as old friends do, Atkinson put Renée and Renato on his list of pet hates when he was a guest on the BBC2 chat show Room 101 – and was surprised when Pagliari walked on screen to answer the phoney insult.

Embracing the nostalgia circuit, too, Pagliari had proved as game in a cameo slot on the Never Mind the Buzzcocks TV quiz, and, more recently, in a televised London concert with the disparate likes of Dr and the Medics and Carl Douglas.

Alan Clayson

Renato Pagliari, singer: born Rome, Italy 28 June 1940; married Maureen (one son); died Tamworth 29 July 2009.