Tributes to Max Bygraves, dead at 89

Entertainers pay respects to 'one of the all-time greats of show business'

Showbusiness legends have paid their respects to "one of the all-time greats" of the entertainment industry, Max Bygraves, who died on Friday.

The actor, singer and comedian died in his sleep in Queensland, Australia, aged 89.

Bygraves, famous for his catchphrase "I wanna tell you a story", became a veteran entertainer in a career that spanned five decades. His transformation into a household name came after presenting Family Fortunes and fronting the Royal Variety Show. At the time of his death, Bygraves had been suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, according to his family. His last appearance on stage was at revival shows in Blackpool and London in 2006.

Entertainers paid their respects last night. The comedian Les Dennis described him as "a great performer and a gentleman", adding that he was "very gracious when I took over Family Fortunes. RIP." Bygraves's fellow comedian Jimmy Tarbuck called him "one of the all-time greats of British show business" while Bygraves's agent, Johnny Mans, said his death would be a "great loss to the entertainment profession". The magician Paul Daniels tweeted: "Goodbye Max. Truly one of the greatest live acts I ever saw." Lord Sugar tweeted: "Funny fellow. RIP."

The entertainer was born Walter William Bygraves in October 1922, in Rotherhithe, south-east London. He made his first home in a Romford council house, later volunteering for the RAF in the Second World War. It was there he realised he could make people laugh. Colleagues nicknamed him Max for his impressions of the Cockney comedian Max Miller.

He turned professional in 1946 and toured variety theatres before making his West End debut at the London Palladium three years later. "Frankie [Howerd] read my palm and told me that I was going to be a millionaire and top of the bill one day," he later said recalling his friendship with the comedian. "I thought he had got his wires crossed. Years later, he reminded me of it and used it to get a free lunch out of me."

The comedian Ken Dodd described Bygraves as a "magical performer". He told BBC News: "He was absolutely brilliant – an excellent comedian, a very good singer and quite a good actor. Yes, he was a giant of show business, a wonderful, wonderful man."

Dodd added: He had tremendous charisma... He was a quiet, gentle, modest man, but once he entered that stage something happened... it was like a miracle."

By 1956, Bygraves was earning £1,000 a week. His albums sold more than 6.5 million copies, earning 31 gold discs with his Singalongamax series of LPs, a cavalcade of yesterday's hits which were chosen with his mother's music tastes in mind. He emigrated from Bournemouth, Dorset, to Australia in 2005 with his wife, Gladys (affectionately known as Blossom), who died last year. He leaves behind three children: Christine, Maxine and Anthony.

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