Obituary: Lennie Peters
Tuesday 13 October 1992
IN THE MIDST of the Glam-Rock-dominated early Seventies, an unpretentious, middle-of-the-road cabaret act scored a resounding hit that elevated them to international stardom. When Peters & Lee enjoyed their number-one hit with 'Welcome Home' in July 1973, the charts were still recovering from the onslaught of 'Cum On Feel The Noize' by Slade, and '20th Century Boy' by T. Rex.
It was into this frantic environment that Lennie Peters and Di Lee re-introduced the simple, sing-along pop-song, with a pleasant melody and unpretentious lyric. They may have been resoundingly unhip, but they touched a chord with the public who warmed to their sentimental appeal.
Lennie Peters was born Leonard Sergeant in Islington, north London, in 1933. One of six sons, his father John was a local fishmonger. Lennie lost his sight in both eyes at the age of 16, but he overcame tragedy by immersing himself in music. He was blessed with a fine voice and taught himself to play the piano, on a secondhand upright bought by his parents.
Lennie met his future wife Sylvia at a youth club and they subsequently had two children. Meanwhile he began singing and playing in pubs around Islington, earning pounds 1.10s a night and soon built up a reputation as a performer throughout north London. He was offered a record contract with Oriole and released three singles, including 'My Heart Cried', 'Let The Tears Begin' and 'Love Me Love Me'. He made his radio debut on the BBC's Town & Country show in 1963, and was interviewed on television by Daniel Farson the same year.
Lennie joined a local bluebeat band, the Migil Five, but left just before they had a hit with 'Mockingbird Hill' in 1964. He achieved solo success in cabaret and appeared on mid-Sixties television shows like Stars & Garters. While he touring the gruelling northern club circuit he met Dianne Lee, a dancer who was doing a dance act with her cousin Liz. Dianne (real name Dianne Littlehales) was from Sheffield and wanted to be a ballet dancer. She came to London for television and stage work in 1968. Lennie invited Dianne to form the Peters & Lee double act, which made its debut appearance in the Rolf Harris show at Bournemouth Winter Gardens, on 30 April 1970.
In 1973 they appeared for six weeks on Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks show, which they won after getting a record number of votes. This led to a contract with Philips records and the release of their first single 'Welcome Home' and subsequent album We Can Make It. Both records charted simultaneously at number one, the first time such a feat had been achieved by anyone since the Beatles.
After two years Philips awarded Peters & Lee a Platinum Album for two and a half million sales. They enjoyed four British top 20 hits and four top 10 albums.
In 1975 their fame spread to the US and they went to Los Angeles to record with the producer Jimmy Bowen. They continued to record during the Eighties and one of the most recent albums, called simply Peters and Lee, was released by the President label in 1989. 'It didn't chart immediately, ' said a spokesman. 'The days when they sold a million were a long time ago.' Nevertheless 'Welcome Home' is still played by bands and entertainers on the circuit that helped launch the career of a man who found fulfilment through music and a unique partnership.
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