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OBITUARY:Tony Monopoly

Tony Monopoly was a former Carmelite monk who abandoned the contemplative life and went on to win six consecutive editions of Opportunity Knocks. Famous for his white suit, medallion and luxuriant chest hair, he was frequently compared with Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. Monopoly was the youngest and least successful of this awesome triumvirate, but the only one with a sound grasp of the teachings of Saint Teresa of Avila.

Tony Monopoly's career illustrated the uncertainties of the light entertainment business. In the mid-Seventies, he could fill the Talk of the Town for a week, backed by a 25-piece orchestra. A few years later he was singing ``I Believe'' to elderly tourists on cruise ships, compering for a troupe of chimpanzees in a Majorcan night-club and appearing with Bernard Manning on The Wheeltappers' and Shunters' Social Club.

Monopoly's fortunes were briefly, but spectacularly, revived three years ago when he was cast as the lead in Moby Dick, the £1.2m West End musical produced by Cameron Mackintosh. (``What's he playing?'', Manning enquired, when he heard the news. ``The wooden leg?'') Monopoly starred as Dorothy Hymen, a headmistress who plays Captain Ahab in her school's end-of-term musical. He tackled the role with the determination you might expect from a man weary of public collaboration with the lower primates, but was ill served by a script which often struggled to reflect the subtleties of Herman Melville's original story. Audiences were unimpressed by characters such as Trixie Shedbanger, Fifi Clampwell and Sylvia Jocklick, who delivered lines like ``Queequeg - you're a good egg''; Moby Dick foundered after a few months.

Monopoly was born Antonio Rosario Monopoli in Adelaide, the son of Italian immigrants. A brilliant boy soprano, he was appearing regularly on national radio by the age of nine, on a show called Kangaroos on Parade. At 16 he entered the order of the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites where he was required to rise at 4.30am, observe silence, and perform self-flagellation three times a week. The rules, he recalled, were such that ``I could say , for instance, `May I borrow your pen?', but not `Have you heard the footy scores?' '' He was 21 when he made his dramatic re-entry into the secular world, getting a job as a fabric salesman and losing his virginity to a go-go dancer named ``Big Pretzel''. Monopoly toured the Hilton hotels of South-East Asia, then left for Vietnam, where he sustained a shrapnel wound in the course of his war effort, which he said mainly consisted of serenading American servicemen with the early work of Earth Wind and Fire.

In 1975 Tony Monopoly was appearing at Caesar's Palace (Luton, not Vegas - ``America'', Monopoly said, ``always eluded me''), when he was noticed by an impresario who persuaded him to go on Opportunity Knocks. Initially reluctant, Monopoly retired undefeated after his six appearances, and within months had a record contract, a mews house in Notting Hill and a Mercedes-Benz. Reporters were fascinated by his monastic apprenticeship. ``How,'' the Daily Mirror pondered, ``did he manage to keep that big, big voice quiet?'' Monopoly's response to interviewers was unassuming and often nave. ``I really believe I've got something to offer,'' he told one journalist. ``I don't know exactly what it is.''

By the early Eighties, his public were beginning to share his doubts, and Monopoly was frequently obliged to display his talents aboard cruise liners. ``I lived on one yacht for a year,'' he said. ``I went to 56 countries. I had champagne for breakfast. But I hated it.''

When fulfilling his increasingly rare engagements on dry land, Monopoly would divide his time between Australia and Britain. He was headhunted for Moby Dick while appearing in Cinderella at Hanley, near Stoke-on-Trent. ``I had fallen through a trapdoor of depression,'' said Monopoly, who was fond of theatrical metaphors. ``Then a glitterball dropped into my life.''

A less tireless advocate of his own merits than some of his more successful competitors, Monopoly reacted philosophically to the failure of Moby Dick. He insisted that he had had ``terrific fun'' leading a young and inexperienced cast, and went on to play Old Deuteronomy in a national tour of Cats.

In his last years, he returned to the Catholic Church, and seemed unconcerned that he had never achieved the emphatic domination of the pop business that his name had seemed to promise. ``I have been on a journey,'' he said, ``and come through practically unscarred. I have a relationship between myself and God. I am a peaceful man and a happy man. I believe that is all you can ask for in life''.

Robert Chalmers

Antonio Rosario Monopoli (Tony Monopoly), singer, cabaret artist: born Adelaide 1944; died Brighton 21 March 1995.