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Gentle Val walked tall and captivated a generation

Val Doonican, with his laid-back armchair style and his warm Irish demeanour, was one of the most popular and best-selling singers of his generation.

It took him years to establish his niche, but once he had achieved success he remained at the top of his profession for more than two decades, a regular and a firm favourite on some of the most widely-watched television shows of the time.

His comfortable, easy-going manner was often seen as a welcome contrast to some of the rackety pop groups that were starting to blast the airwaves.

Michael Valentine Doonican was born in Waterford on February 3 1927, the youngest of eight children.


His family was poor, but he often spoke of the great happiness of his childhood.

When he was 14, his world was shattered by his father's death from cancer of the throat and mouth. He felt compelled to leave school to help support the family, and started work immediately in an orange box factory.

However, he had been writing and arranging music from a very young age, harmonising his friends' versions of the songs they saw performed on film.

His first "professional" engagement came at Waterford Fete - singing We're Three Caballeros!

Eventually, Doonican joined a band as drummer and was ultimately hired to take part in a sausage commercial.

In 1951, he was approached by representatives of the Four Ramblers and invited to join them in England, where they are best remembered for Riders Of The Range on BBC Radio.

They also presented Workers' Playtime, their salaries augmented by gifts from the factories where the broadcast was being made.

By then, Doonican had bought himself an amplifier for his guitar.

He made a case to protect the amplifier by using an old theatre poster advertising entertainer Lynnette Rae, who was rebuilding her career after an operation for throat cancer.

The pair met, and were married in the early 1960s, and had two daughters.

On one tour, Doonican stepped forward, guitar in hand, and perched on a stool and sang a couple of ballads and Paddy McGinty's Goat. Afterwards, he was urged to go solo, which he did.

He secured a weekly radio show with the BBC Light Programme.

Doonican continued to play cabaret and occasional theatre gigs but despite being a regular radio personality, no recording contracts were forthcoming.

But he was spotted at a concert by Val Parnell, and booked on to Sunday Night At The London Palladium.

That eight-minute spot, he said, changed his life. By the Monday, there were recording contracts and TV show offers flooding into his manager's office.

As he said many times, he was "an overnight success after 17 years".


He went on to record more than 50 albums, sales of which register in the millions, and he had fans worldwide.

He charted many times with singles and albums, appearing on Top Of The Pops to sing hits such as Walk Tall, The Special Years, What Would I Be, and Elusive Butterfly.

His TV shows ran for 24 years, from humble beginnings to being the mainstay of the Saturday night TV schedules. His Christmas Eve shows became a British institution.

He was also a landscape painter of considerable merit.