Obituary: Jackie Trent, singer and songwriter

Jackie Trent: Singer-songwriter who created the iconic theme tune to Australian soap Neighbours. Picture: Getty
Jackie Trent: Singer-songwriter who created the iconic theme tune to Australian soap Neighbours. Picture: Getty
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Born: 6 September 1940, in Newcastle–under–Lyme. Died: 21 March, 2015, on Minorca, aged 74

As A singer Jackie Trent knocked the Beatles off the No 1 spot in the singles chart back in the mid-1960s. But it was as a songwriter, in collaboration with real-life partner Tony Hatch, that she enjoyed her greatest and most enduring success.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley Bassey, Val Doonican, Scott Walker and many others recorded Hatch-Trent songs. The couple also wrote the theme song for the Australian soap opera Neighbours, and in so doing persuaded the producers to change the name of the show.

The original intention was to call the show Ramsay Street, but Trent’s lyric “Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours” led to a change of mind and the show itself was renamed Neighbours before it first went out in 1985.

An international hit, the show made a star of Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and many others and is still going strong after 30 years and more than 7,000 episodes. And it still uses the same Hatch-Trent theme song, although it has been rearranged in several different versions and re-recorded by several different singers over the years.

The daughter of a coal miner, Jackie Trent was born Yvonne Burgess in Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire in 1940. She made her mark on local talent shows as a young girl, ­appeared in pantomime and was a semi-professional singer by the age of 11.

In her early teens she established a following and was earning good money performing in British Legion and local working men’s clubs, where she was styled as “the Vera Lynn of the Potteries”.

At 15 she left school, packed a single suitcase and hopped on a train to London, hoping to find fame and fortune. She adopted the name Jackie Trent, Jackie being considered a more contemporary name than Yvonne and Trent reflecting her roots.

Again she acquired a following on the club circuit and counted the Kray twins among her fans, recalling that they would sometimes escort her to venues and “showered” her with teddy bears as presents.

She toured Europe and beyond and sang for British troops in Malta, Cyprus, Aden and Kenya. She also sang for United States troops and met the young Elvis Presley during his brief stint in the Army.

However, her first few singles failed to make the charts and an assignment to write and record a song that would simply feature in a scene in the drama series It’s Dark Outside did not suggest that her chart fortunes were about to change dramatically.

However, Hatch, who wrote the music, had enjoyed success with Petula Clark, most notably with Downtown, which was high in the charts as he got to work on the new tune. Trent wrote the lyrics for the new song, entitled Where Are You Now, recorded it and went off on a lengthy tour of South Africa, without thinking too much about it.

The show was duly broadcast and shops were suddenly swamped with requests for the record. It knocked the Beatles’ Ticket to Ride off the Number One spot in May 1965.

The success of the song led to further collaborations with Trent as composer and Hatch as lyricist, including the follow-up single When Summertime is Over. But it proved a major disappointment, barely scraping into the Top 40.

Trent said later that she initially disliked Hatch. He was married when they met, but the two became lovers and eventually husband and wife, after he divorced his first wife.

Their initial affair inspired the song I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love, which was a Top Ten hit for Petula Clark in 1966, and Trent and Hatch subsequently topped the Australian charts with their own recording of the duet The Two of Us. They acquired the nickname “Mr and Mrs Music”.

However, in the UK Trent never repeated the success as a singer that she had enjoyed with Where Are You Now.

In the late 1960s she performed in the musical Nell!, in a tour that included the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, and in the 1970s she and Hatch wrote stage musicals The Card, which was produced in London’s West End, and Rock Nativity, produced by Cameron Mackintosh. The latter was staged at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, during the Christmas 1975-76 season and broadcast by Scottish Television.

Trent was a Stoke City fan and she and Hatch wrote a song called We’ll Be With You when Stoke reached the English League Cup final in 1972. It was recorded by the players and fans and released under the club’s nickname The Potters. It made the Top 40, Stoke beat Chelsea in the final and the song is still played at Stoke home games.

In the early 1980s Trent and Hatch moved to Australia, which was how they ended up doing the theme song for Neighbours. Hatch had some experience with theme tunes for soap operas, having composed the theme for Crossroads two decades earlier. Trent later recalled that the Neighbours theme song was written and recorded in a single day.

Trent said: “We wrote the song as Neighbours because we said Ramsay Street was too close to Coronation Street… We called in Barry Crocker at about 10pm to put his voice on it and it was on the producer’s desk by 10am the following morning. And they loved it. So the series was then called Neighbours.”

Latterly Trent and Hatch lived on the Spanish island of Minorca. They separated in the 1990s and Trent remarried.

Recently she had been working on a musical based on her own life and it is due to premiere in Stoke later this year. She is survived by her second husband, Colin Gregory, and by her children, Michelle and Darren.