JOAN Regan was a huge star of the post-war years, singing songs that were defiantly middle-of-the-road, but which made her a number one star on variety bills and television for more than 30 years. She had the relaxed, easy style of Vera Lynn, but with her blonde hair swept back to frame her broad, gleaming smile, she gave an audience a wonderful feeling of glamour and star quality. Her singing was timeless and her voice was vibrant, melodious and had a musical thrill.
Success came to Regan early and in her teens she was already singing in major venues round her native Essex. By 1953, she had a debut single for Decca, Ricochet, an up-tempo number that was an immediate hit. It was backed by the Squadronaires, the RAF orchestra and it started a dazzling career for Regan, which included her own television shows, many recording contracts and international touring engagements.
There were, however, some personal dramas in her life which caused her much anguish. But Regan overcame the problems with resilience and professional determination.
Joan Regan was talent spotted by the impresario Bernard Delfont, who arranged a recording contract at Decca. She later recorded with EMI and Pye. Her first discs included two albums, The Girl Next Door and Just Joan. The most memorable number was I’ll Always Be Thinking Of You. But it was Ricochet that brought Regan much prominence and led to appearances on Six Five Special – the popular the pop music programme of the era. This in turn led Regan to be booked for several years to host BBC’s Be My Guest.
In the studio, Regan cut many memorable Top 20 numbers, including covers of May You Always and some Doris Day songs – an artist whose voice was similar to Regan’s. If I Give My Heart to You was a major hit for Regan.
In her early days, she was often accompanied by a young pianist called Trevor Stanford (soon to be changed to Russ Conway). It proved a most harmonious and fruitful partnership. The two became lifelong friends and proved an ideal stage partnership for many years.
Their stage show, Stars in Your Eyes, was a hit at the London Palladium. In 2004 Regan said of their partnership: “He took my music away and then we came back and rehearsed. And it was fantastic. It all seemed like different music.”
Her gracious charm was evidenced when she appeared with a host of other stars in Puss in Boots at the Palladium in 1962. There were on-stage difficulties between the stars – Dick Emery, Jimmy Edwards and Frankie Vaughan – and much bad feeling back stage. Regan, with her generous nature, smoothed out some problems and the rest of the run was a joy.
Regan was topping the bill in the UK with the likes of Cliff Richard, Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise and as early as 1955 appeared at the Royal Variety show. In the United States, she shared the billing with stars such as Maurice Chevalier, Eddie Fisher and Perry Como. She was fast becoming one of the most popular variety acts in the country and was further admired for her vocal impressions of Judy Garland and Gracie Fields.
Her success and easy personality hid a more traumatic private life. In 1957, she married Harry Claff, the box office manager at the London Palladium. It was rumoured she had had to get married, but when her son was born almost a year after the wedding, Regan sued. In 1963, she was involved in a more serious court case when Claff was jailed for fraud. Regan divorced him, but she was distraught and suffered a nervous breakdown. However, by 1968 Regan was back touring and recording and was booked at number one venues, especially the Palladium.
An accident in a shower in 1984 caused her further distress. Regan hit her head, causing a blood clot on the brain that left her paralysed. After an operation, she was unable to talk but thanks to physical and mental therapy – and sheer guts – she made a complete recovery.
In 1968, she married her second husband, Dr Martin Cowan, and they spent much of the year in Florida. But she did often return to her house in Kent to sing on radio and in concerts. In 1987, on one of those visits, she was asked by Conway to join him on stage. Such was the response, that Regan became a familiar and popular figure in UK shows throughout the 90s. She was particularly in demand to entertain at servicemen’s reunions.
She went on to record two further albums, The Joan Regan Collection and Remember I Love You. Her husband predeceased her and she is survived by two sons and a daughter.