Obituary: Kenny Lynch, singer and actor remembered as a member of ‘Britain’s Rat Pack’

Kenny Lynch, singer, actor and entertainer. Born: 18 March, 1938, in London. Died: 18 December, 2019, aged 81.

Kenny lynch in 2005 (Picture: Jo Hale/Getty Images)

America had Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. At much the same time Britain had its own version of the Rat Pack in Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Kenny Lynch, who appeared at showbiz events together, socialised together, played golf together and once even recorded a version of Winter Wonderland together, billing themselves as The Three 

In his early days in showbiz Lynch not only toured with the Beatles, he was the first artist other than the Beatles to record a Lennon and McCartney song when he recorded Misery in 1963. Paul McCartney actually wrote it for Helen Shapiro when they were all touring together, with teenager Shapiro as the main attraction, but she did not fancy it. Lynch liked it and recorded it as a single.

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“He was another lad with an eye for an opportunity, and he had a minor hit with it,” McCartney said later. “He used to do it on tour with us… not amazingly well.” Actually, Kenny Lynch’s version of Misery was OK, though it did not make it into the charts. But he did have a string of minor hits in the first half of the 1960s, either side of Misery, and he had a couple of songs that breached the Top Ten.

At a time when there were relatively few black entertainers in Britain, Lynch went on to develop his acting career in comic, and occasionally more serious, screen roles in such varied fare as the highly popular short The Plank (1967), with Eric Sykes, the rather dodgy Spike Milligan sitcom Curry and Chips (1969), Carry on Loving (1970) and The Sweeney (1976).

One of 13 children, he was born in Stepney in east London in 1938. His father was a merchant seaman from Barbados who settled in England at the end of the 19th century. His mother was of mixed Irish and Jamaican descent. His family preceded the big post-war influx of immigrants and Lynch said he did not experience any racism until he was in his twenties. “We were probably a novelty. Our neighbours would say: ‘We’ve got some black people living next door, you should come round and see them’.”

As a boy he sang with his sister Gladys, who later became a professional jazz singer under the name Maxine Daniels. After leaving school at 15, he sold assorted goods from a suitcase in central London and did National Service in the Royal Army Service Corps. He subsequently managed to make a living singing in Soho clubs and ultimately landed a contract with HMV.

He had a minor hit with Mountain of Love as early as 1960 and a Top Ten hit two years later with the Goffin-King composition Up on the Roof. It was a big hit for The Drifters in the US and while it is now more readily associated with them, it was Lynch who had the hit with it in the UK.

He also had some success as a songwriter, co-writing Sha-La-La-La-Lee to order for the Small Faces after their manager said he wanted something along the lines of Manfred Mann’s chart-topper Do Wah Diddy Diddy. The group hated it, but it reached No 3. His songs were also recorded by Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and, ironically, The Drifters. By the end of the 1960s Lynch was landing a lot of television work, with regular roles in the sitcoms Room at the Bottom (1967) and the aforementioned Curry and Chips (1969). He formed a lasting association with Tarbuck, appearing on It’s Tarbuck (1970-71) and Tell Tarby (1973), in English seaside resort summer seasons and in Royal Variety Shows. He was living in Chelsea, driving a Bentley and playing golf with Tarbuck and Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Lynch was made an OBE in 1970.

At the height of his career, Lynch was reputedly earning as much as £10,000 a week. As well as performing, he had extensive business interests, including petrol stations, but he was hit hard by fluctuating oil prices in the 1970s and wound up in debt.

Latterly he fell into the “famous for being famous” category, appearing on the cover of the classic 1973 Paul McCartney and Wings album Band on the Run, along with McCartney, his wife Linda, guitarist Denny Laine, Christopher Lee, Michael Parkinson, John Conteh, Clement Freud and James Coburn, and on the likes of Pro-Celebrity Snooker (1979), Blankety Blank (1985-88) and Never Mind the Buzzcocks (2004).

More often than not it was his personal life that made headlines. He associated with East End gangsters and had a string of women – he reckoned somewhere in the region of 3,000. “I’ve been at it since I was 14,” he said. “It’s my one great weakness.”

In the early 1980s Lynch formed an unlikely songwriting partnership with the tennis player Buster Mottram, who was as well-known for his support of the right-wing National Front as for his game. In later years he cut back on his performing, though he performed in a Rat Pack tribute show and toured with Tarbuck as recently as last year.

He also did a lot of charity work and appeared in charity football, cricket and golf events and completed the 
London marathon in 1982. He never married.

He is survived by two daughters.

Brian Pendreigh