Obituary: Sir Jimmy Young, singer who became giant of British broadcasting

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Sir Jimmy Young, 1950s crooner and radio broadcasting legend. Born: 21 September, 1921 in Cinderford, Gloucestershire. Died: 7 November, 2016, aged 95

Sir Jimmy Young counted royals and prime ministers among his millions of listeners – but he will be forever known as the “Housewives’ choice”.

The Queen was said to tune into his popular BBC Radio 2 show which had prime ministers queuing up to appear on it.

Sir Jimmy had interviewed every one since Harold Macmillan, with Baroness Thatcher a guest no fewer than 14 times.

The veteran broadcaster was a radio institution and had been a regular on the airwaves since he helped to launch BBC Radio 1 in 1967.

But presenting was only one of his talents – Sir Jimmy began his showbusiness career as a successful crooner with two number one records to his name.

He was born Leslie Ronald Young in 1921, the only child of a miner in Cinderford, Gloucestershire.

His love of music came from his mother, who taught him to play the piano at the age of seven. He went on to become a choirboy at Gloucester Cathedral.

A bright child, he won a scholarship to East Green Grammar School and matriculated at 15. But his parents could not afford for him to continue his education and he left school to become a baker’s boy.

He moved to South Wales where he worked as an electrician for £3 10s a week, and in 1939 he joined the RAF as a trainee pilot.

When an illness prevented him from flying, he became a PT instructor and spent seven years posted in Burma.

On his return to Britain he married his first wife, Wendy. They had a daughter but divorced after three years.

Sir Jimmy worked as a Minister of Education clerk and managed a hair salon, but his heart was set on a career in entertainment.

He sang and played piano on the club circuit and in 1949 he finally landed a record deal after being spotted by a producer.

In the same year he met his second wife, singer Sally Douglas, but that marriage also ended in divorce after seven years.

Sir Jimmy’s first hit single was Too Young in 1951, and he went on to become Britain’s answer to Frank Sinatra, selling more records than any other British male singer and causing hysteria among teenage fans at his live performances. He became the first British singer to have two consecutive number one hits, with Unchained Melody and A Man Called Laramie in 1955.

But by the end of the 1950s his balladeering style had fallen out of fashion, and Sir Jimmy would later say that the success of Elvis Presley killed off his singing career.

Instead he turned to radio work, which he had begun in 1955 as presenter of Housewives’ Choice. Other shows included The Night is Young, Saturday Special and Keep Young.

By the end of 1960 he was doing seven shows a week on Radio Luxembourg with a singing series and another presenting job with the BBC.

In 1967 he was a launch DJ for Radio 1, hired to present the morning show despite one senior executive’s fears that he was too old and too square for a hip young audience.

He was given a three-month contract but the listeners loved him and he ended up staying at the station for six years. The show pulled in an audience of seven million and Sir Jimmy received around 10,000 letters a week.

His catchphrases, such as “What’s the recipe today, Jim?” and “Orft we jolly well go”, became national buzz words.

He switched to Radio 2 in 1973 to present the lunchtime slot, popularly known as the JY Prog.

Politicians and prime ministers were regular guests and Sir Jimmy was admired for the ease with which he blended political discussion with more lightweight topics.

His relaxed interviewing style disguised the fact that he spent hours meticulously researching his interviewees.

Amongst a host of honours received during his six-decade career, he was awarded the OBE in 1979 and finally a knighthood in 2002.

Even as he entered his 80s, his show was still going strong with over five million listeners regularly tuning in.

After 28 years he announced that he would be leaving the lunchtime show and moving to a weekend slot from 2003. But it was quite obvious that he was reluctant to quit his job.

However, he did not entirely disappear as a public figure. He was quickly snapped up as a columnist by the Sunday Express.