Michael Valentine Doonican (3 February 1927 – 1 July 2015) was an Irish singer of traditional pop, easy listening, and novelty songs, who was noted for his warm and relaxed style. A crooner, he found popular success, especially in the United Kingdom where he had five successive Top 10 albums in the 1960s as well as several hits on the UK Singles Chart, including “If the Whole World Stopped Lovin'”, “Walk Tall” and “Elusive Butterfly”. The Val Doonican Show, which featured his singing and a variety of guests, had a long and successful run on BBC Television from 1965 to 1986, and Doonican won the Variety Club of Great Britain’s BBC-TV Personality of the Year award three times.

Early life and career

Doonican was born on 3 February 1927 in Waterford, Ireland, the youngest of the eight children of Agnes (née Kavanagh) and John Doonican. He was from a musical family and played in his school band from the age of six. In 1941 when he was a teenager his father died, so he had to leave De La Salle College Waterford, to get factory jobs fabricating steel and making orange and grapefruit boxes. He began to perform in his hometown, often with his friend Bruce Clarke, and they had their first professional engagement as a duo in 1947. Doonican appeared in a summer season at Courtown Harbour, County Wexford. He soon featured on Irish radio, sometimes with Clarke, and appeared in Waterford’s first-ever television broadcast. Then he played the drums in a band on a tour through Ireland.

Career in Britain

In 1951 Doonican moved to England to join the Four Ramblers, who toured and performed on BBC Radio shows broadcast from factories, and on the Riders of the Range serials. He also began performing at United States Air Force bases. The Ramblers supported Anthony Newley on tour and recognising his talent and potential as a solo act, Newley persuaded him to leave the singing group and go solo. He was auditioned for radio as a solo act, and appeared on the radio show Variety Bandbox. Soon after his solo career started, he had his own radio show as well as performing in concerts and cabaret. In the late 1950s, Doonican became one of the artists managed by Eve Taylor, the self-described “Queen Bee” of show business, who remained his manager until her death.

After seeing him in cabaret in London in 1963, impresario Val Parnell booked him to appear on Sunday Night at the Palladium. As a result of his performance, Bill Cotton, then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Television, offered Doonican his own regular show. The TV shows were produced by Yvonne Littlewood and lasted for over 20 years. At their peak the shows attracted audiences of some 19 million viewers. The shows featured his relaxed crooner style, sitting in a rocking chair wearing cardigans or jumpers, sometimes performing comedic Irish songs including “Paddy McGinty’s Goat”, “Delaney’s Donkey” and “O’Rafferty’s Motor Car” as well as easy listening and country material on which he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar. Doonican’s songs about O’Rafferty were popular enough for the BBC to publish a book, Val Doonican Tells The Adventures of O’Rafferty, which retold five of the tales, in 1969. As his were variety shows, his TV programmes gave a number of other performers, such as Dave Allen, early exposure. Regular guests included Bernard Cribbins, Bob Todd, the Norman Maen Dancers, the Mike Sammes Singers, and the Kenny Woodman Orchestra. At its height The Val Doonican Show, which featured both American and British acts, had 20 million viewers.[8] In the United States, The Val Doonican Show aired on ABC on Saturday evenings at 8:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. Central) from 5 June to 14 August 1971.

The Palladium performance also kick-started his recording career. Between 1964 and 1973 Doonican was rarely out of the UK Singles Chart, his greatest successes including the singles “Walk Tall”, “The Special Years”, “Elusive Butterfly”, “What Would I Be” (Decca), “If The Whole World Stopped Loving” (Pye), and “Morning” (Philips); and the albums 13 Lucky Shades of Val Doonican (Decca), and Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently (Pye) which reached Number 1 in the UK Albums Chart in December 1967 and knocked the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper off the top of the chart. The 1966 single release “Elusive Butterfly” reached a UK chart peak of #5[10] and #3 in Ireland. In all, he recorded over 50 albums. After a spell with Philips records in the seventies he also recorded for RCA. He also sang the theme song to the film Ring of Bright Water.

Behind the scenes, Doonican was described as “a perfectionist who knew his limitations but always aimed to be ‘the best Val Doonican possible.'” He was sometimes compared to American singer Perry Como, though he claimed his main influence was Bing Crosby.He appeared in three Royal Variety Performances. On 31 December 1976, Doonican performed his hit song “What Would I Be” on BBC One’s A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen Elizabeth II’s impending Silver Jubilee.

Doonican won the BBC Television Personality of the Year award in 1966. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1970. Eamonn Andrews met him at the 18th green of the South Herts Golf Club as Doonican played a round of golf. He wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Special Years (1980) and Walking Tall (1985)

Personal life

Doonican met his future wife, Lynette Rae, when both she and the Ramblers supported Anthony Newley on tour. The couple married in 1962. They had two daughters, Sarah and Fiona, and two grandchildren, Bethany and Scott. In later years they lived at Knotty Green in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Doonican officially retired in 1990 but was still performing in 2009. He had a second home in Spain and was a keen golfer and a talented watercolour painter. Another hobby he enjoyed was cooking. In June 2011, he was recognised by the Mayor of Waterford bestowing on him “The Freedom of the City”.

Death and tributes

Doonican died at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire on 1 July 2015, aged 88. His daughter Sarah told The Guardian: “Until 87, he was as fit as a flea. It was just old age, I’m afraid — the batteries ran out.” Leading tributes to Doonican, fellow entertainer Bruce Forsyth said, “It is very sad. He was always a lovely man to work with … He was a very warm person and number one in his field. He brought a lovely warmth with his personality and was a very popular man.” Elaine Paige commented on Twitter, “Sad to hear of Val Doonican’s passing … RIP Val”, while BBC disc-jockey Tony Blackburn said “So sad to hear that Val Doonican has passed away. He was a lovely man and a true professional who I worked with on several TV shows R.I.P.”


Additional Details

  • Performed at:Holiday Parks, TV
  • Year Formed: 1951
  • No. Of Years Active:58
  • Music Genre:Mix, Country, Jazz, Other
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