Max Bygraves dies

Max and Blossom pictured in their garden in Bournemouth.                                                       Picture: Hattie Miles

We received a message  from Anthony Bygraves  this morning saying that Max died last night after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He would have celebrated his 90th birthday on October 16. What a sad loss. Max was a multi-talented performer and one of the last of that remarkable generation of entertainers who emerged at the end of World War II. We knew Max quite well and had interviewed and photographed him on many occasions. How sad that in recent years he had been dismissed by many as a singalong a lightweight. If only they knew! In his time Max had hung out with Groucho, worked with Garland, partied with Sinatra, played Vegas and Broadway become virtually resident at the London Palladium, starred in several groundbreaking films and was Hitchcock's first choice for the lead role in Frenzy. He had stories about everyone from the Mafia to the Queen Mum.

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Surprisingly  though Max swore that his famous catchphrase 'I wanna tell you a story' was actually an invention by impressionist Mike Yarwood. "I know exactly when it happened." he once told me. "It was back in the 70s when we used to have house parties here in Bournemouth with a bunch of old mates like Jimmy Tarbuck, Val Doonican, Kenny Lynch and whoever happened to be doing summer season. "One year Mike was here and I noticed him watching me very closely. I thought: 'Hello, he's up to something.' Sure enough a few weeks later we were watching his TV show and he suddenly turns into me and announces in a really leary way 'I wanna tell you a stoorey'. I swear I'd never said anything like  that in my life before he started doing it ."

With or without a catchphrase Max had the gift of the gab. It was a great pleasure to be invited to his beautiful home on the clifftop overlooking Poole Bay and listen to him talking about fascinating times with friends that ranged from Eric Sykes and Frankie Howerd to Laurence OIivier and Peter Sellers. He knew everyone and could talk nineteen to the dozen (interspersed with little song and dance routines) about encounters with big-shot Hollywood producers, gangsters and royalty. He also told us how he desperately tried to keep Judy Garland off the gin.  We'll miss him.

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Max sitting on the steps of his newly painted poolBournemouth 1998.                                       Picture: Hattie Miles

Max and Blossom moved to Australia in 2008 but when Blossom died at the age of 88 last year, Max who was already suffering from quite advanced Alzheimer's moved in with  daughter Christine. His death came after a period of rapid decline. Happily  Anthony and his younger sister Maxine had managed to visit their father in his final days.

  “I saw dad only two weeks ago." Anthony told me.  He had become terribly frail but somehow I hoped that he would be able to see his 90th birthday. It wasn’t to be. He just slipped away. 

"Although his death isn’t unexpected it has still come as a terrific shock. We’re all terribly sad. It’s hard to imagine a world without him but at least I saw him recently. I got a chance to give him a hug and be with him.”

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Anthony, who once had his own TV show and as young entertainer used to perform alongside Max (they are pictured together left) spoke of his distress at watching his  father gradually decline.

“Up until last year he could still sing along with his old CDs. He knew all the words and even which track was coming next but when I saw in Australia last month, he’d lost all that. It was very upsetting because dad was always so on the ball, always on his toes.”

Anthony also revealed that his other sister Maxine, 61, had received news of their father’s death just hours after being evacuated from her home near Marbella, Spain, as wildfires threatened her neighbourhood.

“Poor Maxine, she’s really been through it. The house was ok eventually but apparently it had to be doused with water by the firefighters. Burning embers were falling all over it,” said Anthony.

 

© Jeremy Miles 2017