Tom O'Connor

Tributes have been paid to comedian and former Southport resident Tom O’Connor, who has died at the age of 81. 

One of Britain’s top comics broke into the big time in the 1970s when he landed a spot on Hughie Green’s talent show, Opportunity Knocks.

Mr O’Connor, who lived on Selworthy Road and Waterloo Road in Southport, won Opportunity Knocks for three weeks running before going on to present a series of iconic shows, including Name That Tune. 

He was born in Bootle on 31st October 1939. He attended St Mary’s College in Crosby and Saint Mary’s College in Twickenham. 

He then became a mathematics and music teacher at the St Joan of Arc School, Bootle. After work he appeared as a comedian in working men’s clubs, until he won national acclaim on Opportunity Knocks.

He said: “From that moment… whoosh! I was booked to appear at bigger and better venues and was able to add an extra nought to my fee. Bernard Delfont [theatrical impresario] took notice and decided I’d be the perfect host for Name That Tune, a game that was to be part of a show called Wednesday At 8. I presented nine game shows in all, as well as my own music and comedy shows.”

The shows he presented  included: “Tom O’ Connor”, “Wednesday At Eight”, “Night Out At The London Casino”, ” London Night Out”, “The Tom O’Connor Show”, and ” The Tom O’Connor Roadshow”. He has emerged as one of the most popular entertainers in the country and one of Britain’ s funniest comedians.

He died in hospital in Buckinghamshire earlier today (Sunday) Sunday aged 81, his family has said. He had had Parkinson’s for over a decade.

His son Steve Finan O’Connor said he was a “unique comedian who was light years ahead of political correctness”.

He leaves a wife and four children, as well as 16 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

His son added: “Tom was famously known for a brand of humour that was 100% clean and always totally family friendly.”

He said his father, who was also an actor, was a “firm TV favourite”.

Tom O’Connor started his showbusiness career as a singer, before introducing comedy into his act – he was still teaching during the day, and performing on the club circuit at night.

He became a professional entertainer in 1972, establishing himself as a household name with shows like Pick Pockets and The Zodiac Game.

He hosted Name That Tune from 1976 until 1983.

His career also saw him appearing at the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium and being the subject of This Is Your Life.

As well as hosting quiz shows – which also included I’ve Got a Secret and Gambit – he was also an actor, starring as Father Tom in daytime soap Doctors in the early 2000s. He won the celebrity edition of Come Dine With Me in 2010 and competed on the Pointless Celebrities quiz show with his daughter-in-law, Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis, the following year.

Tom O’Connor also made appearances as a guest on Countdown’s dictionary corner and received an award from the Channel 4 quiz for being the first to mark 100 appearances on the show.

In a video on his website, Tom O’Connor said: “When I grew up as a kid in wartime Merseyside, I never dreamed I’d have a career that started as a schoolteacher, went to folk singer, then country and western singer, stand-up talker and TV presenter. I’ve been lucky.”

TV presenter Piers Morgan was among those to pay tribute to O’Connor, calling him a “Liverpool legend and a very funny man”.

“Sad news. Thanks for all the laughs, Tom,” he said on Twitter.

BBC Breakfast host Dan Walker tweeted that O’Connor was “kind, funny and a true gent”.

Liverpool City Council said: “Sad news breaking about the death of veteran Liverpool comedian Tom O’Connor. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

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