Though overlooked today, during the 1950s, so great was Dickie Valentine’s popularity that a 1957 meeting of his fan club was so oversubscribed that the Royal Albert Hall was chosen as the venue. Such devotion could he inspire from his admirers, one 1956 report highlighted the case of Suzanne Crowley – a young girl who referred to herself as a ‘raving mad Dickie Valentine fan,’ and was so obsessed with her idol, that she carried a record player around with her so she could listen to his music at all times, and also wore one of his records as a hat.
Born Richard Maxwell in Marylebone on 4th November 1929, his first film role came at the tender age of 3, in the comedy Jack’s the Boy, starring Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge. Finding steady work as a child actor, he developed a routine in which he impersonated many popular singers of the day such as Mario Lanza and Frankie Laine – something he would continue to do for the rest of his career. Possessing an impressive voice of his own however, he was a regular on the London nightclub circuit, and on 14th February 1949, signed as a vocalist for Ted Heath’s band, Ted Heath and His Music; in honour of the date his big break arrived, he adopted the stage name Dickie Valentine.
Three years later, Valentine had twice been voted Top UK Male Vocalist, an accolade that prompted him to sign with Decca records as a solo performer in 1954. The previous year, merely weeks after the introduction of the UK Singles Chart, Valentine had released a cover of Broken Wings, which had been a number one for The Stargazers; his rendition peaked at 12. Other hits followed, including his versions of Mr Sandman, A Blossom Fell and I wonder. In November 1954, Valentine sang at the Royal Command Performance and in February 1955, he was given star-billing at the London Palladium, where he had briefly worked as a page-boy in his teens before he was allegedly fired for his impudence.
Above: Dickie Valentine – Mr Sandman (1954)
The ballad Finger of Suspicion (featuring The Stargazers), released in early 1955, saw Valentine achieve his first number one single. Christmas Alphabet also topped the charts in December 1955. His success resulted in regular stints on television shows such as Val Parnell’s Startime, and Valentine was also brought to the attention of American audiences as a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show. As his career was taking off, Valentine had married Elizabeth Flynn, a professional ice skater in 1945, and the couple had a son and a daughter.
By the late 1950s, Valentine’s style appeared increasingly outdated as American rock and roll started to dominate. In 1956, Valentine released the album Dickie Valentine’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Medley, later describing the album as a ‘clanger.’ Seemingly, his fans agreed and it proved to be a flop.
Valentine left Decca for Pye in 1959, and had his last top twenty hit, One More Sunrise the same year. Yet he remained a popular television performer, and in 1961 was given his own show Calling Dickie Valentine; a year later he appeared in the BBC television movie Starlight Rendezvous and on other entertainment shows like Big Night Out and The Frankie Vaughan Show.
In 1967, he presented and starred in The Dickie Valentine Show and featured in another television movie, Getting Sentimental Over You. However, the television offers began to dry up and Valentine’s final small screen performance was on the 1970 show, Crowther’s Back in Town, presented by Leslie Crowther. The late 1960s would be a turbulent period for Valentine’s personal life; in 1967, he divorced Flynn, and in 1968, married Wendy Wayne, an actress who was fifteen years his junior.
After a sell-out tour of Australia in early 1971, Valentine was booked for a gig at the Double Diamond Club in Caerphilly. As Valentine drove back from the venue in the early hours of 6th May 1971, it was unusually foggy and the vehicle, his wife’s Hillman Avenger, struck a bridge parapet in the village of Glangrwyney. One witness to the accident stated that ‘the car was an inferno in seconds.’ Valentine died along with his passengers, the pianist Syd Boatman and drummer Dave Pearson. A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded. Newspaper reports of Valentine’s accident revealed that his closing number that fateful evening, had been Irving Berlin’s The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On).