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Joan Regan 1928-2013

September 13, 2013


Joan Regan 2

JOAN REGAN  was born in Romford, Essex on January 19th 1928, and was 25 years old before she decided to give up her job in a photographer’s studio and launch a career in show-business. This was quite a move for a young divorcee and mother of two (from her early marriage to an American soldier she had two sons, Danny and Rusty, born in America and educated in England.)

She was signed to Decca Records and had a number of UK Top 20 hits with cover versions of American hits, including “If I Give My Heart to You” (No. 3 in 1954) and “May You Always” (No. 9 in 1959).  She was signed up by the BBC as the resident singer on “Quite Contrary”, and then was given her own BBC TV series, “Be My Guest” which ran for four seasons.

Hers was a quick rise to fame, and she was quickly booked for the first Royal Variety Performance held outside London – in Blackpool in 1955  –   and for “Stars in Your Eyes” at the London Palladium. (She also appeared in the 1957 and 1960 Royal Variety Shows, back in the capital).  The joint general manager and box office manager of the Palladium at that time was Harry Claff, and in 1957 Joan and Harry were married. Their daughter, Donna, was born in 1958.

Although her very first appearance in variety didn’t augur well  –  she was knocked unconscious by a descending safety curtain  – over the next few years she had a very successful variety theatre career, adding comedy impressions to her singing. Throughout this time she seemed to be prone to minor accidents and injuries, and more than once collapsed on stage during her act, and occasionally missed performances due to voice problems. However, her recording career was doing well, with releases on the EMI and Pye labels.

JoanRegan MusicCover

Early in the 1960s Harry Claff was found guilty of fraud and jailed for five years, and this led to Joan divorcing him in 1963 and suffering a nervous breakdown. She moved to Florida to recuperate, and then spent long periods as a resident in the USA following her 1966 marriage to an American doctor, Martin Cowan.  However, she made frequent return trips throughout the 70s and early 80s, maintaining regular summer show and club engagements in the UK.  When her husband retired in 1982 Joan decided to ease up on her travelling, and go into semi-retirement herself.

Whilst in the USA in 1984 she fell in the shower, hit her head on the tiles, and suffered a brain haemorrhage which left her paralyzed and unable to speak.  After months of physical and speech therapy, helped by miming to her old records, she slowly recovered.  She returned to the UK in the 1987 and, with the help of Russ Conway, who had worked with her in the early 1950s, and the encouragement of entertainer and producer Jack Seaton, she resumed her stage appearances in a series of charity shows which proved she still had a large fan base and still had a lot of talent to offer.

Her “second-wind” career then really took off, with sold-out appearances at such venues as  Hackney Empire, the Kenneth More in Ilford, and Leeds City Varieties (1996). She appeared at Brick Lane Music Hall for Vincent Hayes, at the City Varieties again in 2006 with Stan Stennett and was celebrity guest at the British Music Hall Society’s  celebrity luncheon.

JoanReganLunch2008  JoanReganlunch2008a

The above photographs from the website of the BMHS- The British Music Hall Society. Left Roy Hudd, Vincent Hayes, Jan Hunt, Joan Regan, Lionel Blair and Doreen Hermitage.

Jan Hunt’s “Paper Moon” Music Hall Company featured Joan Reagan in variety bills. I was fortunate enough to be a part, and to watch the magic. In Jan’s shows the cast meet up with the audience in the foyer after the show. So many of them came up to Joan to tell her that it was her song that was playing on their first date, or when they proposed- Gracious and kinf, no one left without a chat and an autograph.

Her voice was still golden. I am so pleased I had those opportunities to watch magic from the wings. When she sang “May You Always” or “Happy Anniversary” the audience was transported back to their anniversaries, weddings and another era.

Joan Regan was Principal Girl several times in pantomime over a ten year period.

Panto: 1955-56

Liverpool Empire: Tom Arnold’s “Dick Whittington”

With Sonnie Hale, Joan Regan (Principal Girl), Brian Reece, the Radio Revellers and Joan Mann.


Leeds Grand:  Tom Arnold’s “Jack and the Beanstalk”

With Joan Regan (Girl), Brian Reece, Audrey Jeans (Boy) and Jimmy James (Dame for the first time in his career), Bretton Woods, Roy Castle, Jean Mostyn, Nicholas Brent


Was originally announced for Dudley, but withdrew because she was pregnant. Replaced by Yana.

(Her daughter, Donna, was born in 1958)


Chiswick:  Lew & Leslie Grade’s “Cinderella”

With Joan Regan (Cinderella), McDonald Hobley(Buttons), Burt Twins (Uglies), Jimmy Lee, Carol Eric Irene Dickson, Sid Millward and the4 Nitwits


London Palladium: “Puss in Boots”

Joan Regan 1

With Frankie Vaughan, Jimmy Edwards, Mike & Bernie Winters, Joan Regan, Dick Emery, Audrey Jeans, David Davenport, Gillian Lynne.


Southampton Gaumont : Joe Collins’ “Puss in Boots”

With Richard Hearne, Joan Regan (Princess Valentina), Bill Maynard, Lisabeth Lennon, Trevor Moreton (Queen Anastasia)

Here is Joan’s obituary from the Telegraph. She died on September 12th leaving a legacy of beautiful songs- all of which I have to confess I’ve had on my iPod for years.

The Telegraph Obituary 14th September 2013

Joan Regan , who has died aged 85, was a leading light of the 1950s variety performance circuit whose popular singing style drew on the sunny delivery of her American contemporaries and belied her Essex roots and personal dramas.

Joan Regan Photo: ALAMY

2:12PM BST 13 Sep 2013

During the difficult post-war years, Joan Regan’s uplifting vocal approach had a comforting echo of Vera Lynn’s croon although, with her blonde hair and broad smile her looks mirrored the matinee glamour of the actress Anna Neagle, one of a number of stars she would later impersonate on stage. Success swiftly followed her signing to Decca Records in 1953 when her debut single, Ricochet, found her backed by the Squadronaires, the RAF orchestra. It reached No 8 in the charts and set her on a path that would result in four albums, her own television programme and international touring engagements.

Her first live performance ended prematurely when the curtain came down on her head, knocking her out. She was, however, to become a regular at the London Palladium during the late 1950s and early 1960s, appearing alongside such artists as Max Bygraves, Cliff Richard and Billy Dainty.

In 1946, when she was 18, Joan Regan had married Dick Howell, with whom she had two sons. The marriage was dissolved in 1951, and six years later she married the Palladium’s Box Office Manager, Harry Claff.

One of her frequent collaborators during her early performing years was the pianist Russ Conway. The pair became close friends. Conway declared that “three women taught me about stagecraft: Joan Regan, Gracie Fields and Dorothy Squires.” It proved to be an ideal professional partnership. “Somehow, he and I completely gelled musically,” she explained in 2004. “He took my music away and then we came back and rehearsed. And it was fantastic. It all seemed like different music.”

The variety life was indeed varied for Joan Regan. She entertained Christmas audiences in pantomime with Frankie Vaughan, shared star billing with Beryl Reid, Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise and, in 1955, was called to perform before the Queen for a Royal Command Performance.

Her onstage smile, however, often hid serious distress. Her marriage to Claff ended when her husband was jailed for fraud, a crisis which led to her suffering a nervous breakdown. And in 1984 a brain haemorrhage left her temporarily paralysed and speechless. Miming to her favourite numbers aided her therapy.

Joan Regan was born on January 19 1928, at Romford, Essex. She was talent spotted by the impresario Bernard Delfont, brother of Lew and Leslie Grade, who helped her get signed by Decca (where she recorded two albums, The Girl Next Door and Just Joan). The label shaped her trademark renditions of stateside standards by Doris Day and Teresa Brewer. She later moved to EMI and then to Pye Records.

She sang on the hit television music show 6.5 Special leading to her own programme, Be My Guest. This ran for four series and attempted to expand her act, and her audience, by combining songs with impressions of stars like Gracie Fields and Judy Garland.

Further television work took her to America and across Europe, where she often sang alongside home-grown stars such as Maurice Chevalier, Eddie Fisher, Perry Como and Johnnie Ray.

After her convalescence from neurosurgery in the 1980s, she was encouraged back onto the stage by her old friend Russ Conway. Her late career on the nostalgia tours of Britain’s regional theatres drew fans that had remained with her for over four decades.

These concerts saw her expand her setlist to include numbers by many of her old friends. In particular, her vocal similarity to Vera Lynn allowed her to step into the shoes of the “Forces sweetheart” for celebratory medleys on anniversaries of V-E Day with the support of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. She performed many of her concerts towards the end of her career in aid of various charities.

Joan Regan remarried in 1968, to Martin Cowan, a doctor, and moved to Florida. The couple later returned to Britain and settled in Kent. Her husband predeceased her, and she is survived by her two sons and by a daughter of her second marriage.

Joan Regan, born January 19 1928, died September 12 2013

From → Miscellaneous

  1. Joan Regan was born on Thursday January 19th 1928 in Romford,Essex and she was The Original British Female Singer’s from The Fabulous Fifties & The Swinging Sixties Music.

    She signed to Decca,Pye & HMV Records under her belt with the greatest hits included Ricochet,
    Gone,May You Always,Danger-Heartbreak Ahead,Must Be Santa,Wonderful Wonderful,Prize of Gold
    The Rose & The Flame,Wait For Me Darling,Faded Flowers,Two Kinds of Tears,If I Give My Heart To You,Surprisin’,Make Me A Child Again,If You Learn To Love Each Other,Cross of Gold,Don’t Be Afraid of Love,Just Say You Love Her,We Who Are in Love,Honestly,Love & Marriage,I’m No Toy,
    Don’t Talk To Me About Love,A Northern Soul Classic of 1966,A Love So Fine,No-One Beside Me and In The Arms of My Love.

    With her TV Shows for The BBC & Independent Television Shows over the years-Be My Guest,
    The Golden Shot,Comedy Bandbox,Startime,Sunday Night at The London Palladium,Juke Box Jury,
    Thank Your Lucky Stars,This is Your Life with The late Eamonn Andrews & Morecambe & Wise Show.

    Joan has always got on with the famous chart stars such as Elvis Presley,Cliff Richard & The Shadows,Norrie Paramor,Johnny Kidd & The Pirates,Shane Fenton & The Fentones,The Who,
    The Swinging Blue Jeans,Gerry & The Pacemakers,The Beatles,Michael Holliday,Ruby Murray,
    Alma Cogan,Marion Ryan,Dusty Springfield,Bo Diddley,John Leyton,Mike Sarne,Eden Kane,
    The Dave Clark Five,The Big Three,Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas,The Tornados,Don Charles,
    Screaming Lord Sutch,Small Faces,Buddy Holly,Gene Vincent,Manfred Mann,The Hollies,
    Freddie & The Dreamers,Frank Sinatra,Nat King Cole,Jerry Lordan,Jet Harris & Tony Meehan,
    High Numbers,Tony Brent,Yardbirds,The Animals,The Fourmost,Diana Ross & The Supremes,
    Cilla Black,The Searchers,Tony Jackson,The Dennisons,Rory Storm & The Hurricanes,Lulu,
    Gene Pitney,John Barry Seven,Adam Faith,The Roulettes,Sandie Shaw,The Kinks,Tommy Steele,
    Marty Wilde,Billy Fury,Joe Brown,Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames,Dickie Pride,Janice Peters,
    Vince Taylor,The King Brothers,Don Lang,Lonnie Donegan,Kathy Kirby,Jill Day,Billie Anthony,
    Little Richard,Bill Haley,Nero & The Gladiators,Johnny Cash,Mike Berry & The Outlaws,The Mojos,
    Dean Martin,Jo Stafford,Peggy Lee,Hermans Hermits,Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders,The Move,
    Brian Poole,Ross McManus,Joe Loss,Rosemary Squires,Jackie Trent,Kingsize Taylor,Alan Price,
    Eric Burdon,The Zombies,Teddy Randazzo,Karl Denver Trio,Ken Dodd,Russ Conway,Bob Dylan,
    The Dave Davani Four,The Merseybeats,The Four Pennies,The Four Tops,The Mudlarks,
    Jimmy Crawford,Ricky Valance,Frank Ifield,Ken Jones,The Avons,Helen Shapiro & Twinkle.

    Sadly on Thursday September 12th 2013 when she passed away at the age of 85 years and I Won’t forget The British Original Female Singer from The Fabulous Fifties & The Swinging Sixties Music icon is The late Joan Regan

    Terry Christie,Sunderland,Tyne & Wear

  2. Bob Mann permalink

    I played and went to school with her two sons Danny and Rusty in the 1950’s. I used to visit her house (Felix Manor) in Chislehurst from time to time. Often whatever happened to Danny and Rusty.

    • Jean Franklin permalink

      Hi Bob, I too am trying to trace Danny and Rusty as they went to the same boarding school St Nicolas in Mickleham now Box hill school. Along with 2 other ex pupils, we are trying to put together the history of the school etc. Did you perhaps go to St Nicolas too? This would be such good news if you can make contact. Jean Franklin (nee Hassall)

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