Pearl Carr obituary in “The Guardian” in 2020.
In 1959 the husband and wife duo of Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson were invited to look at songs with which they could represent the UK in the fourth staging of the Eurovision song contest. These were pleasant ballads that owed nothing to the prevailing climate of rock and roll, and there was a trite but cheerful novelty song, Sing, Little Birdie. The pair saw how they could develop it into a routine with solo lines, immaculate harmonies and sideways glances at each other – and chose it as their UK song for Cannes. They came second, losing to a rendition of Een Beetje by Teddy Scholten for the Netherlands. In the event Sing, Little Birdie topped the charts in the Netherlands, having also made No 12 in the UK.
Carr, who has died aged 98, would like to have been remembered for something more substantial than that song, but it did demonstrate that the UK might actually win Eurovision. Sing Little Birdie’s writers, Stan Butcher and Syd Cordell, submitted Pickin’ Petals for Carr and Johnson as a contender for the UK entry in 1960, but this time Teddy’s younger brother, Bryan, represented the UK with Looking High, High, High – and also came second. The UK eventually won in 1967 with Sandie Shaw’s Puppet on a String.
Carr was born in Exmouth in Devon. Her father owned a fish and chip shop and her mother, who had been the music hall artist Lily Palmer, ran a dancing school and taught her to sing and dance. The young Pearl was put into one of CB Cochran’s shows and then joined the Three in Harmony singing group, who appeared in Best Bib And Tucker with Tommy Trinder at the London Palladium in 1942.
She sang with Cyril Stapleton and his Orchestra and then joined a vocal quartet, the Keynotes, for whom she was the lead singer on There’s a Harvest Moon Tonight, a 78 rpm single, in 1946. The Keynotes were regular guests on two radio shows, Take It From Here and Breakfast With (Bernard) Braden.
Johnson, who was two years older than Pearl, had worked as a drummer and DJ, and then had a hit single with Beloved, Be Faithful in 1950. When he appeared on the BBC radio show Black Magic, hosted by the bandleader Stanley Black, Carr was asked to sing with him. The partnership worked well, although they had no plans at the time to repeat it. However, by 1952 they were dating and they started appearing on the same shows, performing separate acts and coming together for Idle Gossip and Shadow Dance, which Johnson would sing while Carr danced.Advertisement
When they married in 1955 they decided to perform as a husband and wife team, with accompanying light-hearted banter. Audiences responded enthusiastically to their genuine affection.
They were regulars on the Winifred Atwell Show on TV (1956-57), as well as on the new children’s series Crackerjack, and they hosted shows for Radio Luxembourg, advertised as Mr and Mrs Music.
In 1959 they recorded a lyricised version of the instrumental song Petite Fleur, which had been a popular number for Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, but were so dismayed by the record’s production that they told fans not to buy it. They fared much better two years later with How Wonderful to Know, an adaptation of the Italian song Anema e Core, which became their second hit, entering the Top 30.
The duo often worked on variety shows with Morecambe and Wise and, in 1964, they appeared on the same bill as the Beatles on the nationally televised Blackpool Night Out. They featured in pantomimes and summer shows and for two seasons (1977 and 1978) worked with John Inman in Fancy Free.
In the 80s they developed a touring tribute to Bing Crosby, with Pearl taking the place of Bing’s many duet partners. In 1987 they had an 18-month run as Wally and Emily Whitman in the first West End production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, at the Shaftesbury theatre.
They continued to make occasional public appearances and would pretend to be irritated by requests for Sing, Little Birdie, declaring that “we do know other songs”. In later years they both lived at Brinsworth House in Twickenham, south-west London, a retirement home for entertainers. Teddy died in 2018.
• Pearl Lavinia Carr, singer, born 2 November 1921; died 16 February 2020
Teddy Johnson obituary in “The Guardian“ in 2018.
The British entry has finished second in the Eurovision song contest 15 times. The first of these was in 1959 when Sing, Little Birdie was performed by the husband-and-wife duo Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson. In addition to his singing career as a soloist and with his wife, Johnson, who has died aged 98, was a well-known radio personality on Radio Luxembourg and the BBC, and an occasional actor.
The Eurovision song contest had begun in 1956 but the UK, through the BBC, did not enter the competition until the following year when Patricia Bredin came sixth with All. The BBC withdrew to lick its wounds in 1958 but re-entered in 1959. Johnson and Carr were invited to take part in the preliminary contest to choose the British entry. Johnson told an interviewer that “there was one song that nobody wanted. It was called Sing, Little Birdie and as soon as it was played, Pearl and I looked at each other and agreed to do it”.
With 11 countries represented, the 1959 contest was held in France, in Cannes, and Johnson and Carr were beaten by the Netherlands entry, Een Beetje by Teddy Scholten. They re-entered the preliminary contest in 1960, but were unsuccessful; Johnson’s younger brother, Bryan, went through to represent Britain, coming second with Looking High, High, High.
Teddy Johnson was born in Surbiton, south-west London, and worked in an office after leaving school at 14. Aged 18, he landed his first professional booking, as a drummer and assistant steward on the P&O liner SS Corfu. “We played a wide variety of music,” he recalled. “Everything from popular songs and dance music of the day to classical pieces and light opera.” Johnson made his first broadcast in 1939, for Radio Ceylon, which provoked a fellow musician to tell him: “You are a very good singer but a bloody awful drummer”.
During the second world war Johnson served in the merchant navy, working on the Queen Mary as a butcher on the transatlantic run. Ashore in New York City, he attended shows by Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman’s orchestra, as well as buying a state-of-the-art drum kit.
After the war he joined the resident band at the Locarno dance hall in Streatham, south London, and broadcast as a singer with the bandleader Jack Payne. Johnson worked with several more dance bands before he was hired in 1948 as chief announcer for the English language programmes of Radio Luxembourg.
He spent the next two years in the Grand Duchy, presenting and compiling a range of shows from request programmes to the first radio hit parade, compiled from British sales of sheet music. When he was offered a recording contract by EMI’s Columbia label, Johnson returned to London, to be replaced by Pete Murray.
Johnson’s first disc was Beloved, Be Faithful, to be followed by another 20-plus singles. The first of these, There’s a Small Hotel, was an unusual duet with the American star Jo Stafford. Each singer recorded their part in their home studio, with an engineer matching them up. In 1950, Johnson briefly presented the record request show Housewives’ Choice until BBC managers deemed him be too informal.
He had more luck as compere of the radio variety show Black Magic, which also featured Carr, an established singer and member of the vocal group the Keynotes. This was the start of their long professional and personal collaboration. They toured together in variety shows during the 1950s and were regular guests on the BBC children’s programme Crackerjack. The couple married in 1955.
The publicity generated by Carr and Johnson’s Eurovision appearance in 1959 brought them regular bookings for summer shows and pantomimes while the recording of Sing, Little Birdie reached No 12 in the British charts and was No 1 in the Netherlands. A later record, How Wonderful to Know, was a Top 30 hit in 1961. In later years, Carr and Johnson were somewhat out of sync with newer trends in pop music, but Johnson found work with the BBC Light Programme and Radio 2. The duo also made numerous pre-recorded shows for Radio Luxembourg.
Their final live appearance was in the 1987 West End revival of Stephen Sondheim’s show Follies. In retirement, the couple moved to Brinsworth House, a home for entertainers in Twickenham, west London.
Carr survives him.
• Edward Victor Johnson, singer and radio presenter, born 4 September 1919; died 6 June 2018