Today iNostalgia takes a look at three Liverpool pop idols from the ‘50s who were household names before the Beatles cut their first disc!

Years before Merseybeat exploded on the national music scene, three Liverpool singers were ripping up the UK music charts.

They were ultimate showman Frankie Vaughan, trail-blazer Lita Roza and rock-and-roll pioneer Billy Fury.

Frankie Vaughan
Frankie Vaughan – Bradford Timeline

Roza actually became the first woman to top the UK singles chart with the familiar catchy number (How Much Is) That Doggy in the Window? in 1953. She hated the song – but more of that later.

Fury ended up matching the Beatles hit for hit in the early 1960s and Vaughan became so famous that he even appeared alongside Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe in the 1960 movie Let’s Make Love.

One of four children, Vaughan was born in Devon Street, Liverpool, in February 1928. His original name was Frank Fruim Ableson.

He changed it to Vaughan after hearing his grandmother calling him her ‘number one’ grandson in her Russian accent. Vaughan was the closest he could get to her pronunciation of ‘one’.

The young Vaughan originally hoped to become a boxer and trained with the Lancaster Lads Club, the local branch of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs.

Singing took over when he won a scholarship to Lancaster College of Art and became a vocalist for the college’s dance band. He then studied at Leeds College of Art and became the star attraction of the student rag revue show in June 1949.

Always a snappy dresser, Vaughan adopted his trademark top hat, bow tie, tails and cane in the 1940s and early 1950s when he performed song-and-dance routines.

After appearing with the Nat Temple dance band, he struck out on his own in the mid-1950s. His signature song – Give Me the Moonlight, Give Me the Girl – was released in 1955.

Vaughan’s brand of easy listening coupled with traditional pop proved popular – so much so that his 1956 remake of The Green Door, originally recorded by Jim Lowe, climbed to No. 2 in the UK singles charts.

A year later, Vaughan’s version of The Garden of Eden went to Number One. He hit the top spot again in 1961 with the Burt Bacharach song Tower of Strength.

A frequent TV performer, Vaughan was voted Showbusiness Personality of the Year in 1956. He also appeared in a few films including These Dangerous Years in 1957 and Wonderful Things in 1958.

Throughout his life, Vaughan remained an avid supporter of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs. He gave the association the royalties from one song every year until his death in 1999.

Lita Roza
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea : Lita Roza with Billy Munn’s All-Stars / with Ted Heath & His Music – the Jazz Guy

Lita Roza, born in Liverpool in March 1926, is said to have inherited her passion for music from her Filipino father who played accordion and piano in Merseyside clubs.

She first took to the stage at the age of 12 after answering an advert for pantomime dancers in a local newspaper. Three years later, at the age of 15, she was working with well-known Merseyside comedian Ted Ray.

Her singing really took off a year later when she landed a job at the New Yorker club in Southport. She was paid £5 a week.

It wasn’t long before Roza signed up as singer with the Harry Roy orchestra in London as well as working with Latin-American legend Edmundo Ros.

After packing so much into so few years, Roza took a break from showbusiness at the age of 18 in 1944 to marry an American and move to Florida. The marriage did not last and Roza returned to the UK and her singing career.

She became lead singer of the highly popular Ted Heath orchestra in 1950 at a time when the established band was trying to inject more youth appeal. Other singers recruited included Dickie Valentine and Dennis Lotis, whose first single – a cover version of Al Martino’s Here in My Heart – was released in 1952.

A year later, Roza released her single (How Much Is) The Doggie in the Window? which had previously been recorded by American artist Patti Page. Page’s version went to Number One in the USA in December 1952 selling more than two million copies.

As Mercury Records had poor distribution in the UK, the single was given to Roza on this side of the Atlantic. It swiftly reached Number One in the UK charts.

The tune notched up two firsts for Roza. It made her the first British woman to achieve a Number One UK single and became the first song with a question mark in the title to top the charts!

Roza disliked the single so much she refused to perform it live even though it remained her greatest hit. She went on to achieve limited success with cover versions of the songs Jimmy Unknown and Hey There, originally recorded by Rosemary Clooney.

Roza was voted Top Female British Singer by both Melody Maker and the New Musical Express during the 1950s and made three appearances in heats for the Eurovision Song Contest.

She gave her final public performance on Radio Merseyside in November 2002 and died peacefully at home in August 2008 at the age of 82.

Rock-and-roll star Billy Fury achieved the rare distinction of matching the Beatles’ record of 24 hits in the 1960s, although he never reached the Number One spot.

Billy Fury Statue Liverpool Docks
Billy Fury Statue in Liverpool – Matt

Fury, whose real name was Ronald Wycherley, was born at Liverpool’s Smithdown Hospital (later Sefton General Hospital) in April 1940.

He worked on a tugboat and as a docker after starting his own band at the age of 15. Three years later he was entering talent competitions and composing his own songs.

Fury’s career moved into the fast lane when he met pop impresario and producer Larry Parnes at the Essoldo Theatre, Birkenhead, with the aim of providing some songs for singer Marty Wilde.

Instead, Parnes signed up Fury in his own right, gave him his stage name, and immediately added him to his touring party.

The young Fury was an immediate sensation with moves like Elvis Presley, film star looks and a generous helping of musical talent.

His first Top 20 hit single, Maybe Tomorrow, was released in 1959. It reached No. 18. Fury’s own composition, Colette, then went to No. 9 in the UK charts in March 1960.

The debut album The Sound of Fury followed, and then came a switch away from Rock n’ Roll to ballads. Fury’s two singles Halfway to Paradise and Jealousy reached No. 3 and No. 2 in the charts in 1961.

It was the closest he ever got to the Number One spot.

Although Fury matched the Beatles’ record of 24 hits in the 1960s – spending 332 weeks in the charts – none of his singles or albums climbed to the very top.

Fury collapsed from kidney stones in October 1961 during a taxi ride in Cambridge and was forced to recover in a nursing home.

His first film was Play It Cool, a musical released in 1962. He played struggling singer Billy Universe whose heiress girlfriend searches for him in a succession of clubs.

The impressive cast list included Helen Shapiro, Bobby Vee, Dennis Price, Shane Fenton and Bernie Winters. It was directed by Michael Winner.

Three years later, Fury portrayed a race-horse owner named Billy in the semi-autobiographical movie I’ve Gotta Horse. The film featured Fury’s own horse Anselmo as well as several of his dogs!

Starring alongside Fury were Amanda Barrie, Jon Pertwee and Prescot-born actor Fred Emney as well as popular bands the Bachelors and the Gamblers.

The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and on location at Great Yarmouth, where Fury had just finished a £10,000 Summer Spectacular at the Royal Aquarium Theatre.

Fury was renowned for his love of animals and was a keen birdwatcher all his life. He also championed wildlife preservation.

After his films, Fury achieved more hits (including Give Me Your Word in 1966) before undergoing surgery for heart problems in 1972 and 1976.

He toured with Marty Wilde in 1970 and played Stormy Tempest in the David Essex movie That’ll Be the Day in 1973.

Fury died at the age of 42 in January 1983. He collapsed at home from a heart attack after returning from a recording session. His heart had been damaged by rheumatic fever he contracted as a child.

In April the same year, a tribute concert was held in Fury’s memory at the Beck Theatre in Hayes. Performers included Marty Wilde and his daughter Kim, Joe Brown, Shane Fenton (now known as Alvin Stardust), John Miles and Helen Shapiro.

A bronze statue of Fury by Merseyside sculptor Tom Murphy was unveiled at the National Museum of Liverpool Life in April 2003. It was purchased with money donated by The Sound of Fury fan club.

Malcolm Pheby
Former daily newspaper editor and group editorial director for leading national media brands, Malcolm is a regular contributor to iNostalgia.

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