Don Shearman obituary

<span>Don Shearman started his working life as an engineer, but switched to music in the late 1950s and never looked back</span><span>Photograph: Paul Tansley</span>
Don Shearman started his working life as an engineer, but switched to music in the late 1950s and never looked backPhotograph: Paul Tansley

My grandfather Don Shearman, who has died aged 92, spent many years in show business as a pianist and worked with a number of top artists, including Norman Wisdom, Russ Conway and Roy Hudd as their personal musical director.

After giving up his initial career in engineering, Don started at Butlin’s in Skegness before working as a pianist in various clubs in London, where he came into the orbit of a number of high-profile performers in the world of light entertainment. He began working with Hudd in 1972, became musical director to Wisdom two years later, and also worked in the same role for, among others, Billy Dainty and Dickie Henderson.

In addition Don worked as musical director on a number of television programmes in the 1970s and 80s, including Halls of Fame, Comic Roots and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

Don was born in Manchester, the only child of Claude, a bank clerk, and Eva (nee Jackson), a housewife. His love of music began at the age of seven, when he started playing on a piano belonging to a family friend, who spotted his natural talent and encouraged his parents to arrange lessons.

After attending William Hulme’s grammar school, Don studied civil engineering at Manchester University, where he played the piano in the university jazz band. At a university dance he met Janet Paterson, a fellow student, whom he married in 1958.

After university he joined the aircraft manufacturer Handley Page as a stress engineer, working on the Victor Bomber and Blackburn Buccaneer planes. But his passion for music eventually trumped his interest in engineering , and in 1958 he and Janet moved to London so that he could switch careers.

Initially he worked at the River Club, then took on a six-month contract to play piano on a world cruise with P&O, later working at L’Hirondelle in Piccadilly and at the Embassy Club with the comedy actor and entertainer Davy Kaye, which led to his link-up with Hudd and began his move into musical direction.

In theatre Don conducted the British Music Hall Society’s Silver Jubilee Show in 1988 at the London Palladium. In 1989 he was elected into the Grand Order of Water Rats, the show business charity and held the office of Musical Rat until retiring in 2012.

He also served on the executive committee of the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and supported the Not Forgotten Association, which provides entertainment for ex-servicemen. He also played with the Greenwich University Big Band and in 2018 was made its patron and music adviser.

He and Janet had four children, Sarah, Bob, Joanna and Charlotte. Music was very much a family affair, with Christmas carols around the piano and family evenings at Grand Order of Water Rats balls. Don even played me down the aisle on my wedding day, and he wrote songs for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Janet died in 2010. Don is survived by his children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.