Frank Ifield obituary

<span>Frank Ifield in 1964. He sang She Taught Me to Yodel at the Royal Variety Performance in 1962, reportedly at the request of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for a yodelling number.</span><span>Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy</span>
Frank Ifield in 1964. He sang She Taught Me to Yodel at the Royal Variety Performance in 1962, reportedly at the request of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for a yodelling number.Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

For British pop fans, the summer of 1962 was dominated by the sound of “I remember yoo-hoo”. I Remember You, which topped the singles chart for seven weeks, was sung and yodelled by the British-born but Australian-raised entertainer Frank Ifield, who has died aged 86.

In the year that followed, there were four more hits. The first of these, Lovesick Blues (originally made famous in Hank Williams’s version) topped the charts and its B-side, Elton Britt’s She Taught Me to Yodel was performed when Ifield appeared at the 1962 Royal Variety Performance, reportedly because Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had requested a yodelling number. Next, another old country song, The Wayward Wind, became his third successive No 1. Later Top 10 hits in 1963 were Nobody’s Darling But Mine, his fourth No 1, Confessin’ (That I Love You) and Don’t Blame Me.

Wayward Wind had been chased to No 1 by Please Please Me, the first big hit for the Beatles. Ifield had played a small part in the group’s rise to fame by persuading his agent to give them a support slot at one of his concerts, after Brian Epstein had played him their first record, Love Me Do. By 1964, the Beatles and other guitar groups were dominating record sales and Ifield’s singles were selling fewer and fewer copies. Nevertheless, he remained a popular figure with older audiences in Britain and elsewhere, with numerous summer show, television and pantomime appearances.

Ifield was the third of seven sons born to Richard Ifield, an engineer, and his wife, Muriel. In 1935 the couple had moved from Australia to Britain in search of work. Richard went into the motor industry in Coventry, where Frank was born two years later. During the second world war, Richard was seconded by Lucas Laboratories to Frank Whittle’s jet engine project and the family moved to London. In 1946, the Ifields relocated to Australia, where Richard continued to work for Lucas while running a family farm in Durai, New South Wales.

At junior school, Frank led the singing, and his interest in music and showbusiness was increased by country and western singers heard on the radio and by his grandfather, a former performer with touring minstrel shows. He taught himself to play the ukulele before his grandmother bought him his first guitar as a birthday present. One of Frank’s jobs around the farm was to milk a bad-tempered cow named Betsy, which inspired his adoption of yodelling: “She would kick the milk bucket and everything until I started yodelling to her and she’d stop. After that she gave us the best milk we ever had.”

After coming second in a talent competition held by a local radio station, Frank made his first broadcasts at the age of 13. Two years later he was hired to dress as a cowboy and entertain audiences for Big Chief Little Wolf, a wrestling booth showman in a touring fair. At 16 he made his first record, There’s a Love Knot in My Lariat, for the Australian branch of EMI. His career was interrupted by national service but by the age of 21 Ifield was one of Australia’s leading country and pop singers, with his own television show, Campfire Favourites.

Encouraged by his manager, Peter Gormley, he set his sights on foreign markets, notably North America and Britain. In his memoir, I Remember Me (2005), Ifield explained that he prayed for guidance and “a still small voice” told him to move to London. Accordingly, he flew into Heathrow in November 1959 where Gormley had arranged a welcoming party including the popstar Tommy Steele and a clutch of photographers and reporters.

Almost immediately, Gormley negotiated a recording deal with Norrie Paramor of EMI’s Columbia label, but Frank’s first record, Lucky Devil, a version of Carl Dobkins Jr’s American hit, flopped. Although the next single, Happy Go Lucky Me, lost out to a rival version by George Formby, Ifield’s career as a live performer began to take off. He was booked on a tour headed by Emile Ford and appeared as Dick Whittington in pantomime in Stockton with the Shadows, now also managed by Gormley, who would soon add Cliff Richard to his roster of artists.

Several more records were unsuccessful, until Ifield came across I Remember You, a song written for the 1942 film Follow the Fleet, by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger. Gormley had persuaded him to drop the yodel from his stage act in order to avoid being typecast, but Ifield was convinced that a falsetto phrase was a vital feature of his version of I Remember You. Together with the opening harmonica riff, played on the record by Harry Pitch, it ensured that I Remember You was voted a unanimous hit on BBC television’s Juke Box Jury. This launched I Remember You on its journey to a million sales in Britain alone. In the US, it was Ifield’s only hit.

In the early 1980s Ifield returned to settle in Australia. A lung operation in 1986 damaged his vocal cords. This caused him to give up live performances, and he turned to hosting radio shows and promoted country music festivals. However, in 2016 his singing voice had recovered enough for him to return to the stage with a show that revisited his career and included renditions of several hits. In 2009, he was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to the arts as an entertainer.

Ifield is survived by his second wife, Carole Wood, whom he married in 1992, and by two children from his first marriage, to Gillian Bowden, which ended in divorce.

• Frank (Francis Edward) Ifield, singer, born 30 November 1937; died 18 May 2024

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