Rosemary Squires, singer who was popular with the Royal family and had a slot on Johnny Carson’s show – obituary

Rosemary Squires in 1960
Rosemary Squires in 1960 - Pictorial Press/Alamy

Rosemary Squires, who has died aged 94, was one of Britain’s best-loved jazz and big-band singers in the decades following the Second World War; she was also heard on television for half a century singing the Fairy Liquid jingle – “Now hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face...”

Joan Rosemary Yarrow was born on December 7 1928 in Bristol; her father was a civil servant. The family moved to Salisbury, and she attended St Edmund’s Girls’ School, where she took singing, guitar and piano lessons.

She made her first public appearance on Children’s Hour on BBC Radio in 1940, and began singing for the troops at nearby British and American army bases. Aged 14, she began working in an antiquarian bookshop in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral but was gently moved on by the owner after a US Army colonel walked into the shop and asked to be served by “that little lady who is generous with the change”.

She took a clerical job and began singing with local groups, as well as with a Polish military band, then in 1948 she moved to London, taking the stage name of Squires. There, she was soon singing with the big bands of Ted Heath, Geraldo and Cyril Stapleton, as well as with smaller jazz ensembles led by the likes of Max Harris, Kenny Baker, George Shearing, Humphrey Lyttelton and Johnny Dankworth; she also appeared in the BBC Festival of Jazz at the Royal Albert Hall.

In the 1950s and 1960s, she was a regular on the BBC Light Programme, the forerunner of Radio 2, on programmes such as Melody Time, Top Tunes and Workers’ Playtime. She became a fixture of variety shows: her first top billing was in Taunton, supported by an up-and-coming comedy duo named Morecambe and Wise.

Rosemary Squires in the early 1960s
Rosemary Squires in the early 1960s - Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She worked with Ken Dodd, Alma Cogan and Frankie Vaughan and became a staple on the small screen, appearing on Six-Five Special and Juke Box Jury, as well as in series such as After Hours with Michael Bentine and Hooray for Laughter with Ted Ray and Reg Varney in Hooray for Laughter.

Rosemary Squires was also busy in the recording studio, making a string of albums and singles for HMV and Decca. One of her 45s, Frankfurter Sandwiches (1961), released under the pseudonym of Joanne and the Streamliners, penetrated the lower reaches of the charts.

But as the pop scene was transformed by the Beatles and their ilk, Rosemary Squires felt her career needed a new push, and she spent a couple of years in the US, working with the likes of Danny Kaye and Sammy Davis Jr and securing a regular on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Back home, she was perennially popular with the Royal family. She performed in front of the Queen Mother, who said to her afterwards, “Don’t ever stop singing, will you?” and in 1994 she was on the bill for Prince Edward’s 30th-birthday celebrations. She toured with the BBC Concert Orchestra to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, and also toured to mark her own diamond jubilee in show business, including dates at the Royal Festival Hall.

For all that, she was sometimes confused with her fellow chanteuse Dorothy Squires – who had been married to Roger Moore – and she recalled people coming up to her in the street and telling her she had been married to James Bond. When Dorothy Squires died in 1998, one obituary used a picture of Rosemary.

At London Airport in 1965
At London Airport in 1965 - Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the 1980s she returned to live in Salisbury and married a police divisional commander, Frank Lockyer: she said that as she had never made a fortune from her career – not even from Fairy Liquid – the wisest thing she ever did was “marrying a man with a police pension”.

In 1996 she formed a Doris Day tribute show which toured for seven years. In 2004 she was appointed MBE for services to music and charity.

Rosemary Squires’s husband predeceased her; there were no children of the marriage.

Rosemary Squires, born December 7 1928, died August 8 2023