Vince Hill, who has died aged 89, had his only Top 10 hit in 1967 with Edelweiss, a ballad originally made popular in the film musical The Sound of Music (1965), and which climbed to No 2 in the British pop charts.
A former coal miner and apprentice baker, Hill had been a member of a vocal group called The Raindrops in the late 1950s before striking out on a solo career.
He had his first solo hit in 1962 with The Rivers Run Dry, and followed up with singles like Take Me to Your Heart Again (1966, a cover of Edith Piaf’s signature song La Vie en Rose), and Love Letters in The Sand (1967). His treacly rendition of Edelweiss sold more than half a million copies and earned him a platinum disc.
With a voice once likened to crushed velvet, Hill was one of the last old-style crooners to meet with chart success, employing an easy listening singing style in the manner of Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Although his version of Edelweiss bounded up the charts in March 1967, he was pipped to the No 1 spot by Release Me, sung by another British crooner Englebert Humperdinck.
The son of a greengrocer, Vincent Brian Hill was born in Coventry on April 16 1934 and attended Hen Lane secondary modern school in the suburb of Holbrooks. Leaving at 15, he began singing in a local pub and social club, and a year later, on holiday in Margate, won a talent contest and started singing lessons, supporting himself by working variously down the pit at the nearby Keresley colliery, selling soft drinks door-to-door and starting an apprenticeship as a pastry-cook.
At 19, he saw an ad in the Melody Maker for a vocalist with the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals based at Catterick in north Yorkshire, where he did his National Service. On his discharge he sang with vocal groups such as The Four Others, and the The Raindrops, who established themselves as a close harmony quartet with regular radio and television appearances.
By the early 1960s the group was being featured on the popular radio show Parade of the Pops with Bob Miller and the Millermen, but Hill had set his sights on television and began by singing advertising jingles for Shell and Kellogg’s cornflakes commercials. He was also the voice behind the Drink A Pinta Milka Day campaign.
Determined to become a solo artist, in 1962 Hill released his first single The Rivers Run Dry which led to a regular spot on ITV’s Stars and Garters show the following year.
Signed to the Columbia label in 1965, he made 10 studio albums featuring standards and show tunes and enjoyed a string of hit singles including Roses of Picardy and Look Around (And You’ll Find Me There) as well as his million-selling signature tune Edelweiss.
As a songwriter Hill worked with his musical partner Ernie Dunstall on numbers that featured on his albums and as B-sides to his singles. In 1973 he hosted his first BBC television series They Sold a Million and two years later switched record labels to CBS (now Sony Music).
By the 1980s his recording career was in decline and he was concentrating on live performances, touring British venues and entertaining on cruise ships.
An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, during the 1979 general election campaign Hill sang Hello, Maggie, to the tune of Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!, with Lulu at a rally in which Mrs Thatcher addressed Conservative trade unionists. (“Hello, Maggie / Well, hello, Maggie / Now you’re really on the road to Number 10. / You’re goin’ strong, Maggie, / Won’t be long, Maggie, / Till you turn that key…”) For the 1983 campaign he recorded It’s Maggie For Me.
“She was very honest and her tenacity was a great thing,” he told an interviewer in the Henley Standard. “She was determined to get what she wanted. She meant what she said and she said what she meant.”
Hill was invited to dinner at 10 Downing Street and “had drinks with her in her private quarters… She showed me where James Callaghan had kept all his milk bottles.”
Between 1984 and 1993 he hosted Vince Hill’s Solid Gold Music Show on Radio 2 and in 1988 made his debut as a television presenter on the short-lived ITV daytime chat show Gas Street.
After playing the composer Ivor Novello in the stage musical My Dearest Ivor in 1990, Hill recorded an album of Novello’s songs. On stage he starred as the cowardly lion in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Wizard of Oz.
In 2013 he donated his musical archive to Coventry University’s performing arts department. But Hill’s later life was marred by illness and loss. In his seventies he suffered two bouts of cancer and, in 2014, while he was nursing his wife Annie through degenerative lung disease, their only child, Athol, died from a heroin overdose at the age of 42.
Annie had been secretary to the showbusiness impresario Tito Burns when she and Hill met in the late 1950s and it was Annie who persuaded him to leave the Raindrops and pursue his solo career.
Vince Hill married Annie in 1959; she died in 2016.
Vince Hill, born April 16 1934, died July 22 2023