Josef Locke was the stage name of Joseph McLaughlin (23 March 1917 – 15 October 1999), a tenor singer who was enormously popular in Britain and Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s. He was the son of a butcher and cattle dealer, and one of nine children.
He sang in local churches in the Bogside at the age of seven, and as a teenager, added two years to his age in order to enlist in the Irish Guards. Later he served abroad with the Palestine Police before returning to Ireland in the late 30s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Nicknamed The Singing Bobby he became a local celebrity in the 40s and then toured the UK variety circuit. In the following year he played the first of 19 seasons at the popular northern seaside resort of Blackpool.
It was renowned irish tenor John McCormack (1894-1945) who advised Josef that his voice was more suited to a lighter repertoire than the operatic one Josef had in mind, and urged him to find a theatrical agent.So it was Josef found his way to the offices of band-leader/impresario Jack Hylton (1892-1965). Hylton had booked Josef into the Victoria Palace, but found it difficult to fit his real name onto the bill, so shortened it to Josef Locke. Two years later, Josef was signed by Lew and Leslie Grade, who steered the singer to real stardom.
He made his first radio broadcast in 1949 on the popular Happydrome, which stared the trio of Ramsbottom, Enoch and Me, and subsequently appeared on TV programmes such as Rooftop Rendezvous, Top of the Town, All-star Bill and The Frankie Howlerd Show. EMI Records signed him to Columbia label in 1947, and his first releases were the two Italian songs Santa Lucia and Come back to Sorrento.In 1947, too, Josef released Hear my song, Violetta, which became forever associated with him. His other songs were mostly a mixture of Irish ballads.
Josef also excelled at excerpts from operettas, including The Drinking song, My Heart and I, and Goodbye, along with familiar Italian favourites such as Come back to Sorrento and Cara Mia. He also made a number of films,including Holidays with Pay for Mancunian films playing robust characters who would add a few melodies to liven up proceedings.
In 1958 after appearing in five Royal Command shows, and while still at the peak of his career, the Inland Revenue began to make substantial demands that he declined to meet.
Eventually he quit the country. When his differences with the tax people were settled, Josef retired to Co.Kildare, emerging for the occasional charity concert.
In 1985 he was the subject of a 2-hour birthday tribute on Gay Byrne's show, The Late,Late show on Irish TV. In 1992 the Peter Chelsom film Hear My Song was released, and introduced him to a new generation of fans. Josef was flown to London for the première, attended by Princess Diana, and became the celebrity on This is Your Life .During the spring of 1992. his music got into the top 10 album charts with Hear My Song.
Joe died in hospital in Clane, County Kildare, on 15 October 1999, though he was finally laid to rest in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. Locke’s funeral was an emotional occasion but marked also by the humour which was such a characteristic of Locke’s personal and professional life. Friends alluded to the ups and downs of his climb to success and subsequent years at the top, but concluded that ’he liked it that way’.
In the months that followed, the music-lover Michael Sheerin started a campaign to have a memorial to the singer erected in Derry. And in March 2005, a permanent tribute to the city’s first superstar was erected outside the City Hotel. The bronze monument was unveiled by John Hume and Phil Coulter at a ceremony attended by Joe’s widow Carmel, his daughter Yvette and sister Anne. (Info mainly Peter Lee)
Josef Locke gives us a rousing version of the Soldier's Dream in this clip from the 1950s Mancunian Films comedy 'What A Carry On'