John Philip "Jake" Thackray (27 February 1938 – 24 December 2002), was an English singer-songwriter, poet and journalist. Best known in the late 1960s and early 1970s for his topical comedy songs performed on British television, his work ranged from satirical to bawdy to sentimental to pastoral, with a strong emphasis on storytelling, making him difficult to pigeonhole.
Born in Leeds, Thackray was educated by Jesuits at St Michael's College, before studying modern languages at Durham University. He seemed destined for a career as a secondary school teacher, and began writing and performing songs - learning some basic guitar - as audio aids for his pupils, who were fond of his slanging turns of phrase and infectious enthusiasm.
On returning to Leeds, he taught for a further six years, and moonlighted as a singing guitarist in local folk clubs and on radio programmes. By 1966, he was appearing on the BBC regional television magazine Look North - and three years later, after an ill-starred bout with a Thames TV children's programme, he made it to The Braden Beat, then seen as sophisticated late-night BBC viewing.
Thackray's compositions were dominated by lyrics that could be comfortably divorced from their musical settings, as were those of Brassens and Jacques Brel - and as they would be as printed poems in Jake's Progress (1977), an oeuvre integrale illustrated by cartoonist Bill Tidy. While some of his songs were little more than repeated series of notes, used to carry the words, Thackray was also capable of sturdy melodies, and overall reaction to his early broadcasts - delivered in a compellingly lugubrious baritone - was surprisingly gratifying.
By 1967, Fahey's recommendation had helped win Thackray a recording contract with EMI. His debut album, The Last Will And Testament Of Jake Thackray, contained Jumble Sale, The Cactus, and other staples from his stage repertoire. Like his later releases, it tended to sell steadily, if unremarkably. There were also lucrative cover versions by the likes of the Barron Knights - with Sister Josephine and Tony Capstick (Old Mollie Metcalfe), the King's Singers (Remember Bethlehem) and Fred Wedlock with Bantam Cock.
In 1968, Thackray himself came close to a chart entry with Lah-Di-Dah, thanks to the television exposure - altogether, he made more than 1,000 appearances. After The Braden Beat, there were residencies on the David Frost Show, Frost Over America and on Braden's curious successor, That's Life. He was often required to deliver a different topical song every week. He also made headway as a bona-fide chansonier elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, by the late 1970s Thackray's living had come to depend principally on earnings on a club and theatre circuit that extended to north America and the Far East, as well as occasional surfacings on national radio. His cult celebrity was such that his audiences, if not huge, were at least committed, and albums, such as Ideal (1990), did brisk business.
Health problems, artistic frustrations and financial worries - he was declared bankrupt in 2000 - necessitated virtual retirement to his home in Monmouth. "I never liked the stage much," he confessed, "I was turning into a real bloody Archie Rice, so I cancelled existing gigs and pulled out for a bit." He had always been an observant Roman Catholic, and became increasingly religious in his later years, limiting his musical activities to performing the Angelus at his local church. He died of heart failure on 24 December 2002 at the age of 64, leaving his widow, Sheila, from whom he was separated, and three sons, Bill, Sam and Tom. (Info mainly edited from The Guardian)