Edmund James Arthur Hockridge (9 August 1919 – 15 March 2009) was a Canadian baritone and actor who had an active performance career in musicals, operas, concerts, plays and on radio. A combination of clean-cut looks, rugged 6ft 1in frame and manly baritone voice commended the Canadian-born Hockridge to postwar British audiences. Having made his home in England, he not only became London's resident male romantic lead but also a popular figure on the provincial theatre circuit, touring in musicals and variety shows, and making regular appearances on television and radio. He was a particular favourite with listeners to Friday Night Is Music Night on Radio 2.
Edmund James Arthur Hockridge was born in Vancouver in August 1919. The youngest of four boys, he enjoyed an idyllic boyhood, roaming the Rockies, singing along to Bing Crosby and Nelson Eddy on the wireless.
His ambition to become a singer was boosted when he became an usher for pocket money at Vancouver Auditorium, where he saw Beniamino Gigli, Paul Robeson and other singers of world rank. When his own voice broke, it turned out to be a pure and powerful baritone and a group of citizens arranged for him go to a Vancouver hotel to sing for a visiting opera star.
The verdict was encouraging and soon Hockridge was winning prizes for singing but his ambitions were curtailed by the outbreak of the second world war. Though he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force hoping to become a pilot, nose bleeds at altitude forced him to think again. Posted to Britain, he coupled military PR duties with BBC broadcasts to the troops and appearances with dance bands. While serving in Britain he met a Wren, Eileen Elliott, who worked in Lord Louis Mountbatten's office. They married and had a son, but Hockridge always believed that they had fallen into marriage rather than fallen in love, and by the time he returned to Canada it was clear that the relationship was doomed.
Hockridge had his own radio show in Canada: nonetheless, at the age of 31, he decided to return to Britain. There could not have been a better time to make the move. Stephen Douglass, the American actor playing Billy Bigelow in Carousel, had exhausted his work permit and a new lead man was needed. The role called for an imposing character with stamina and a powerful voice. Someone, as the script says, "as tall and as strong as a tree". Hockridge, at 6ft 1in and, according to one critic, with "looks girls long to encounter on the beach" fitted the bill.
He played the fairground barker Billy more than 1,000 times in London and hundreds of times on the provincial tour. For seven years he was regarded as "London's resident male lead", topping the bill in the first London productions of Guys and Dolls (1953-54), Can-Can (1954-55) and The Pajama Game (1955-56).
He became a major recording artist as a result of his success in musicals, having a hit with Hey There, from The Pajama Game. Carousel was also to change Hockridge's personal life. In the cast was a 19-year-old dancer and singer called Jackie Jefferson. He was smitten by her but was still married, and 13 years her senior. The couple chose to keep their affair low-key, eventually marrying after his first wife agreed to a divorce. They moved to Peterborough (where they lived next door to Ernie Wise) and brought up a family.
(Pictured Left to Right Edmund Hockridge, Cliff Richard, Joan Regan and Russ Conway. Backstage At The London Palladium.)During his 50-year career Hockridge recorded 11 albums and worked with a dazzling array of old-style stars, including Tommy
Cooper, Eartha Kitt, Max Wall, Roy Hudd, Cliff Richard, Billy Dainty, Morecambe and Wise, and Petula Clark. In 1986, aged 67, he partnered the rock singer Suzi Quatro in a London production of Annie Get Your Gun (his seventh musical) and also appeared with Isla St Clair in a provincial production of The Sound of Music (1984).
Hockridge was especially proud to have been top of the cabaret bill when the QE2 made her maiden voyage, in 1969. He loved sport, especially cricket, and had a keen sense of humour and a fund of anecdotes. But most of all he liked to be thought of as a family man who had been fortunate. He used to say: "My Dad told me that you could only control so much in life. After that you needed a bucket full of luck. I got my bucketful."
Hockridge died on 15 March 2009, at the age of 89, in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. (Info mainly Guardian obit)