Conrad the ‘Brixton boy done good’
CONRAD’S love affair with show business began when, as a boy in south London, he saw stars such as the legendary Sophie Tucker at the London Palladium.
Family outings to the Brixton Empire and Camberwell Palace also left him star struck.
Early influences included Al Jolson (as played by Larry Parks, though he believed this was Jolson – until he saw him in a cowboy film), Guy Mitchell, Johnny Ray and Frankie Vaughan, whom he admired more for the style of their performance than for their singing. There was, he says, ‘a look’ one needed to cultivate in order to be noticed.
Jess himself was noticed when working as a repertory actor and film extra.
Impresario Jack Good, the Simon Cowell of his day, spotted him in a TV role as a pop singer and promptly launched him in the TV music show Oh Boy.
Record deals and chart hits followed but, ever the all-round showman, Conrad continued to appear in feature films throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s.
These included Serious Charge; The Boys; Rag Doll and The Queen’s Guards. He also featured in Konga (subtitled: I Was a Teenage Gorilla), which he describes as ‘the worst horror film ever made’ but which spawned a comic book series and a surprising cult following which continues today.
The 1970s saw Conrad make the successful transition into hit musicals, playing Jesus in Godspell, and he was the first to play the title role in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
He lauds rather than laments the fact that several of his hit songs were included on DJ Kenny Everett’s 1977 album World’s Worst Records. Conrad would have the musical last laugh, however, when awarded a gold disc in 2012 for the million-selling album conceived by Conrad Three Steps to Heaven.
The 1990s saw Conrad send himself up via regular cameo roles on shows such as the Generation Game. Si Since then, he has re re-invented hi himself as a po popular raconteur, ai aided by his ph phenomenal memory for events in involving other fa famous celebrities (h (he flat-shared wi with Michael Caine an and Terence St Stamp; dated Di Diana Dors and Ava Gardner and gigged with Joe Brown and Tommy Steel).
His intimate Evening with Jess Conrad events continue to entertain theatre audiences and celebrity cruise passengers, and 2016 sees the release of his latest film Mob Handed, with Lysette Anthony.
Pressed to divulge the secrets of his enduring good looks (in a bad light he might be taken for a fifty-year old), Conrad attributes these, not to surgery or silicone, but to his good genes and gym workouts.
His mother Lynda, a south London beauty queen, encouraged him to care for his youthful skin in an era when leading men of the film world appeared rugged, stubbly and middle-aged. This ‘Brixton boy done good’ believes in putting something back, however, and, having raised millions of pounds for charities and disaster relief via his celebrity golf and showbiz football events, Conrad was awarded an OBE in 2011.
Conrad’s fifty-one year marriage to Renee, the beautiful former Miss Camay, must be one of the longest in show business. He credits this to the fact that, as Renee quips, she loves Jess Conrad – and so does he.
Thus it is that, with an entertaining mix of narcissism and selfdeprecation, and with no intention of slowing down or retiring, this genial rock ‘n roller turned raconteur, husband, father and grandfather, Jess Conrad OBE, rocks on into his 80th year.
Inset top, Jess Conrad receives his OBE and Jess in his heyday. Above, Jess Conrad meets Princess Diana