A Good Man is Hard to Find

One of my mother’s favourite television programmes in the 1960s and 70s was The Val Doonican Show. Doonican was an Irish singer, known for his soothing baritone voice,  knitted sweaters and signature wooden rocking chair. I think my mother secretly wished she’d married a man like Val Doonican, rather than a man like my father. They were both Irish, both winsome, although Dad wore silk cravats rather than Irish jumpers. Mum never missed a Saturday evening with Val and would settle in to watch the show with a glass of champagne and a bowl of peanuts.

At the age of 11, I had my own version of Val Doonican: Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. I was better placed than my mother because Barry, at 23, was unmarried (well, divorced …). I joined the Barry Gibb Fan Club when it launched in 1970 and received my first typed newsletter from Teresa ‘Trees’ Daligan, the Club secretary. She invited my opinion on personalised photos and pens and suggested a raffle with things belonging to Barry as prizes. I thought this last idea was a particularly good one. It was all super friendly and inclusive. I felt like part of the family. In my imagination ‘Trees’ would leave her post, around the time I left school, and I would slip seamlessly into her shoes as the next BG Fan Club secretary. It was the first step in my plan towards matrimony and a forever life as Mrs. Barry Gibb (Number Two).

Everything was going swimmingly until the next letter arrived with the devastating news that, on his 24th birthday, Barry had secretly married Linda Gray. Trees, in her usual folksy style, shared details with the fans. Mrs. Gibb (a former Miss Edinburgh) had looked beautiful in her crochet-lace wedding dress and gifts to the couple included sheets and blankets, a paper weight, a decanter and some glass fish ornaments. Unable to locate the hotel they had booked for their wedding night (how is that possible?) Barry and Linda drove back to their home in Eaton Square and ended up sleeping on two single beds in the spare room (the house being full of visiting family). I was utterly devastated by this news which, in an instant, destroyed all hope of any future happiness in my life. As the song goes: How can you mend a broken heart? How can you stop the rain from falling down? (The Bee Gees, 1971). It took me a long time to recover and, if I’m honest, Davy Jones of the Monkees was a poor substitute.

Val Doonican and Barry Gibb were both known for their winning smiles and perfectly capped teeth. Val’s soulful ballads, slacks and patterned cardigans contrasted sharply with Barry’s high falsetto, skin-tight pants and silver bomber jackets. For all their obvious differences, the two men had much in common. They were perfectionists but also modest and aware of their own limitations. We are not as important to the outside world as we are sometimes led to believe, said Doonican in 2010. He chose his profession, he explained, because he loved music and strove always to be the best Val Doonican possible.

Barry Gibb, although the handsomest of the Bee Gee brothers never failed to recognise that he was part of a whole, a sum of several parts, one of three brothers who, together, formed a unique sound that could not be re-created if one or more Bee Gee was missing. Today, at 76, Barry is the last brother still alive. Maurice died in 2003 and his twin, Robin died in 2012. Everything stops and ends at some point, said Barry in a 2017 interview, no matter who you are nor how well-known.

Barry and Val both had homes in Beaconsfield, a sleepy Buckinghamshire town, west of London. Co-incidentally for two years in the late 1970s I dated someone from Beaconsfield and so could have bumped into either one of them at the Saracen’s Head, on Memorial Green or at the local branch of Boots.

Doonican recorded more than 50 albums over 62 years in the music industry. He left TV in 1986 and spent his later years performing live shows in the afternoon which, he explained at the time, suit me and my ageing fans well. We can all be home before bedtime. He was devoted to Lynette, his wife of 54 years and together they enjoyed golf, cooking and spending time with their children and grandchildren. I have had a wonderful time and a wonderful life, he said in 2010. Michael Valentine Doonican died in 2015 at the age of 88.

Barry Alan Crompton Gibb received a knighthood from the Queen in 2018. He and his brothers sold over 200 million records worldwide. The song he is most proud of, he says, is To Love Somebody. He wrote it, he said, for his wife Linda, the woman who has consistently inspired not only his music but his life. They have been married for 53 years and have five children.

It seems my Mum and I had good instincts. We each recognised a good man when we saw one. It’s nice to know that fairy tales can come true and that some stories really do end happily.