AN ENTERTAINER who schmoozed and performed with the cream of celebrity – everyone from soul star Dionne Warwick to comedian Max Bygraves – has died aged 86.
Johnny Franks, of Heronslea Drive, Stanmore, was best known locally for his retirement activities of busking for charity in Harrow town centre and performing at care homes, raising more than £70,000 for a variety of good causes.
The life-long governor of the Jewish Blind and Physically Handicapped Society, whose real name was David John Frankel, died on July 9 of a wound infection.
Daughter Ruth Franks, of Mill Hill, said: “The best thing is he just loved to sing, he had a fantastic voice.
“During the last 20 years he changed direction completely from the early part of his life, when he was entertaining with his swing band. It went out of fashion and discos came in and the music scene changed, and he found a new calling, charity work.”
Mr Franks was born in Brighton in East Sussex but his family moved to the East End of London where he left school early and became a boxer.
His daughter said: “He was promoted by Jack Solomon and they had to invent a new weight, ‘paperweight’, because he was so skinny. He had a boxing match in front of Prince Philip. He had about eight fights and retired as paperweight champion.”
Mr Franks next joined the Entertainments National Service Association to boost troops’ morale abroad.
His daughter said: “There’s a fantastic story from when he was in Italy. One day they were on stage and the venue was blown up. His violin was destroyed and so they commandeered him a violin from the Italian Philharmonic, or something like that. He always said it was the best violin he ever played.”
Mr Franks performed as a impressionist, comedian, singer and swing band leader and was involved in The Variety Club of Great Britain. He started a business selling old jukebox records in shops and even released some albums himself.
His daughter said: “He was very showbiz in the 70s. He led a very glamorous life and loved to look nice by wearing suits and flashy shirts.
“In 1975, he got a very big break. He worked at the Cunard Hotel in Hammersmith and he was a compere at the London Las Vegas show and introduced people like Jerry Lewis and Abbe Lane.”
Ms Franks, who is performer turned music teacher, added: “He was a great father. I’m going to miss him enormously. He was a fantastically positive guy and was full of jokes and anecdotes all the time.”
Mr Franks leaves a wife, Nanette, 82, daughter Ruth and son Garry.