IAN HART: Time for a blue plaque for Alma Cogan?

Ian Hart
Ian Hart

Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of the sad passing of singer Alma Cogan, who died at the young age of 34.

Although born in Whitechapel, East London, in 1932, she had strong Worthing connections, having lived in the town with her parents and studied dress design at Worthing Art College.

Her father Mark, who came to this country from Romania with his wife Fay, was a haberdasher, and one of her homes in the town was above his shop, although it was her mother who nurtured her showbiz aspirations.

In 1943, at the age of 11 she entered the Sussex Queen of Song contest, held in Brighton, and won the first prize of £5 – more than £200 in today’s money.

She was recommended at 14 by Vera Lynn to star in a variety show at the Grand Theatre in Brighton, before being turned down at 16 by the legendary band leader Ted Heath, who told her to come back in five years time – something he later described as the one of the biggest mistakes of his career.

From her 1954 chart hit Bell Bottom Blues, which reached number four, she had 18 chart hits in the next six years including the number one Dreamboat, which to this day is still the shortest record to top the charts, at one minute, 47 seconds.

Although as the 1960s arrived her chart success didn’t continue at the same rate, the advent of television made her a huge star of the time, and included an unlikely but genuine friendship with a certain John Lennon.

With a superb voice and a personality to match, who knows what she would have gone on to achieve had she sadly not succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1964.

Half a century on, surely Worthing needs to mark not only her memory but the town’s place in her life?

In 2001, a blue plaque was unveiled in Kensington at a former home of hers, but there’s nothing in the rules to say she can’t have another one, so what about the site of the art college where she studied in 1940s?

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