PEOPLE think I come from Italy. In
truth I am from Londonderry. I’m
not the sort of chap who likes
talking about myself — singing, not
talking, is my mission in life — but
in fact I must give you a pen-
picture of my life in song if you are
to appreciate my special “angle” on
Song to me has always been a
vital, human expression, embracing
the emotions: not just a way of
filling in time, or of making a
Although I have eight brothers and sisters I was the only
one crazy enough to take up a stage career. As a boy I sang
in the local church choir, and when, barefooted, I ran
through the streets of Londonderry I never dreamt that one
day I should have a success story to tell.
My real name is not Josef Locke. Friends who have
watched me along the road of song may have said to
themselves: “Isn’t that one of the McLaughlin boys—isn’t it
young Joseph McLaughlin?” And bedad it is one and the
I was born Joseph McLaughlin, but it was a long time
after—1944, in fact—that my name was changed for me.
Here is the story of those years: —As a youth I joined the
Irish Guards, becoming sergeant about eighteen months
later. I was keen, and had a good physique. The Guards
brought me to England for a time, but when the tour of duty
was over I went home, and joined the Royal Ulster
That was a grand adventure, too, and all the time, just as
in the Guards, I loved to sing. When I’m happy I sing. When
I’m unhappy I sing to cheer myself up. I hate to be caged,
and it is almost impossible to silence me!
My friends nicknamed me “The Singing Bobby,” and to
earn a few shillings I was always glad of the chance of
singing at smoking concerts and clubs. I was never on what
you could call a stage—at best only a platform, or perhaps a
table! We were all good pals at those smoking concerts,
though none of us had much money.
One day, tramping a beat in Belfast, I saw a poster
advertising auditions at the Empire Theatre.
I went along to try my luck—and came out with a contract
for £7 a week.
Yet this was to be only the first of my disillusionments—f
or I soon found that they wanted muscle as well as melody. I
had to sing—and shift scenery too.
But I so loved the life of the theatre that I didn’t care what I
did so long as it was the right side of the footlights. Just then
came one of those lucky breaks. I was introduced to the
former singing teacher of the great John McCormack, and a
little later McCormack heard me singing in opera and
complimented me on my work. I learned the golden secret of
success. You must get right to the heart of a song. In the
profession we hear a lot about “putting a song over.” I think
something more than personality is needed; you must have
Although John McCormack’s tutor helped me to develop
this gift, I was still a long way from financial success, and
early in 1944 I took the plunge and came to London. The
little money I had been able to save from my concert work in
Ireland began to dribble away as I went the rounds of
auditions and disappointments.
To “make ends meet” I went on a diet - often just a cup of
tea. There were sleepless, nights of worry, and these must
have reflected themselves in my singing. But my lucky break
came when I least expected it. Jack Hylton offered me an
engagement at the Victoria Palace.
Everything was fixed. The contract was signed. Two days
later when I arrived at the theatre my name was not on the
bill. In place of McLaughlin a “Josef Locke” was billed to
sing. My heart turned over. Had Hylton changed his mind?
To this day I can’t forget that moment, when the heart-pang
changed to laughter and they explained to me why the
billing was done this way.
“There are ten million Londoners who don’t know
McLaughlin is pronounced ‘Mac-Lock-lin’,” they said. “And,
anyway, there wasn’t space on the bill. So we kept in the
“B-but why Josef?” I asked.
“We don’t print show-bills with rubber type,” they said. “
‘Joseph’ is just one letter too long, so we turned the ‘ph into
an ‘f’. Like it?”
I liked it. The name Jack Hylton gave me has since
proved so lucky I see no reason to change it.
But when the engagement came to an end I found it just
as heartbreaking as ever trying to get work.
I was still going the weary way around the agents’ offices
when luck came once more.
I was signed to appear in a big Tom Arnold production in
Blackpool, with George and Beryl Formby topping the bill.
Not only was that show a wonderful success, but George
and Beryl were so impressed by my singing that they
introduced me to Columbia records. I became a microphone
“discovery,” and in the short space of a couple of years over
a million of my records were sold in this country alone.
This was flattering to me as a singer, but I felt, and still
believe, that TV is my real forte.
I feel that action and gestures help to make a more
sympathetic link with the audience. The concert singer
should be seen as well as heard.
I would like to do more TV, but already my plate is rather
full. Joseph McLaughlin of Londonderry was glad to take a
£7-a-week contract, but Josef Locke has all the business
worries of netting over £1,500 a week!
The one thing you can be sure of is that none of this has
changed the Jo McLaughlin who knew that tiny attic in the
house overlooking the crest of the road in Londonderry. I’ll
not forget old Ireland, be it fifty times as fair.
Singing, not talking,
is my mission in life
This article appeared in TV Mirror
on December 19, 1953