CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe for £25 today CLICK HERE

Sixties pop star Mark Wynter in a gripping Agatha Christie revival

PUBLISHED: 01:16 27 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:36 20 February 2013

Sixties pop star Mark Wynter in a gripping Agatha Christie revival

Sixties pop star Mark Wynter in a gripping Agatha Christie revival

Sussex-based Sixties pop star Mark Wynter stole thousands of hearts when he stormed the charts with the hit singles Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl...

Wynter of our content

Sussex-based Sixties pop star Mark Wynter stole thousands of hearts when he stormed the charts with the hit singles Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl. But when his singing career began to fade, he cannily reinvented himself as a stage actor and this month hell be treading the boards in Brighton in a gripping Agatha Christie revival. Angela Wintle discovers why the county has such a special place in his heart

In the early Sixties, Mark Wynter was the pop idol with the X factor, storming the charts with catchy hit singles such as Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl. With his chiselled boy-next-door looks, slim figure and pleasing voice, he became a pop sensation; one of the most popular Brylcreem boys of the pre-Beatles era.


Now 68 and living happily with his wife, Emma, in West Sussex many of his teenage fans have probably traded in their mini-skirts for elasticated waist bands and Velcro fastenings. But they have never forgotten him and still crowd round the stage door whenever he goes on tour. Mark, however, now an accomplished stage actor, is under no illusions about the passing years and is quick to poke fun at himself.


I played the Palace Theatre in Southend recently, where I was stopped by a woman whod brought along a few of my old records to sign, he says. She was on a walking frame, but quite lucid for 93!


Mark may have recently celebrated 50 years in showbusiness, but the years have been kind, despite a brush with lymphoma two years ago. Im very lucky, he laughs. Ive always maintained the same weight and Ive never lost my hair. I do look a bit different from the way I did in my heyday, but thats hardly surprising. I was 19 when I recorded some of those songs.


I suspect luck has little to do with it. Mark has an iron will and rigid self discipline. A self-made man, he rose to the pinnacle of his profession despite starting out with nothing in Londons Elephant and Castle.
When talent and hard work made him a star, he refused to succumb to the usual pop excesses and kept his head while many contemporaries lost theirs, deftly reinventing himself as a stage actor when his singing career began to fade.

But for many, he will always be the Sixties singing sensation whose cover version of the American Jimmy Clanton hit Venus in Blue Jeans rocketed him to number 4 in the charts in October 1962, quickly followed by Go Away Little Girl at number 6 three months later.


He went on to have no fewer than nine Top 20 singles. He also became a hit on radio and television with his own TV series, Call in on Wynter and Its Mark Time, and roles in such films as Just for Fun, a teen musical also starring Dick Emery and Irene Handl.


But perhaps the defining moment of his pop career was appearing at the London Palladium in A Night of 100 Stars alongside The Beatles, Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey. If you played at the Palladium, youd arrived, he says proudly.


I actually worked with The Beatles on their first TV show, Thank Your Lucky Stars, when they were plugging their first record, Love Me Do. And I sang with Shirley many times. We did loads of Sunday concerts at the Opera House, Blackpool, though she never performed unless they laid on a private plane, when I would frequently hitch a lift.


Women must have been falling at his feet, but he admits to only occasional girlfriends. Drink and drugs similarly never interested him. I didnt drink anything even wine until I was 24. I was always guided by the fact that my mother had left my father because of his drinking.


And I had a red traffic light in my head preventing me from going too far. Besides, I like to be in control. Once I was given the chance to fulfil my ambitions I wasnt interested in pursuing much else.


But his life could have been very different. Marks parents split up when he was two and he spent his earliest years sharing a cramped first-floor flat with his mother, where they cooked meals on a one-ring gas cooker.
Both his parents had fine voices. His father, a trainee motor mechanic, had sung and played the piano in local pubs; his mother burst into song when she scrubbed the dishes.


When he was six, his mother remarried and they moved to Kent, where Marks fine soprano voice was quickly noticed by his headmaster. He paid for Mark to have singing lessons and suggested his mother enrol him in the church choir, where he rose to head choir boy, later performing at Canterbury Cathedral and the Royal Albert Hall.


But when his voice broke he switched to pop music and his life changed overnight when, in the summer of 1959, he was spotted by a talent scout called Ray Mackender while singing in a semi-professional group called Hank Fryer and the Rockerfellas at the Co-op dance hall in Peckham.


I think the thing that attracted him was the fact that I was wearing a double-breasted blue serge suit, which I was paying off at half a crown a week from a tailor in Lewisham when most people were trying to impersonate Elvis, he laughs.


I was also singing big ballad songs such as Donna and Why must I be a Teenager in Love? to draw the attention of the females in the dance hall!
Mackender, a canny Australian, carefully groomed Mark for stardom, ditching his actual name, Terry Lewis, which sounded too much like Jerry Lee Lewis, in favour of the less pedestrian Mark Wynter, lifted direct from the phone book. His look was appealing, but accessible. My slicked black hair was so high it looked like a hat, but that was just the style, Mark grimaces.


Ray had a design. We had a semi-professional photographer, who took some publicity photos. And then Ray asked me to scribble more than 100 handwritten letters to newspapers and magazines across the country introducing myself as the new kid on the block. It worked and the New Musical Express voted the 18 year old most promising newcomer.


Modestly, Mark ascribes much of his success to luck. Though I became well known in several counties, I never had that definable thing that was uniquely Mark Wynter, whereas Cliff Richard and Joe Brown had a particular thing that was just them.


And by the late Sixties, he realised the writing was on the wall. Variety was fading and the only places left to perform were a few working mens clubs. Besides, by then hed caught the acting bug.


He went straight in at the deep end, clinching a role in the West End play Conduct Unbecoming at the Queens Theatre in 1970. More West End productions followed in Charleys Aunt, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cats, Sweet Charity and Phantom of the Opera. But it was several years before he was accepted by some of his classically trained contemporaries.

These days, however, he is a seasoned thespian and his latest outing in Agatha Christies 1958 play Verdict, alongside Susan Penhaligon, Robert Duncan and Elizabeth Powers, is his fifth outing with the Agatha Christie Theatre Company.


It hasnt been revived for 50 years, but Christie tells a great story and weve had a wonderful audience reaction,
says Mark, who has also performed in Worthing and Eastbourne during the run.


This play is unusual, however, because you do actually see the murder in Act One. Act Two is about whos going to take the rap. Im very much looking forward to performing at the Theatre Royal because it has always signified excellence.


But it was the Chichester Festival Theatre which first brought Mark to Sussex when, in 1982, he appeared in its 21st anniversary season, taking the title role in Henry V, as well as parts in On the Rocks, Valmouth and Cavell, alongside Dame Joan Plowright.


At the end of the season he bought a house in Chichester and now lives with his second wife Emma, a dance teacher and former professional dancer, near Fontwell Racecourse. They met in a sell-out summer season of The Dick Emery Show at Bournemouths Winter Gardens in 1973 and have three children, Josh, Darcey and Barnaby, all of whom have inherited their fathers musical genes.


I adore Sussex, and Chichester Cathedral is particularly special to us because weve spent a lot of time ferrying the children back and forth to services [Barnaby, 16, sings in the chapel choir, as did his elder brother Josh, 24, before him].


I also go to the festival theatre as often as I can and love poking around Arundel, where I often swim in the open air lido or walk along the towpath that hugs the River Arun.


It seems Sussex will always have a place in his heart, just as Mark will always have a place in the affections of countless female fans.

But it was the Chichester Festival Theatre which first brought Mark to Sussex when, in 1982, he appeared in its 21st anniversary season, taking the title role in Henry V, as well as parts in On the Rocks, Valmouth and Cavell, alongside Dame Joan Plowright.


At the end of the season he bought a house in Chichester and now lives with his second wife Emma, a dance teacher and former professional dancer, near Fontwell Racecourse. They met in a sell-out summer season of The Dick Emery Show at Bournemouths Winter Gardens in 1973 and have three children, Josh, Darcey and Barnaby, all of whom have inherited their fathers musical genes.


I adore Sussex, and Chichester Cathedral is particularly special to us because weve spent a lot of time ferrying the children back and forth to services [Barnaby, 16, sings in the chapel choir, as did his elder brother Josh, 24, before him].


I also go to the festival theatre as often as I can and love poking around Arundel, where I often swim in the open air lido or walk along the towpath that hugs the River Arun.


It seems Sussex will always have a place in his heart, just as Mark will always have a place in the affections of countless female fans.

Verdict runs at Theatre Royal, Brighton from July 18-23. For tickets, ring 0844 871 7650 or visit www.ambassadortickets.com/brighton

To find out more about Mark Wynter and to purchase his music, visit www.markwynter.com

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Sussex Life