On October 11, 1998, the feature shown left, written by Ian Dury, was published in the Sunday Telegraph, but it did not subsequently appear on their web site. I felt it would be sad if this contribution was not preserved.

On October 2, 1958, the 19-year-old Ronald Wycherley from the Dingle in Liverpool found his way backstage at the Essoldo in Birkenhead, where Marty Wilde was topping the Rock Extravaganza show.

Rock impresario Larry Parnes heard some of Ronnie's songs, renamed him Billy Fury and shoved him out on stage. A star was really born. Parnes became his manager and booked him for the rest of the tour, and by the time the package reached London, he was signed to Decca.

Billy's golden looks, voice and suit, combined with his membership of the Parnes stable of stars, soon opened all the doors. His first single was produced by Harry Robinson, famous on television as Lord Rockingham, and by February 1959 the self-penned Maybe Tomorrow had entered the British charts, helped by an appearance in Ted Willis's TV play, Strictly For Sparrows.

Larry Parnes later explained his choice of name. He used "Billy" because of the famous entertainer Billy Cotton - a friendly, glad·handing personality; and "Fury" to drive home the message before he even appeared. He left out the lucky "e" as given to Marty Wilde and Tommy Steele because "Furie" didn't look quite right.

I first dug Billy from seeing him on the telly in 1959. Serious haircut; collar up at the back; sharkskin or lame jacket; hands in the gunslinger position; hooded eyes, and double handsome without being a wimpish outing. In 1964 I did a 10ft x 8ft painting of him for a youth club in Mornington Crescent, which I have never heard of since.

British TV had some great rock shows in the late Fifties, beginning with the quaint Six Five Special with its strange mixture of boxer Freddie Mills, blazered wide-boy Pete Murray and music molester Don Lang and his frightful Frantic Five, and developing into total music shows like Dig This!, Cool For Cats and the wonderful Oh Boy!

BBC radio offered the long-running and hugely influential Saturday Club, fronted by the great Brian Matthew.

Billy made many appearances on these shows during 1959.

Another tour began in April at the Worksop Regal, taking in Scotland and Ireland, during which a couple of small dents appeared in Billy's glossy career curve.

Billy had had a bad attack of rheumatic fever when he was six and another bout the following year, and he'd spent long periods in the Alder Hey Children's Hospital. The illness affected his heart and gave him constant trouble for the rest of his life. The first signs began to show during the hectic touring schedule.

Off-stage he was always described as polite and reserved; a bird-watcher and animal·lover rather than a party animal. His stage show, however, was soon causing consternation with watch committees across the land.

Clutching himself through his shiny trousers and emitting husky groans whilst simulating sex with the microphone stand was not considered suitable entertainment for 14-year-old pony-tailed screamers, and demands were made that he clean up his act.

Finally, on October 30 the show was stopped at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. During his version of Elvis Presley's Mean Woman Blues, Billy would wind his leg round the mike stand, tip it back and caress it, then leap back and slowly, slowly unzip his yellow jacket, cast it aside, all the while to the throbbing guitars, then throw the microphone stand full-length on the stage floor and leap on top of it. And this time the curtain came down as well.

Despite these hiccups, the Fury career was progressing apace. More singles were released, including the beautiful Margo (Don't Go) and Angel Face which failed to chart, probably due to some of the bad press his stage act had been receiving. He came third that year in the New Musical Express male vocalist poll, being beaten only by Anthony Newley and Craig Douglas.

In April 1960 be joined forces with TV and record producer Jack Good of Oh Boy! fame. Rediscoverer of Gene Vincent and mentor and saviour to most of Britain's rockers from Cliff Richard to Cuddly Dudley, Jack was the single most forceful personality in British rock television. He had often given Billy slots in his shows and now it was decided that he would produce his first long-player, The Sound Of Fury.

During his idle moments as a deckhand on a Mersey tugboat, young Ron Wycherley bad written a lot of songs, and every track on his album was credited to him or his penname Wilbur Wilberforce. This creative·writing period stopped almost immediately be achieved success, and from 1961 onwards he recorded only other writers' songs.

Jack Good assembled his musicians at Decca's West Hampstead studio. He used Joe Brown, his TV guitar star, and in order to achieve the American slap bass sound, he used both electric or and acoustic basses, opining that no British bass·player could do it on their own.

Billy flew his friends, a vocal group called the Four Jays, down from Liverpool for background vox. Three years later, they acquired instruments and a manager, Brian Epstein, and found fame as the Fourmost. The I0-inch album did quite well, as did a couple of singles, and though it never set the world on fire, it still it sells to this day, nearly 40 years later. Billy was now about to become a big-beat balladeer.

Lucky Larry Parnes was an old-fashioned type of showbiz manager, much in the mould of Elvis Presley's Col Tom Parker. He had a huge and not always benevolent influence and control over his acts, and was often accused of working Billy too hard, considering his heart condition. Parnes denied knowing about his illness before 1962, but Billy's brother Albert says this just ain't true.

"I would never overwork anyone with a heart defect," said Larry, "I am the last person in the world to do that."

Jean Wycherly, Billy's mum, remembered asking Mr Parnes to cut down his work rate for the sake of his health, and drummer Clem Cattini described Parnes as a ruthless taskmaster. This lack of control over his own career was seen in the choice of some of the recorded material. Billy often recorded covers that were far below his own writing abilities, and he never seemed able to break Parnes' Svengali grip.

Billy Fury's next Top 20 hit was his biggest.

Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and a hit in America for Tony Orlando, Halfway To Paradise reached Number 3 and stayed in the charts for 23 weeks. It began a four-year run of hits for Billy, which included such great songs as Jealousy and Goffin and King's I'll Never Find Another You, but sadly never included another of his own compositions.

Powered by Ivor Richmonde's mighty string arrangements and backed by great musicians and the wonderful Vernons Girls, Billy Fury's records still represent the peak of British rock singing. There simply isn't anybody who can touch him.

Along with fame and fortune came the usual couple of dodgy movies and even a spot of panto. He recorded the semi-live album We Want Billy in front of a few hundred fan club girls screaming their heads off. In August 1963 he topped the bill on the first broadcast of the famous TV show Ready Steady Go. He had his last Top 10 in June 1965 with In Thoughts Of You.

Heart operations led to his early retirement, and apart from a few tickles here and there he never resumed a full time career. He spent his time on his farm with his animals and birds.

In 1973 he made a classic appearance in the David Essex movie That'll Be The Day as a singer Stormy Tempest, ably and wonderfully supported by drummer Keith Moon.

I was lucky to meet my hero shortly before he died, aged 42, on January 28, 1983.

"Buy yourself a farm, and dig a few holes," he said. "It's very good for you."

He told me he couldn't do a lot of digging because of his heart. There are plenty of us out there who will dig Billy Fury for ever.

(Ian Dury died of liver cancer on 27 March 2000.)

The Mighty Stef and The Ballad Of Ian Dury And Billy Fury
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In July 2004, I came across this song by Stefan Murphy, who told me:

This song was written by me and originally performed by an unsigned band from Dublin, Ireland, called Miles Judge, of which I was the lead singer and songwriter.

It was later recorded and carried on by my current incarnation, The Might Stef.

The title of the song is basically a tribute to two of my great heroes.

It's a dirty rock 'n' roll song that uses the name of two of music's late greats to create a hook line, I guess.

A Swallow Flyin' In The Sky
Play song (sorry - broken link)

Bob Taylor takes the credit for the discovery of this curiosity.

A French rock 'n' roll group called Long Black Jackets recorded an album called Definitely Teds in 2000, and Bob came across a copy five years later.

On it is a track called A Swallow Flyin' In The Sky, and near the start of the song, there's a reference to Billy Fury.  I tracked down a copy through the internet at a retailer in Spain.

If you can make out much of the lyrics, you've a better ear than I have.


Billy Fury Is Dead
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Hardly a tribute in the normal sense, but for the sake of completism, I just had to include it somewhere.

This was composed and recorded by Devilish Presley, a duo called Johnny Navarro and Jacqui Vixen, who describe themselves as a alternative Gothic rock band,

Johnny told me: "Devilish Presley tend to use a lot of rock 'n' roll imagery and puns in our lyrics, 'Disgraceland', 'Memphisto', 'Viva Lost Vagrants' and so on. This is all done with
great respect and love for 50s and 60s music by the way.
"Billy Fury Is Dead is mainly about the fact that rock 'n' roll and the so called baby boom generation are all getting older. There is a trend at the moment to blame this generation for a lot of stuff .
"If you listen to the song you can tell we think that is a very spurious and stupid notion that only tells half the story, if that.
"On a more personal level, we think Billy Fury was probably the ultimate British rocker and the coolest looking dude ever.

"When I was younger I had a Billy Fury type hair-do but sadly I am now sans-hair - so it could also be about how age takes away image and all that this means if you are a performer. But because rock 'n' roll is still the most important thing in our lives, we carry on 'cos that is the 'attitude' that the baby boom generation had and still has."


Play song

Ian Dury also wrote and recorded a song called England's Glory, in which Billy Fury is named as one of the "jewels in the crown".

As we already have a contribution from Ian, I've added instead the cover version by comedian Max Wall.