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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 July 2007, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
Obituary: George Melly
George Melly
George Melly was loved for his talent and flamboyant lifestyle
With his flamboyant suits, oversize hats and Havana cigars, George Melly was a good-time Renaissance man who indulged, often over-indulged, his passions for jazz, film, art, fishing, writing, drink and sex.

He was born in Liverpool in 1926 and educated at the ultra-liberal Stowe public school in Buckinghamshire, where he pursued his interests with vigour and without inhibition.

At school, he first became interested in art, particularly Surrealism.

He served as an able-seaman in the Royal Navy towards the end of World War II, where he got into trouble for distributing anarchist literature.

He moved to London in 1948 to work in an art gallery run by Belgian artist ELT Mesens, a leading light in the International Surrealist movement.

Melly became recognised as an authority on the subject and later wrote a book, Paris and the Surrealists.

George Melly
Melly became a pop music critic for The Observer - and the BBC
According to his memoirs, it was at this time that he augmented the promiscuous homosexuality of his schooldays, indulging in a series of menages a trois, initially with Mesens and his wife Sybil.

He had also developed a love of jazz, and started singing with Mick Mulligan's band in 1949. His voice was described by John Mortimer as possessing "the raucous charm of an old negress".

A fan of Bessie Smith and Fats Waller, he was to become famous for his routine of singing jazz numbers from the 1920s, interspersed with ribald jokes and saucy asides.

'Too respectable'

The band's drink and sex-fuelled wild adventures were recalled in Melly's first book, Owning Up.

His first venture into journalism came in 1956, when he started writing the captions for the Flook newspaper strip cartoon, a job which continued for 15 years and inspired two books.

In 1965, he joined The Observer as pop music critic, and, over the next eight years, graduated to television and film.

George Melly
Melly was also a keen fisherman in his later years
But he returned to jazz singing because he thought the Observer work was making him too respectable. He joined John Chilton's Feetwarmers whose clarinettist, Wally Fawkes, had drawn the Trog cartoons.

With his loud hat and suits, modelled on the old gangster movies of the 1930s and 40s, he became a favourite on the Dixieland jazz circuit.

His love of fly-fishing, which began in childhood, never left him. In later life, he sold several important paintings to enable him to buy a mile of the River Usk in Wales.

He brought us a lot of fun and a lot of pleasure
Roy Hudd

George Melly suffered from arthritis, psoriasis and a condition which precluded his drinking wine.

The latter did not hold him back, however, and his seemingly endless stream of amusing anecdotes made George Melly one of British showbusiness's most colourful and sought-after personalities.

Footage of George Melly performing

Jazz performer George Melly dies
05 Jul 07 |  Entertainment

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