VIDEO: Tearful Lionel Blair unveils plaque for singer Alma Cogan
Lionel Blair broke down in tears as he unveiled a blue plaque for fifties singer Alma Cogan outside her childhood home in Worthing.
More than 100 people filled the front garden of 29 Lansdowne Way today to see the 88-year-old show business legend pay tribute to his friend, who died of ovarian cancer aged 34 in 1966.
Before he pulled the velvet cord, he said: "It is a pleasure for me to be able to do this. I hate doing it, because I want her to be here. To this day I miss her, and she means so much to my life, and my sister. When she went, a light went out, and I hope this is lighting it up again and she knows that this is going on. My darling Alma."
Known as 'the girl with the laugh in her voice', Alma was one of the most popular singers in the 1950s. She had more hit records in that decade than any other female singer - 18 - and topped the charts in Iceland, Germany, Sweden and Japan, where she knocked Elvis Presley off the number one spot.
The plaque was funded by the Alma Cogan International Fan Club, which worked closely with The Worthing Society. Geoff Bowden, who is a member, came up with the idea at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of her death last year.
He said: "She was such a wonderful performer, and greatly loved. She was that rarity in show business; someone who was loved by the fans and also virtually everyone in the business."
"If she was here today, I think she would be like Cilla Black; she could have branched out to hosting television shows, she had such a super personality."
Born in London on May 19, 1932, Alma moved to Worthing with her family in the 1940s, her father Mark having a shop in the area. Alma attended the local College of Art, studying textile and dress design. In 1948, aged 16, she successfully auditioned for the chorus of a West End musical High Button Shoes, sharing a dressing room with a then-unknown Audrey Hepburn.
That show ran for almost a year and the constant commuting between Worthing and London eventually got too much for Alma and her family moved back to London.
At the height of her fame Alma did return to appear on stage in Worthing. On July 26, 1959 she topped the bill in a Sunday concert at the Pier Pavilion and that Christmas she starred in Goldilocks And The Three Bears at the Connaught Theatre from December 21, 1959 to January 23, 1960.
She turned down a marriage proposal from Hollywood film star Cary Grant, and counted the Beatles as close friends.
At the unveiling was her cousin, Howard Grey. The 75-year-old Lionel's speech 'sums up everything I was feeling'.
He remembered visiting Alma and her siblings at the house as a child: "I came to this house so many times when I was six and seven. They used to perform little routines for us in the kitchen. It was better there because there were tiles and they could tap dance."
He added: "Alma was Miss Music as far as I was concerned. People will pass the house and always know who she is now. She is there forever."