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Obituaries #245

TOMMY VAUGHAN, singer and alleged entertainer

Tommy Vaughan aka “The Dirty Cabaret Singer” has died at the age of 76. Mr Vaughan who began life as a Rat Pack tribute act went on to develop his own trademark smooth-skiffle-vocal-jazz-fusion style. When that failed to find an interested public, he reverted to singing cover versions of other famous singers’ signature tunes but with altered “adult” lyrics. “I left a fart in San Francisco” was one of his more subtle and least offensive adaptations.

Professor Thrupiece with an unknown lady at The Cool Cat Niteclub, Clifton Maybank in about 1965. Tommy Vaughan was a frequent performer at the club though he and the Professor never had a meeting of minds either on the price of fluff or the value of Tommy's "art".

Born James Arbuthnot Granville Ornsworthy in Chetnole on 21 May 1943 to parents Halifax and Hortense (nee Meadows) Ornsworthy, he was intended for the bar but showed no inclination for the law save several brushes with it as a lively and somewhat ill-disciplined teenager. Known locally as “a bit of a lad”, he found his natural habitat in the snooker halls, milk bars and beatnik clubs of Lyme Regis in the mid to late 1950s. Always quick to pick up a microphone when the booked act “took five”, he rapidly became a karaoke performer before the genre was even invented. From there it was a small step to the small club scene where his imitation of late-night crooners Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr and (when pushed) Anne Shelton drew generally mixed reviews.

A chance meeting with agent Brian Elpsteinsteinstein and a change of name (Brian Stein) led Ornsworthy to more bookings and an attempt to develop his own stage persona as Tommy Vaughan. [“Give me a Shoeshine” was released by Decca Records in 1968 but did not chart.] Forgetting the lyrics to Why Not Take All of Me one night in Burton Bradstock (the original song does not include the line “Take my c**k, I’ll never use it”*), he realised he had found his fach and went on to modify the words to more than 200 popular songs.

*Friends of the singer have speculated that this was less a slip of the mind/tongue than an expression of frustration at the state of his marriage by this time.

Tommy Vaughan in his heyday with trademark boater. He usually began his act with a few high kick-steps until a groin twang persuaded him otherwise.

Always a niche act, he found his most enthusiastic audiences in the pubs and clubs of the seedier parts of the major Dorset conurbations, where lewd and suggestive language was more or less de rigour. He made - on his own admission - “a patchy but decent living”. Changing fashions did little to dent the limited appeal of a man once described as “a scarcely potty-trained version of Dickie Valentine” and he continued to find work well into his late 60s when an encounter with a faulty Bon Tempi keyboard forced him into retirement. His signature tune became his own anatomically suggestive version of “I've got you under my (f**e) skin” - a song he performed by his own reckoning more than 2,000 times.

He is survived by his wife Lauderdale who he met in a bar in Little Bredy in 1962. They had three children together all of whom, when old enough to witness their father at work, changed surname and asked thereafter to remain anonymous.

Lifelong Accompanist Hammond Organ writes:

Tommy was a generous colleague who never let fame go to his head largely because he never found it. Whether singing for his own pleasure or (less frequently) others’ he always gave it everything, sacrificing whatever was necessary (including his dignity) to keep his audience entertained. I remember one night in The Blue Lounge, Goathill, he was clearing his throat between numbers and was just about to perform the Ken Dodd song "A penis, a penis, the greatest gift that I possess, I thank the Lord that I've been blessed with more than my share of a penis" when [that’s quite enough [Ed]]

Tommy Vaughan, cabaret singer and alleged entertainer: b. James Arbuthnot Granville Ornsworthy, 21 May 1943, Chetnole; m. Lauderdale Dixon, 8 April 1966; d 22 October 2019, East Pulham.

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