The weekly television show hosted by the silky-voiced crooner Andy Williams was as popular in Britain as it was in America. Throughout the 1960s, Williams had a string of hits in the British charts, although not his theme tune, Moon River (1961), the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Having made his professional debut as a boy in the 1930s, he was still packing the Albert Hall and other big venues around Britain as recently as five years ago. By the end of his career, he had 18 gold albums to his name.
At the instigation of his father, Williams and his three older brothers joined the choir at the Presbyterian church in the small town of Wall Lake in Iowa, where he was born. When the family moved to the state capital, Des Moines, the four boys began singing on the local radio station, where Ronald Reagan was a sports commentator.
Further moves to Chicago and Cincinnati led to more radio work, and when the most famous crooner of all, Bing Crosby, heard the Williams brothers, he asked them to accompany him on his new record, Swinging On a Star, which became one of the biggest hits of 1944.
Three years later, the four brothers teamed up with the singer Kay Thompson, and spent several years touring America and Europe as part of her cabaret act. When the brothers decided to go their separate ways, Andy chose to launch a solo career.
At first, it was a struggle. He was so poor at one point that he ate dog food. Then, thanks to the influence of Thompson, he became the resident singer on the late-night television programme The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, all the while developing the casual style that was to become one of his trademarks.
These appearances led to his first recording contract, under the terms of which he cut a disc of the song Butterfly (1956), which provided him, surprisingly, with his only No 1 in Britain.
By the early 1960s, Williams was a star. He signed a lucrative contract with Columbia Records and was given his own television show by CBS.
His British hits included Can’t Get Used to Losing You (1963) – a song he disliked, calling it “dumb” – Almost There (1965), May Each Day (1966), Music to Watch Girls By (1967) and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (1968).
When Williams made a request to record Moon River, it was initially turned down on the grounds that the lyrics made no sense. What, he was asked, is a ‘Huckleberry friend’? So the song is only to be heard on an album, Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes (1962).
On television, The Andy Williams Show won three Emmy awards, but in 1971 CBS decided it would no longer be a weekly fixture. His best days were now over, but in 1998 he enjoyed a revival after Peugeot used Can’t Take My Eyes Off You in a television commercial. The following year, Fiat featured Music to Watch Girls By in one of its advertisements. Williams had a similar success in 2002, when his recording of It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year was chosen for a Marks and Spencer Christmas campaign.
Andy Williams, who was born on December 3, 1927, died on September 25, aged 84.