Switching careers in midstream, Bernard Hunter started out as a singer and then learned to dance before becoming an agent, representing some of his clients into his late 80s. Along the way, he had the good fortune to support some of the biggest comedians of the day, including Tony Hancock and Eric Sykes.
At the age of 16, Hunter won a singing competition at a cinema in north London, and was awarded a week’s work at the Winter Gardens, Morecambe. During the week, the show in which he was appearing was broadcast by BBC Radio. His part in the show was highly praised by a reviewer from the Daily Mail, and he was invited to meet Henry Hall, who led the BBC Dance Orchestra for much of the 1930s.
Hall asked him to sing Pennies from Heaven, the 1936 song made famous by Bing Crosby. Before long, Hunter was broadcasting as frequently as nine times a week. In 1938, he went to Germany to sing at the Scala vaudeville theatre in Berlin, where he was heard by Adolf Hitler. Later on, he was embarrassed by anyone who introduced him as “the man who sang for Hitler”.
In 1940, Hunter left Henry Hall and went to France to work for the Entertainments National Service Association, the organisation that staged shows for the British armed forces during the Second World War. He then joined the band conducted by Jack Payne, who had led the BBC Dance Orchestra before Hall.
After working with another popular bandleader, Jack Jackson, Hunter appeared in a production of the romantic operetta The Land of Smiles, written by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehar, with Richard Tauber at the Lyric Theatre, London, in 1942. In the mid-1940s, he joined three revues – Strike a New Note (1943-44), Strike it Again (1944-45), both with Sid Field, the most admired comedian of his generation, and Better Late (1946), with the sophisticated Beatrice Lillie at the West End’s Garrick Theatre.
After that, Hunter was seen in an Arthur Askey show, Follow the Girls (1945-47), succeeding the actor Hugh French. When Tommy Steele had enjoyed only a year of stardom, he made the film The Tommy Steele Story (1957), in which Hunter played an old man strumming a guitar.
Around this time, Hunter also turned to television work, featuring in The Dickie Henderson Half-Hour (1958-59), Sykes and a Brave Deed (1960), and one of the most famous shows Tony Hancock made, The Radio Ham (1961).
In the meantime, French moved to Los Angeles to join the Famous Artists Agency, representing, among others, Marilyn Monroe. Before leaving, he asked Hunter to run an office of the agency in London. In the 1960s, Hunter set up another agency, tending the careers of stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Olivia de Havilland and Denis Quilley.
Bernard Hunter, who was born on February 10, 1920, died on October 2, aged 92.