Obituary: Peter Skellern
A singer-songwriter and pianist who eventually became a priest, Peter Skellern’s most famous song was the 1972 hit single You’re a Lady. Cloyingly sentimental, its curious blend of crooning vocals and brass band accompaniment made him an unlikely star at a time when glam rock was in its gaudy pomp.
Skellern never enjoyed such chart prominence again, although You’re a Lady provided him with a signature song for a career that saw him writing for theatre, television and film, and enjoying a long-lasting writing and performing partnership with Richard Stilgoe.
Born in Bury, Lancashire, he trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and after failed attempts to form progressive rock and country and western bands, his solo chart success gave him access to a broader platform.
In 1975, he contributed lyrics and music and provided piano accompaniment for John Burrows and John Harding’s Loud Reports, a notional biography of a 20th-century soldier, at London’s Royal Court.
The same year, the trio produced Dirty Giant, about a rock star involved with village wannabes, for the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
He made his West End debut as musical supervisor for Mike Ockrent’s revival of CP Taylor’s And a Nightingale Sang, starring Patricia Routledge and Gemma Jones, at London’s Queen’s Theatre in 1979.
More suggestive of the direction his later career would take, 1979 also saw him contributing (alongside John Cleese, Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor) to the revue City Delights at the newly reopened Lyric, Hammersmith.
By then, Skellern had begun to establish himself as a composer for television, writing and performing the theme song for Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse’s 1973 adaptation of Billy Liar and the theme and incidental music for Roy Clarke’s The Growing Pains of PC Penrose (1975).
His other screen credits included the short-lived Maureen Lipman comedy vehicle A Soft Touch (1978), John Finch’s Flesh and Blood, starring Thora Hird and Bill Fraser (1980-82), Third Time Lucky with Derek Nimmo (1982), Sue Townsend and Carole Hayman’s The Refuge (1984) and John Kane and Keith Leonard’s Me and My Girl (1984-88).
He gained a footnote in cult cinema history when his song One More Kiss Dear (co-written with Vangelis) was featured in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982.
In 1984 he formed the pop group Oasis with singer Mary Hopkins and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber (brother of Andrew), whose early departure brought the venture to an end just months after releasing their only album.
Skellern met songwriter Stilgoe on his first Royal Variety appearance in 1982. The two teamed up in 1985 for Who Plays Wins, directed by Mike Ockrent, at the Vaudeville Theatre.
Often likened to Flanders and Swann, Skellern and Stilgoe remained a popular double-act for much of the next quarter-century, making their farewell tour, A Quiet Night Out, in 1999. They briefly reunited for the Royal Variety Performance in 2000.
On radio, Skellern was a long-time guest on BBC Radio 4’s Stop the Week and played Carter Brandon in Peter Tinniswood’s Uncle Mort’s North Country in 1988.
In later life, Skellern’s religious conviction came further to the fore. He wrote music for church settings and was ordained as a deacon and priest in the Church of England in October 2016.
Peter Skellern was born on March 14, 1947. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 2014 and died on February 17, at the age of 69. He is survived by his wife and two children.