Hotelier Harry pays tribute to 'gentleman' Tom O'Connor as comedian dies aged 81

File photo dated 21/06/1998 of Comedians Tom O'Connor (left) and Jimmy Tarbuck at the Hilton Hotel

Tom O'Connor (left) and Jimmy Tarbuck at the Hilton Hotel in London for the 1998 Comic Heritage Comedy Awards. - Credit: PA

Former Torbay hotelier Harry Murray was among many paying tribute to popular comedian Tom O'Connor who has died at the age of 81.

O’Connor died on Sunday morning, his family confirmed via his agent.

Mr Murray was the boss of the then five-star Imperial Hotel in Torquay from 1976 to 1994.

He revealed: "During that time I held many charity events, mainly for the Hotel & Catering Benevolent Association - HCBA - which changed to Hospitality Action 1998.

"The events sometimes included a Pro-Am golf and I invited celebrities to attend, each would do a five- minute chat. Tom O’Connor was always quick to respond and came on a number of occasions. He also encouraged other celebrities to attend.

"He was a gentleman, very courteous and kind and obviously his attendance helped sell tickets."

The entertainer, born in Bootle, Merseyside, was best known for presenting a number of hit gameshows including Crosswits and Name That Tune.

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O’Connor’s comedy career started out in working men’s clubs, however he broke into television on shows including The Comedians and Opportunity Knocks.

He then went on to establish himself as a household name through the 70s and 80s including in Pick Pockets and The Zodiac Game.

O’Connor hosted Name That Tune from 1976 until 1983.

Later in his career he continued to appear on television, starring in BBC soap Doctors in the early 2000s and the celebrity edition of Come Dine With Me in 2010.

In 2011 he also appeared on the Pointless Celebrities quiz show with his daughter-in-law Denise Lewis, who is a former Olympic athlete.

Lewis told the BBC there has been “such an outpouring of affection for Tom” following his death.

She added: “His whole mantra was about making people laugh.

“If you met him that’s all he wanted to do, which is make you feel good about yourself, which is a cherished quality which we don’t probably see enough of today.

“He lived with Parkinson’s for about 14 years and we saw him coping very well and in the latter couple of years, it really started to take a hold and it’s tragic.

“But without a doubt, Tom always tried to make light of it and even at the end, when he lost his battle with the disease, you could see that spark in his eyes, that humour still coming through those eyes of his right to the end.”

BBC Breakfast host Dan Walker tweeted: “How sad. I had the pleasure of meeting Tom O’Connor and he was kind, funny and a true gent.

“I loved watching him on telly – Crosswits was great. My sympathies are with his family and friends.”

Former EastEnders actor Stuart Anthony paid tribute to O’Connor in a post on Twitter.

He wrote: “Very sad to hear that Tom O’Connor has passed away.

“He was a lovely man with some great stories.

“My thoughts are with his family.”

Carol Vorderman, who starred on Countdown with O’Connor when he made guest appearances on the show, said he “made so many of us who knew him smile as soon as he entered the room”.

She added: “Tom was often on Countdown & made us howl laughing all day long. I’ll miss you Tom. You were one of the very best. Rest In Laughter Sir.”

Former boxer Frank Bruno paid tribute to O’Connor in a post on Twitter.

He wrote: “Tom O’Connor RIP I worked with Tom many times over the years a real comical character he was so quick I was still laughing at a previous joke when had told another one, great all round entertainer.”

Hospitality Action is the Industry  charity which raises millions for hospitality people who fall on hard times. They arranged a 30,000 virtual  Hell and Back challenge last month and raised over £150,00O.  Mr Murray cycled on a fixed cycle 205 miles over seven days and raised £4,000.