Goodbye Goodtime George

George Melly, the legendary jazz singer, writer, wit, raconteur and hard-drinker, has died aged 80.

"I just wanted to stumble around a dark bar with a beer in one hand and a pig’s trotter in the other," he once told a reporter who was keen to learn more about a career that also took in being an art and film critic.

He’ll be best remembered by the many who saw him perform live over a touring life that lasted – on and off – about five decades as a louche, wine-supping bohemian with a trademark fedora and robust wit.

"I didn’t expect you to have so many wrinkles," he reportedly told Mick Jagger when the two were first introduced.

When the Rolling Stones singer explained they were laughter lines, Melly told him, "Nothing could be that funny."

Born Alan George Heywood Melly in Liverpool in 1926, he was pressed into national service as World War II drew to a close.

After he was demobbed and started work in a London art gallery, Melly discovered the city’s jazz clubs and an urge to have a try as a singer.

By the end of 1948, he was a regular with trumpeter Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia Jazz Band, embarking on 15 years of a jazz lifestyle that involved drinking copious amounts of alcohol and a frenetic and varied sex life, while trying to give the impression of being a mature and professional musician.

It was during these years that he lived up to being the "Goodtime George" of his signature tune.

From the mid-1950s, his newspaper work, which included writing the speech bubbles for the Daily Mail’s Flook cartoon strip, meant he was becoming financially independent of the money the jazz clubs were paying.

His early media and broadcast career included presenting BBC radio’s "Jazz Club," occasionally presenting concerts on TV, and – somewhat surprisingly – serving as the pop music critic for The Observer.

In 1970, he switched to being the paper’s TV critic and then – swapping seats with fellow jazzman Benny Green – became the film critic.

By the early 1970s he was once again singing regularly on weekends with various provincial bands, and most Sunday lunchtimes could be heard in London at New Merlin’s Cave in Clerkenwell with John Chilton’s Feetwarmers.

For the next two decades, he managed to balance his writing with the increasing number of shows he was doing with The Feetwarmers, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club regulars and – largely because of the double entendres in Melly’s amended lyrics – a surprising hit on the British college circuit.

Despite his failing health, Melly continued to perform. He was forced to cut short a show after collapsing on stage earlier in the year, but seemed to recover quickly after spending a night in hospital. It wasn’t generally known that he was suffering from cancer.

He’s survived by his wife, Diana, a son and stepdaughter, and by a daughter from his first marriage.