Australian-Scottish pianist, bandleader, television and radio presenter

Born: April 7, 1928;

Died: March 31, 2019

PEGGY O'Keefe, who has died aged 90, was a much-loved pianist, musical director, television and radio presenter, who lived in Glasgow for most of her life and worked for both ITV and the BBC at a time when younger generations could be forgiven for thinking nothing ever happened North of the Border except the White Heather Club.

Her playing was admired by Cleo Laine and Oscar Peterson, Sir Alexander Gibson (conductor of the RSNO) and choreographer Dame Gillian Lynne (Cats, Phantom of the Opera), and every Scottish singer and visiting artist wanted her to play for them: her sensitivity and style transformed her from a ‘mere’ accompanist into an equal partner in every performance.

Peggy (Margaret Patricia) O’Keefe grew up on a farm not far from Melbourne. Her father, Simon Joseph O’Keefe, had emigrated from County Clare in 1861 and had a fine natural tenor voice. Her formal musical training began in school, Emmanuel College, Worrnambool, and from there she went to Melbourne University’s Music Conservatorium to study violin, piano, singing and harp.

She soon became known across Australia through radio broadcasts and cabaret spots, with Peggy and her trio accompanying artists like a young Barry Humphries and award-winning film-star Juanita Hall (‘Bloody Mary’ in South Pacific). But according to fellow pianist Gordon Cree – whom Peggy mentored in his youth and with whom she enjoyed working up until her retirement – her most precious memory was a brief, impromptu duet with Frank Sinatra in 1955. Sinatra had been having a meal with his teenaged daughter Nancy in a Melbourne nightclub where Peggy was playing. But on his way out, he walked across the room to compliment Peggy, singing along as he approached the piano – too softly for anyone to hear except the band, but audibly enough for Peggy to cherish for the rest of her life.

In 1960 Peggy left Melbourne for London, where she took up where she left off, playing in the hot-spots of the day (including one jazz club where her “tea break” deputy was a young Dudley Moore) along with artists like Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Cleo Laine. And then in 1962 she was invited by the hotel magnate Reo Stakis to take up a residency in his Glasgow Chevalier Casino, initially for six months – which turned into six years. Along with Ricky Fernandez (bass) and Rudy Celerio (drums), star vibraharpist Jimmy Feighan and/or special guest-stars from her London days, she became a household name broadcasting live from the Chevalier, especially performing the theme-music and interludes on the week-night news and current affairs programme, Dateline / Today Is…

Peggy stayed on in her new home. In 1971 she met and married Rune Sandberg, the Swedish businessman with whom she had two sons, and the couple remained close though the marriage ended in 1979. Those were the early hey-days of televised light entertainment, and Peggy carried on working for STV’s head of music, the conductor Arthur Blake, on popular series featuring artistes like Isla St Clair, Marie Gordon-Price and Lena Zavaroni.

From the mid-70s onwards she also began working at the BBC, playing with their resident big band, the Scottish Radio Orchestra, under its conductor Brian Fahey. This coincided with my own debut in a succession of TV music series made in Glasgow for transmission throughout the UK. In one series, choreographed by Gillian Lynne, I danced and sang with a different male partner each week, including George Chakiris, who played Bernardo, in the film West Side Story. Peggy’s presence during this baptism of fire provided much reassurance and was the start of a lasting friendship.

In the 1980s the broadcasting companies started scrapping their expensive orchestras and staff music departments. But Peggy’s career continued to flourish in every type of venue and context: orchestral concerts, royal performances and charity shows in theatres and cathedrals, castles and concert halls, cruise ships, radio OBs and recording studios: still performing with her trio and making occasional TV appearances. (In 1996 she once again accompanied Barry Humphreys on Dame Edna’s Work Experience).

But increasingly she worked as an accompanist. Peggy could play anything. Together we developed our own style of cabaret – tailor-made corporate entertainment that ranged across a wide variety of musical idioms, including opera, light classics, covers of popular standards, Scots and Gaelic, a touch of satire, even a tinge of jazz which we performed for international companies: airlines, luxury vehicles, breweries… Including one memorable night when we were booked to perform after a Clint Eastwood premiere and then discovered that Clint was sitting next to Quincy Jones…

In her latter years Peggy often worked for charity, raising funds for needy organisations. She entertained innumerable civic receptions at Glasgow City Chambers, from visiting diplomats to the Pensioners’ Christmas Singalong. She enjoyed going to Gleneagles Hotel to play during Sunday lunch. And for a while in the mid-90s she became a part-time tutor in vocal technique at Perth College, providers of Scotland’s first-ever popular music performance degree course. The students and staff loved her, and she them.

In 2017, by now beset by health problems, she received an unexpected citation from her old school, stating that “Peggy O’Keefe, an eminent member of the Class of 1945, having enjoyed a substantial international career, had been inducted into the Emmanuel College roll of Inspiring Alumni.” Now that’s what I call bonzer.

Peggy died in a nursing home overlooking Hogganfield Loch. She is survived by two sons – Krister and Lars, who works as a DJ, known to inter­national techno audiences as Funk D’void. She is also survived by five grandchildren.