War-time boy soprano

Born:October 2 1930;

Died: January 1, 2020.

DEREK Barsham, who has died aged 89, sang Land of Hope and Glory on May 8, 1945, after Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared on the radio, “The German war is therefore at an end... We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing… Advance Britannia!”

Barsham’s captivating rendition of the Elgar composition followed, and it made a lasting impression. Alas, the recording has not survived. In fact, Barsham’s recording had been made the previous year, and when he heard it played on the wireless on VE Day he was surprised. “I was coming home from a game of soccer on my bicycle … when I heard my voice coming from the radios of the homes along my street,” he recalled. “People were waving at me as I sped by”.

Derek George Barsham was born in Enfield and sang in his school choir and with the local Boys’ Brigade choir. A music master remarked to his parents about the quality of his natural voice and suggested that he would greatly benefit from a professional voice coach.

The youngster responded to the tuition and was offered, and signed, a contract with Decca to record the Victorian ballad, The Holy City. The recording was, in fact, much interrupted by air raids and he had narrowly escaped being killed by a doodlebug when cycling to rehearse. But Record Review wrote enthusiastically of his singing, “You have here . . . a real big winner.”

A letter was written to ‘Uncle Mac’ (Derek McCulloch) the popular presenter of Children’s Hour on the Home Service “Uncle Mac replied, and in November 1943 I went to Studio 3a at Broadcasting House,” Barsham recalled. “He seemed to like my voice, and I made my first broadcast on Christmas morning 1943.”

Barsham’s popularity grew and his voice became very much associated with the spirit of the post-war years. He sang at a special victory service at Westminster Abbey and other high-profile ceremonies, including the child role of Feodor in Boris Godunov at Covent Garden ,which was then relayed live and was one of the first outside broadcasts on the Third Programme. Gramophone magazine welcomed the production and wrote, “But of course, Master Barsham steals the show.”

In 1947 he sang at the inauguration of the United Nations and, that same year, sang I’ll Walk Beside You at the Boys’ Brigade rally in the Royal Albert Hall which was relayed live throughout the UK and America. The recording was so well received that it was chosen as a wedding gift for Princess Elizabeth and Lt Philip Mountbatten.

For some years Barsham worked in a bank but in 1952 he changed his name to Derek Mann and worked as an entertainer in America. In 1970 he performed on the P & O liner Canberra and later that year he became a producer and performer on cruise ships, and in 1977 he was appointed cruise director for the Royal Viking Line, retiring in 1997.

He wrote a book, Mann at Sea, which told of his humorous experiences on cruise liners. He settled in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he was still singing with Cape Opera at the age of 69. In 2001Barsham gave his last performance in England, at St Paul’s Cathedral at a Boys’ Brigade celebration. He is survived by Barbara, his wife of 40 years.