Sometimes when I’m walking on the hills I listen to some James Bond themes and Matt Monro’s From Russia with Love still sounds brill. Frank Sinatra loved Matt's knock-out ballads and said he was the only British singer he listened to. During the 1960s and 1970s this international star was known as “The Man with the Golden Voice” (even though he was a heavy smoker.) Here I am on a busy street outside the Cromwell Hospital in London where cigarettes and alcohol caught up with him.
His real name was Terence Edward Parsons and his golden voice was first noticed while he was in the army serving in Hong Kong. By 26 he was a rent-a-vocalist with the BBC Show Band but a pianist called Winifred Atwell took him under his wing, changed his singing name and helped him sign with Decca Records. For a while nothing happened; lots of singers were doing cover versions of American ballads. By 30 Matt had almost given up and lived in obscurity. His girlfriend got pregnant so they got married and had a child. He worked as a road sweeper and a bus driver, serenading his passengers. He lived off his wife's wages and royalties from a TV advertising jingle for Camay soap.
Aged 30 record producer George Martin asked Matt to record You Keep Me Swingin' and was so impressed with his soothing baritone voice that he booked the crooner to record some singles. Listeners adored his sun-stroked voice and unhurried, effortless manner. The singles sold in their millions. Aged 32 he recorded From Russia with Love and the following year Born Free from the Oscar-winning film with the same name. He married again and had two more children, moved to California and recorded several albums with American arrangers. He wasn't a songwriter but the Americans adored his relaxed interpretations of other's people's songs. He toured the world and returned to live in the UK performing in nightclubs and theatres.
It all ended prematurely due to addictions - mostly tobacco. He'd smoked from nine years old when he'd rolled his own cigarettes from tea leaves. He was so addicted he'd light up knowing he was going to stride across the stage in two minutes time. He'd also drank Scotch for years. Near the end he contracted liver cancer and his emaciated body was so ravaged with cancer he was barely recognisable. A liver transplant was possible but exploratory operation found the cancer had spread beyond capture and he died of lung cancer aged 54. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.
The hospital is on a busy road and you can only hope the windows are double-glazed and kept shut. BUPA bought this place and even today it’s marketed at wealthy Middle Eastern people (accounting for 40% of its patients.) Footballer George Best and actress Margaret Lockwood also died here from liver failure. I did a salute and left.
Matt was cremated here...