Top of the Pops : 1970s : Roger Whittaker

Image caption,

Roger Whittaker, pictured on the BBC’s Top of the Pops in the 1970s

By Helen Bushby

Entertainment reporter

Folk singer Roger Whittaker, famous for his 1969 hit song Durham Town and expert whistling, has died at the age of 87.

His other hits included The Last Farewell and New World in the Morning, and he sold nearly 50 million records around the world, his website said.

After starting in folk clubs, his successes included the Skye Boat Song, a duet with Des O’Connor in 1986.

He was also able to sing in several languages.

They included German and French, allowing him to appeal to a wide audience, especially in Germany, where he was particularly popular.

Whittaker was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1936, while his parents were from Staffordshire, England.

Image caption,

Roger Whittaker started singing when he was studying medicine

Whittaker studied medicine after doing compulsory national service in Kenya, where he spent two years in the colonial Kenya Regiment fighting the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, or Mau Mau, who wanted independence from the UK.

While studying for his degree, he sang in local clubs and wrote his own songs.

But he left his medical course after 18 months and went in to teaching, moving to the University of Bangor in Wales in 1959 to get a teaching qualification.

While there, he composed some songs to sing during university Rag Week, and sent a demo track to a music publisher.

“Before he knew it, Roger was back in the studio recording his first single, The Charge of the Light Brigade,” his biography said.

His next release, Steel Men, picked up airplay while he was still a student, and his career began to progress, with TV work following.

Despite fighting with the British colonial army in Kenya, he is also very popular in the country.

His song My Land is Kenya, in which he professes his heartfelt love and connection to the country where he was born and grew up, is often played on TV and radio during national holidays or during election campaigns.

He retired with his wife Natalie in France in 2012.

Additional reporting by Basillioh Rukanga in Nairobi