Take Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts’ blind uncle and a Yorkshire actress and what have you got? You’ve got folk, pop and TV stars Peters and Lee, light entertainment mainstays of the 70s, who reached number 1 with this easy listening tune, most famous these days for its use in a long-running crisp advert campaign with ex-footballer Gary Lineker.
Lennie Peters, AKA Leonard George Sargent, was born 22 November 1931 in London. At the age of five he was knocked down by a car and as a result was blinded in his left eye. In a bizarre, surreal, even blackly comic turn of events, when he was 16, he was blinded in his right eye too. While sunbathing, louts began throwing stones. After admonishing them, Peters returned to relaxing, until one threw a brick that hit his face. Two operations later, the sight in his right eye was restored. However, the night before he was due to be discharged, Peters noticed the man in the bed next to him was about to fall and hit the floor. He rushed over to save him, and in doing so, the sudden strain detached the retina from his recovering right eye. He remained blind for the rest of his life. There’s bad luck, and then there’s Lennie Peters.
Peters had considered becoming a prizefighter, but following his incident, he became more immersed in music. He began singing and playing the piano in the pubs of Islington, and signed with Oriole, releasing several singles. Peters began to get noticed, appearing on BBC radio and television, and in 1966 he signed with Pye and released his version of Stranger in Paradise, a number 1 for Dean Martin in 1955. During the time he was often on the gruelling northern club circuit in 1970, he met Diane Lee.
Lee, born Dianne Littlehales in February 1949, was brought up in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. She had wanted to be a ballet dancer and moved to London to achieve fame, but was instead performing as part of a duo with her cousin Liz. Peters and Lee decided to team up, with Lee performing backing vocals. They made their debut during a Rolf Harris live show in April, originally calling themselves Lennie Peters and Melody.
1973 was to be their year. After seven winning performances on ITV’s talent series Opportunity Knocks, they released their debut single, Welcome Home on Philips Records.
Originally written by Jean Alphonse Dupre and Stanislas Beldone in French, with English lyrics courtesy of Bryan Blackburn, Welcome Home is a simple, old-fashioned but pretty likeable slab of MOR pop. A man is missing his love and imagining what it’ll be like when she returns. From the word ‘someday’ in there, I’ll wager she’s not actually ever going to return, and Peters is hoping against hope.
The verses are boring, but the chorus is a classic punch-the-air moment. ‘Come on in and close the door’ seems slightly silly though. You’ve waited who knows how long for your lover to return, and all you can do is complain it’s a bit drafty? No wonder she left…. Joking aside, I’ve been running a mile from these type of songs of late, but I can’t help but enjoy this. It’s interesting to see how Lee barely gets a look-in though, you don’t even hear her at first. It’s all about Peters.
Not only did Peters and Lee get to number 1 with their debut single, but their LP We Can Make It went to the top of the album charts in the same week, making them the first act since The Beatles to do so. They topped the bill that year at the Royal Variety Performance. Further hits followed, most notably Don’t Stay Away Too Long in 1974 (number three).
The mid-70s were a busy time for the duo on TV, with appearances on The Des O’Connor Show and The Golden Shot to name but two and in 1976 came their own show, Meet Peters & Lee. But the writing was on the wall and they released their farewell album, called, er, The Farewell Album, in 1980.
While Lee went into acting, Peters returned to a solo career, but only one LP followed – Unforgettable, in 1981. He also briefly appeared as a criminal in 1984 crime film The Hit. Two years later they reunited and released Familiar Feelings as a single. Two more albums followed, Peters and Lee in 1989 and Through All the Years in 1992, but Peters succumbed to bone cancer on 10 October that year, aged 60.
Lee went on to marry Rick Price from Wizzard and she released solo album Chemistry in 1994. She and her husband are still touring, performing old and new material.
In 1995 Walkers Crisps used Welcome Home in an ad campaign with football hero Lineker, fresh from playing in Japan. It was so successful, he starred in many more, and the company even changed their salt and vinegar flavour to ‘Salt and Lineker’.
It’s also worth noting that this was producer Johnny Franz’s 10th and last number 1. Franz, known as the ‘last of the great pros’, was one of the biggest producers of the 50s and 60s. His first number 1 was Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party in 1954. It had been seven years since his ninth, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Dusty Springfield in 1966. He also helped his close friend Scott Walker when he first went solo in the late 60s. Franz died of a heart attack in 1977, aged 54.
Written by: Jean Alphonse Dupre and Stanislas Beldone/Bryan Blackburn (English lyrics)
Producer: Johnny Franz
Orchestra directed by: Peter Knight
Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 July)
Travis singer Fran Healy – 23 July
Actress Kate Beckinsale – 26 July
26 July: Parliamentary by-elections at the Isle of Ely and Ripon resulted in both seats being gained from the Conservatives by the Liberal Party candidates – media personality Clement Freud and David Austick respectively.