John Dankworth writes...
What about a biography of my missus?
In a cramped 14 bedroom Liverpool council house in 1883, house proud single mother Carla Lane prepares a meagre breakfast of scrambled quail's eggs, honey-cured haunch of venison sandwiches and Coco Pops for her nine alarmingly grown-up children, many of whom are even older than her: Joey, Jimmy, Johnny, Billy, Bobby, Barry, Sleepy, Dopey and little Cleo.
A close-knit family, they sleep six to a bed, but scraping by on a combined weekly unemployment benefit of barely £7,950 it is a struggle to survive. With no cutlery the family lives hand-to-mouth and simply to make the empty hours pass, the youngsters are at times tempted through sheer boredom to consider reading books.
Father, Geoffery Palmer, walked out on his family soon after Cleo was born. A professional butterfly dentist, he fell on hard times after the introduction of fluoride in butterfly toothpastes. The demand for butterfly dentistry vanished almost overnight and an entire profession was left totally redundant.
"I felt redundant as a MAN," he later explained, speaking from under the bedclothes of posh, husky-voiced slapper Dame Judi Dench OBE from whose side he has never strayed.
Cleo was the youngest child and, as she quickly discovered, the only girl.
"I knew from an early age that I was different," she revealed in a rare interview.
At home she felt trapped by her overprotective brothers and at school she was isolated and lonely, her gormless bulging eyes, repulsive spangly clothes, stupid hairstyle, facial warts, incontinence and webbed fingers singling her out as the object of ridicule among cruel classmates. But it was, as it were, her voice that caused her the greatest problems.
"She sounded like she was speaking through a mouthful of that jelly you get under the pastry of pork pies; all gurgly and gloopy. We all thought she was a little freak," remembers head teacher Mrs. McClusky.
Then at the tender and vulnerable age of 48 she made a discovery that was to change the course of her life forever. Geoffery Palmer, the man she knew as "Daddy" was not her real father. Her true biological father, it transpired, was in fact none other than Bradley out of S Club 7.
"Shocking though the news was," gurgled Cleo recently, "it did help to explain a great deal about the young lady I was becoming. In particular my inherent ability to reinterpret popular music in an inventive and original way."
In 1903 she met Bradley for the first time, immediately establishing a devoted friendship that would stand the test of time. He encouraged her to accept that her voice, the attribute that most set her apart from her contemporaries, was, if you will, what made her a "special person".
Within months Cleo became a regular crowd-puller at Liverpool's many night spots crooning through old standards as well as popular hits of the day, all in her own inimitable style. Ain't Misbehavin', It Don't Mean A Thing, There's a Hole in My Bucket, and Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter being just some of the favourites.
Owing to her atrocious memory, however, Cleo would often forget large parts of the melody and sometimes a whole verse, but rather than submit to her feeble wits, she simply carried on "singing".
Music critics were enthralled. "Truly ground breaking," was how the NME described her work. "So accomplished is her classical training, so undeniably advanced is her musical knowledge that Ms Laine can freely discard all those outmoded conventions of music such as tempo, harmony, melody, words, and resort to pure instinct. A joy!"
The Daily Telegraph's Mark Lawson added, "High notes, low notes, she'll fucking do 'em all. In whatever fucking order she fucking well likes, you cunts."
It was during one of these much esteemed early solo performances that Cleo first met husband-to-be, the world champion saxophonist Jack Duckworth.
"I'd seen him on Coronation Street, of course," recalled Cleo, "so as you can imagine he was much bigger than I expected."
The pair fell instantly in love and recorded a string of experimental albums together including the legendary "Carry On Cleo" and the smash hit single "Kung Fu Fighting", now regarded by critics and music lovers alike to be among the greatest easy listening/bland jazz reworkings of any one-hit-wonder martial arts-related song of all time.
Today Cleo Laine's influence can be observed in every corner of modern music. From lightweight winebar pianists to jaw-droppingly feeble jazz nightclub turns, it seems as though everyone wants to "Make it up as they go along".
Ex-husband and convicted stalker Humphrey Lyttleton once described Cleo Laine as "A truly and indeed very unique lady singer."