A SINGER whose musical talents took him from his birthplace in a North-East pit village to international stardom has died on his 94th birthday.

Bishop Auckland-born John Reed spent 20 years as the principal comic baritone with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, entertaining audiences across the world with his renditions of fast-rhythm patter lyrics.

In September 1972, he appeared as the castaway on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, where one of his chosen records was The Last Rose of Summer, sung by a friend from Darlington, Ada Alsop.

Mr Reed was the youngest of four children born to a village butcher in Close House, near Bishop Auckland, where his mother was a singer and his sister a brilliant musician.

The family moved to Darlington when he was 11 and he later made his living in builder’s and insurance offices and, during the war, as a tool fitter and instrument maker.

His early stage success was as a dancer. He won medals for dance across the North-East and joined a repertory company in Darlington after the Second World War.

He made his debut with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1951 and held the patter man role from 1959 to 1979.

With the company touring almost continuously between London seasons, he became a star in Australia, the US and Canada.

After retiring from the stage, Mr Reed moved to Halifax, West Yorkshire, where he directed the local Gilbert and Sullivan society, the West Yorkshire Savoyards.

He continued to appear on stage as a guest until the D’Oyly Carte’s final performance in 1982 and was honoured with the OBE in 1977.

He worked as a director and teacher after retiring from performing and was a keen supporter of the annual International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, in Buxton, Derbyshire, until failing eyesight made involvement difficult.

Festival director Neil Smith said: “Reed had an unrivalled ability to imbue his performances with both madcap humour and deep pathos, a quality which, combined with the acrobatic agility of a trained dancer, brought him worldwide acclaim.”

Mr Smith, who described Reed as his “courtesy uncle”, said the singer had been unwell in the months leading to his death in hospital on Saturday.

He said Reed never married and is survived by his partner of 52 years, Nicholas Kerri.