By Sheila O’Kelly
Joseph McLaughlin, known professionally as Josef Locke, was born on the 23rd March, 1917 in Derry. He was one of nine children born to Patrick and Anne McLaughlin. Josef commenced singing at the age of seven in local Churches in the Bogside, a neighbourhood outside Derry City.
At sixteen, he enlisted in the Irish Guards, an infantry regiment of the British Army. He served in the Palestine Police Force in Egypt (a British Colonial Police Service) before returning to Ireland in the late 1930s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
His first love was singing and in 1940, he successfully auditioned for actor Jimmy O’Dea and performed in a concert with O’Dea in Carlow town hall. Locke’s performances for the Dublin Grand Opera Society, first as Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, then as Enzo in La Gioconda encouraged him to pursue a singing career.
Known as ‘The Singing Bobby’, Locke left the police force to work Britain’s variety circuit. He also played summer seasons in Blackpool and in other English seaside resorts. In 1946, he featured in ‘Starry Way’ a twenty-week summer show at Blackpool Opera House.
Irish Tenor, Count John McCormack, advised Locke that his voice was more suited to a lighter repertoire than the operatic one he had in mind and urged him to find an agent. Josef found impresario, Jack Hylton, who booked him and shortened his name for billboard display. Joseph McLaughlin became ‘Josef Locke’.