|Before ‘X-Factor’, before
‘America’s Got Talent’, before ‘Pop Idol’, before most of the
competitors of those shows were even born, there was ‘Opportunity
Knocks’. Just a little over 30 years ago, in 1978 to be precise, a
group of singers who travelled to Dublin from Newbridge to audition
for the then popular television talent show, a fore-runner of the
X-Factor’s of its day.
Auditions were held at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf course, and were
attended by hundreds of acts, including members of the Duane Family.
This group of young singers from Newbridge performed for Hughie
Green, the host of the show, and his executive producer Peter Dulay,
both of whom were so impressed by what they heard that they choose
the group to appear on the live television show.
The show was broadcast from Thames Television Studios in Teddington
the following year. And so began an adventure for this unknown group
of musicians and singers. The name of this young group was the
‘Duane Family’, although that later changed to the ‘Duane Sisters’.
The original group line up was Majella, Phyllis, Marion, Sheila,
Orla and Brian Duane, along with two school friends of Brian’s,
Paddy Jones and Davy Usher.
The group flew to London each week for rehearsals. This involved
learning a new song and dance routine, and fitting for new costumes
in time for the live show later on in the week. In 1978, with no
e-mail or mobile technology as there is today, the group depended on
postal votes. And thousands of votes poured into the studios of
Thames Television for the various acts every week.
When the ‘Duane Family’ appeared on the show, all of Ireland tuned in
with the result that they went on to win the show six times, and put
Newbridge and the county of Kildare on the map. Later the group were
awarded the coveted ‘Variety Shield of Great Britain’, in
recognition of their talent and for winning ‘Opportunity Knocks’ six
The group released their first single ‘Down by the River’ with ‘It
might as well rain until September’ on the B-side. In 1978-9 the
group were voted the Best New Act in the Jacobs Awards, presented by Larry Gogan. Following their success on ‘Opportunity Knocks’, the group
toured Ireland from Donegal to Cork and Galway to Dublin and almost
all the towns in between.
Around 1980, the line-up changed from the “Duane Family” and became
the “Duane Sisters”, and headed to the bright lights of London. During
that time they appeared on numerous television shows, including the
Tommy Cooper Show, the Big Top with Bernie Winters and Snorbet his
dog, Keith Harris and Orville Show, Music Lauden (a Top of the Pops
equivalent in Germany), Music Show on Dutch television, Bibi Baskin on
RTE, the Shay Healy Show, the Late Late Show and at summer cabaret in
Bournemouth, Hastings, Western Supermare and elsewhere throughout
There are many wonderful memories over the years, although two
performances that they were particularly proud to be a part of was
when they travelled to the Lebanon to entertain the Irish Troops at
Camp Shamrock and their performance in the Royal Command Performance
in Leeds attended by Prince Phillip. After some 13 years in the
entertaining business, the group decided it was time to end their
involvement with the world of entertainment, and pursue their
individual lives and careers.
Today, the Duane Sisters are based in Kildare and London. Majella is
married and living in Newbridge, Phyllis is married and living in
Robertstown, Marion is pursuing a career in medicine, while Sheila,
Orla and Brian are married and living in London.
Article by Conor McHugh courtesy of The Leinster