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Monday, June 4th 2007

4:14 PM

A starry night for plucky Joe

Dianne Bourne
4/ 6/2007

IT was an emotional night for Joe Longthorne and his legion of fans at a special Variety Club tribute dinner in Manchester at the weekend.

The showbusiness charity honoured Joe for his contribution to music and his charitable work at a glittering ceremony at the city's Palace Hotel.

And though a host of star names led stirring tributes to the renowned performer, it was the speech from Joe's surgeon, Professor Guy Lucas from Manchester Royal Infirmary, that left barely a dry eye in the house.

Joe, 52, has waged an 18-year battle with cancer and, in 2004, was told he needed a bone marrow transplant to have any chance of surviving leukaemia.

Speaking for the first time about Joe's treatment, Prof Lucas gave the first tentative indications that the singing star is on the mend.

He said: "I first met Joe two years ago. Many of you will know that Joe has battled leukaemia for many years, but at that stage he began to run out of options. All that could help was a bone marrow transplant, and I could only promise him a hard time.

Sore throat

"He had a dreadful time afterwards. He suffered terribly with a sore throat and he was worried it would affect his singing voice. He was in intensive care for months, but miraculously he pulled through.

"With the support of his family and friends he came through it. He spent three months in the MRI before transferring to Blackpool where he spent another few months to recover.

"So, it was a pleasure to see, last year, that he could resume performing. It was a delight.

"I'm too superstitious to talk about a cure, but so far things are going well. From me and the MRI, God bless, and the best is yet to come."

A host of stars packed into the charity dinner among the 600 guests, including football hero Sir Tom Finney, Coronation Street's Liz Dawn (Vera Duckworth) and William Roache (Ken Barlow), comedians Roy "Chubby" Brown, Frank Carson and Ricky Tomlinson, and darts champion Phil "The Power" Taylor.

Liz said: "The nicest thing about tonight is that you are well. You're a brilliant performer, you've entertained thousands of people and you're a lovely man."

Joe, originally from Hull, but now based in Blackpool, was overwhelmed with the tributes on the night. He had invited Professor Lucas to the event, and singled him out for praise when he accepted his award on stage.
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