Date of Birth: 11 April 1941, Dunkinfield, cheshire, UK
Birth Name: Shirley Rosemary Stelfox
Nicknames: Shirley Stelfox
Shirley Stelfox appeared in virtually every major soap of the last 50 years, playing several different roles in Coronation Street, Madge Richmond in Brookside, and Melanie Owen’s mother in EastEnders, along with appearances in Crossroads and Albion Market.
But she was best known for her most recent role as the moralising village busybody Edna Birch in the Yorkshire soap Emmerdale.
The widowed Edna arrived in Emmerdale in 2000, along with with her two beloved dogs Tootsie and Batley, and pudding-basin felt hats, which she was hardly ever seen without. Although prickly and difficult one reviewer described Shirley Stelfox as “undoubtedly the Ena Sharples of the 21st century” Edna won public sympathy when, the following year, Batley had to be put to sleep, leaving both viewers and actress reaching for their hankies.
At that year’s British Soap awards Batley (aka doggie actor Bracken) won the “Best Exit” award, upstaging Coronation Street’s Amanda Barrie, who had the nation in tears with Alma’s cancer battle.
Although Shirley Stelfox was much warmer and less judgmental than her television alter ego, they were both straight-talking and independent, and Shirley was fiercely protective of Edna’s reputation, denying charges that Edna was a monster or a gossip.
“Gossips are people who talk behind people’s backs and that’s the last thing Edna does,” she told an interviewer. “She gives it to them straight between the eyes. And I’m not that keen on people calling her an old gossip, either.”
Possibly, also, her sympathy for her character owed something to her own experience of widowhood after her husband, the actor Don Henderson, died unexpectedly at the age of 65, in 1997.
The youngest of three children, Shirley Stelfox was born at Dukinfield, Cheshire, on April 11 1941 and caught the acting bug as a child, despite suffering from bilateral amblyopia, a condition which meant that she always found it difficult to read small print and had reading problems.
None the less she landed a place at Rada and by the time she began her training she had already made her film debut in an uncredited role in David Lean’s 1954 romantic comedy Hobson’s Choice, with Sir John Mills and Charles Laughton.
From Rada, where Edward Fox, John Thaw and Sarah Miles were contemporaries, Shirley Stelfox headed for the BBC, where she landed a role in The Case Before You, a courtroom drama in which she was cast as a 15-year-old arsonist. It was not a great success, she recalled. Her role as the accused required a long pause before she replied to a question, but on the day the usual prompt was replaced by someone else, who thought she must have forgotten her lines and interrupted her pause in an audible stage whisper.
From December 1960, when Shirley appeared in a small role in the first episode of Coronation Street, she was rarely out of work. She returned to the Granada Television soap many times over the years in various guises, including as the owner of a dating agency into which Jack Duckworth was comically lured in 1983.
During her career Shirley Stelfox moved effortlessly from television to theatre to films and back again. As well as appearing in all the major soaps, she appeared in numerous popular television dramas, including The Bill, Bergerac, Inspector Morse and the first series of Keeping Up Appearances, in which she played Hyacinth Bucket’s (Patricia Routledge’s) inexhaustibly randy and embarrassing sister Rose.
Other small screen successes included Wicked Women, Making Out, with Margi Clarke, Heartbeat in which she played Mrs Parkin and Jean in Common as Muck.
Her best known film role was as the “prostitute” in the 1984 adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton.
She played another prostitute in Personal Services (1987), Terry Jones’s comedy film based on the life of the sex-for-luncheon-vouchers madam Cynthia Payne. On stage she played the leading role of a stand-up comedienne in Amanda Whittington’s play Stand Up Cherry Pie, directed by June Brown - Dot Cotton in EastEnders when it premiered at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1993.
Date of Birth: 5 March 1934, Banstead, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Nicholas Smith
Nicholas Smith was the last surviving member of the main cast of the Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft sitcom Are You Being Served?; although a classically trained actor, for millions he will always be the jug-eared Mr Rumbold, the well-meaning but inept manager of Grace Brothers department store.
Smith was picked for the role by Croft, with whom he had worked on an episode of Up Pompeii! with Frankie Howerd. For a time, however, it seemed unlikely that the show (also starring John Inman, Molly Sugden, Frank Thornton and Wendy Richard), would be screened.
“The pilot was only given its chance because of the 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy… With the Games cancelled, the BBC had hours of blank screens to fill. So the pilot was plucked from the shelf,” he recalled.
As the dim-witted but self-important store manager , Smith was a fixture on the show from its inception in 1972 until the final series in 1985. He took the same role in a film adaptation and in a spin-off, Grace And Favour (1992-93), in which five members of the original cast reunited to manage a country hotel.
Many critics disliked the show’s earthy humour and outrageously vulgar double entendres, generally involving the redoubtable purple-haired Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) and the travails of her celebrated pet cat, always referred to as “my pussy”. But audiences loved it and it won a regular following of up to 22 million per episode.
“People always say Are You Being Served? was from a more innocent time, but although we purposely played it absolutely straight, it was actually fairly filthy,” Smith recalled. “There were various occasions at the first reading of a script when we said, 'We’ll never get away with it’. But David Croft would reply, 'Deliver those lines with complete innocence, as though you haven’t the slightest idea there is any sense of a double entendre’. And it worked... Mary Whitehouse didn’t even complain.”
Smith knew instinctively how to play his character not overbearingly, but rather as a middle manager who does not know what he is doing but applies endless enthusiasm and energy to doing it and getting it wrong. It was hard to imagine a character less like the urbane and witty actor who played him. For Smith was, among other things, an experienced Shakespearean actor, a published poet and an accomplished musician with an excellent singing voice the composer of some dozen string quartets and other works.
He admitted, however, that he did not have to try too hard to be Mr Rumbold, recalling that it had been the first role in his life when he was allowed to speak with his own accent and wear his own glasses. The only physical change he needed was turned-up eyebrows, to give Rumbold a perpetually harrassed look. He had no regrets. Are You Being Served? he said, was “something I was proud to be in”.
Nicholas Smith was born at Banstead, Surrey, on March 5 1934. His father was a chartered surveyor and both parents were keen amateur actors.
Determined to be an actor from an early age, Nicholas took leading roles in school plays and, after National Service in the Royal Army Service Corps in Aldershot (“A miserable time, the worst I’ve had”), trained at Rada, alongside Albert Finney and Richard Briers.
He started off his career in stage musicals, and alongside his television career, spent two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appeared regularly in rep, on the West End stage, at the Bristol Old Vic and on Broadway, in everything from classical productions to pantomime.
Smith would continue to perform in musical theatre throughout his career, at various times playing the “old gentleman” in a musical production of The Railway Children, giving an acclaimed performance as Alfred Dolittle in My Fair Lady at Cheltenham and taking leading roles Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. His film appearances included The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, a 1975 American musical comedy film starring Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman.
His other film credits included Salt and Pepper (1968), A Walk with Love and Death (1969), Mel Brooks’s The Twelve Chairs (1970), and Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales (1972). Most recently, he was the voice of Reverend Clement Hedges in the Wallace & Gromit film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).
Smith made his television debut in an unscripted role in the 1960s sci–fi series, Pathfinder To Mars. His first speaking role on television was in three episodes of the 1964 Doctor Who series The Dalek Invasion of Earth in which he played Wells, a former slave of the Daleks who helps the Doctor (William Hartnell) lead a rebellion against them.
By the time he was cast as Mr Rumbold, he had appeared in dozens of television series, including The Avengers, The Saint, The Champions, and Z Cars in which he played the uncouth PC Geoff Yates. Later television credits included Worzel Gummidge (as the headmaster Mr Foster);
Martin Chuzzlewit (as Mr Spottletoe); Doctors and Revolver. His last television appearance was in 2010 as Professor Quakermass in the children’s series, MI High.
Date of Birth: 3 January 1930, Staten Island, New York, US
Birth Name: Salvatore Loggia
Nicknames: Robert Loggia
Robert Loggia was an American character actor best known for tough-guy roles in gangster films such as Scarface and in the television series The Sopranos.
Strongly built, balding and with a rasping delivery, Loggia suffered from typecasting during the 1970s, obliged to specialise in sharp-suited “heavies” (usually Italians, but also Greeks or Arabs) in television shows such as The Rockford Files, Columbo and The Six Million Dollar Man. But in 1982 he took on the role of Richard Gere’s feckless father in the hit film An Officer and a Gentleman; the part, though small, revealed Loggia to be a perceptive and subtle actor.
High-profile roles followed as mobsters in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) and John Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor (1985), and as the foul-mouthed private eye Sam Ransom in the courtroom thriller Jagged Edge (1985), for which he won an Oscar nomination.
Loggia was equally comfortable portraying benign figures, notably the avuncular toy company owner in the “age-changing” comedy Big (1988) with Tom Hanks.
The son of a Sicilian shoemaker, he was born Salvatore Loggia in Staten Island, New York, on January 3 1930 and brought up in Little Italy, where the family spoke Italian at home. He attended Dorp High School and Wagner College, then, with an idea of working in newspapers, started a degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri, later switching to study with the drama teacher Alvina Krause at Northwestern University.
After a stint in the US Army, he got a place at the Actors’ Studio, under Stella Adler, making his Broadway debut aged 25 in The Man With the Golden Arm. His entry into film came (uncredited) in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) but his breakthrough was as the New Mexican lawman Elfego Baca in the Disney mini-series The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca (1958).
In 1966, he starred in an unusual television detective show, playing Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat, a circus artiste and burglar turned private eye, in T.H.E. Cat. The audience did not take to its dark mood, however, and when the network, NBC, cancelled it after one series, Loggia made a “Dante-esque descent into the inferno of so-called mid-life crisis”, as he put it later.
Restless and self-doubting, he dropped out for six years and his marriage foundered. But encouraged by Audrey O’Brien, whom he would marry, he returned to full productivity. He took up directing, working on Quincy, M.E., Magnum, P.I. and Hart to Hart. He still carried on acting, and his friend Blake Edwards cast him in his Hollywood satire S.O.B. (1981) and in three dreadful Pink Panther sequels: Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), Trail of the Pink Panther (1982, cobbled together after Peter Sellers’s death from deleted scenes) and Curse of the Pink Panther (1983).
After An Officer and A Gentleman, which Loggia credited with transforming his career, he appeared in dozens more films, of varied themes, among them the Holocaust drama Triumph of the Spirit (1989) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997).
Hugo Davenport in The Daily Telegraph praised his “splendid” turn as a mobster-vampire in John Landis’s horror caper Innocent Blood (1993), and in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996) he was convincing as a general resisting an alien invasion.
An interesting later role came in 2003 in The Sopranos as “Feech” La Manna, a violent-tempered Mafia capo, just released from a 20-year stretch and struggling to adapt to a changed world.
Robert Loggia enjoyed cooking and playing golf.
Date of Birth: 24 December 1932, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, UK
Birth Name: Cynthia Payne
Cynthia Payne, who has died aged 82, was the quintessentially English madam whose career as an eccentric suburban brothel-keeper led to a film, books and a career as a “naughty but nice” celebrity. Unrepentant to the end, in her later years she expressed the hope that her life story might be turned into a musical.
It was 1978 when police raided her home in Streatham, south London, which she ran to provide “personal services” for her mainly elderly clients. By the time she was convicted of running a disorderly house at her trial in 1980, she had become a household name and, although she had to close her establishment, she was able to use her cheery notoriety to make a living as an after-dinner speaker and commentator on sexual matters.
Born in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, to a strict father, Hamilton, who worked as a hairdresser on Union Castle liners, and a mother, Betty, who died of cancer when Cynthia was 10, she was a precocious child who “talked dirty” and was expelled from her convent school. This wild and rebellious early life on the south coast would later become the basis of the 1987 film Wish You Were Here, directed by David Leland and starring Emily Lloyd.
After training unenthusiastically as a hairdresser, Payne worked as a waitress and shop assistant before moving as a teenager to London for a job in the department store Swan & Edgar. She became pregnant by a much older man, and gave birth to a son who was eventually fostered but whose boarding-school education she financed and whose wedding she later attended. Another son was given up for adoption at a few weeks old, and three abortions, one very traumatic and painful, followed.
She slipped into prostitution to avoid eviction from her flat because she was behind with the rent. “I realised I could do it and make money at the same time,” she told her biographer, Paul Bailey, in An English Madam (1982). “It made me bloody determined. I was never going to go crawling for money again.” Initially, she ran “kinky parties for kinky people”, advertising in contact magazines, but her brothel, far from the fleshpots of Soho, attracted a word-of-mouth clientele of older men who liked to have their fantasies indulged, whether this involved straight sex, bondage, whipping or role-playing.
The reason that her case attracted so much attention was twofold: her clients and the method of payment. The former were said to have included a peer of the realm, vicars, barristers, ex-police officers, politicians and bank managers, not to mention a cross-dressing former RAF squadron-leader. Towards the end of his life, her father also became a client. She charged punters £25, which was exchanged for a “luncheon voucher” – a token that entitled the bearer to have sex with any of the women in the house who agreed and who could then use it as proof of services rendered; pensioners received a £3 discount.
An anonymous tip-off alerted police to strange goings on in Ambleside Avenue and, over a 12-day period, 249 men and 50 women were observed by undercover officers entering her house. The luncheon vouchers, presented as evidence, became an enduring part of the story.
Convicted of running a disorderly house, Payne was sentenced to 18 months and fined £1,950 with £2,000 costs. Her barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, asked for a non-custodial sentence, assuring the court that no “beardless youngsters (were) initiated into the fleshpots”.
She appealed unsuccessfully, although the sentence was reduced to six months. The appeal court heard that she had several high-profile clients but the presiding judge, Lord Justice Lawton, said there was “not a shred of evidence” that any of them was actually there on the night she was arrested, although he acknowledged that it had led to “some very amusing cartoons”. Payne’s solicitor, David Offenbach, suggested that the judge was “more concerned about the apparent respectability of customers rather than the plight of an unwell, middle-aged woman sent to prison ... This confirms the hypocrisy of the law by punishing the woman but letting her customers go free.”
Payne emerged from Holloway prison to be met by a former client in a Rolls-Royce and obligingly gave the waiting photographers a V-sign and a quote: “V for victory, V for voucher.” Throughout the case, the press treated “Madam Cyn” gently, portraying her as part of a bawdy tradition that stretched from Chaucer to Carry On films.
The 1987 film Personal Services, directed by Terry Jones and starring Julie Walters as “Christine Painter”, concentrated on the larky nature of her career. Walters recalled meeting Payne and being immediately asked: “Do you like sex, Julie?” During what Payne claimed was a party to celebrate the making of the film, the police raided again and she faced a further trial. This time she was acquitted. In the same year, her book, Entertaining at Home, with “101 party hints”, appeared. It included chapters entitled Remaining on Good Terms with Your Local Constabulary and Raid Etiquette for Policemen, with advice for undercover officers.
Campaigning for the legalisation of prostitution, she stood as a candidate for the Rainbow Alliance Payne and Pleasure party in the Kensington parliamentary by-election in 1988 and won 193 votes, and again, on her home patch of Streatham, in the 1992 general election, taking 145 votes. Her one-woman show at the Edinburgh festival in 1992 was a sellout and she made herself available for after-dinner speaking at which she promised “tasteful stories ... no crudity of any nature”.
Towards the end of her life, she approached both Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice with the suggestion of a musical. In fact, Lloyd-Webber chose a different tale of English sexual hypocrisy, that of the Profumo scandal, for his 2013 musical, Stephen Ward.
Date of Birth: 14 January 1926, Stoke Newington, London, UK
Birth Name: Warren Misell
Nicknames: Warren Mitchell
Warren Mitchell was the actor who created the monstrous Alf Garnett; the balding bigot with his Kipling moustache and West Ham scarf became the vehicle for some of the most iconoclastic satire ever seen on television.
Indeed, so believable was Mitchell in the role that he was regularly congratulated on his views by those members of the pubic who were precisely the target of him and writer Johnny Speight.
The character first appeared in 1965 as “Alf Ramsey” in a one-off BBC play by Speight. Mitchell, not yet 40, was the third choice for the part; the first was Peter Sellers. Alf’s convictions were made apparent from the first line as he looked as his watch while Big Ben struck 10: “That blaaady, Big Ben… fast again.” A series, Till Death Us Do Part, began the next year and ran until 1975.
Each week, from his armchair, docker Alf would treat all within earshot to his substantial prejudices, his favoured topics being race, permissiveness, feminism and the monarchy. Particular ire was reserved for the long hair of his son-in-law and for Edward Heath, the prime minister, for not having attended a “proper” school such as Eton.
The plotting was thin and much of its success was due to the ensemble playing of the cast, notably Dandy Nichols as his wife Else – the “silly moo” – Una Stubbs as daughter Rita and Tony Booth as her abrasive husband. As satire it struck only one note, but its power lay in guilty laughter, in exposing to view what many Britons secretly thought. Those, like Mary Whitehouse, who complained about the bad language either missed the point of caricature, or did not want to hear.
The programme spawned two films and a stage production, The Thoughts of Chairman Alf, and was transplanted, in milder form, to Germany and America as All in the Family. It was revived between 1985 and 1990 as In Sickness and in Health, but Alf’s views now seemed dated and peevish rather than disturbing.
Mitchell was born Warren Misell at Stoke Newington, London, on January 14 1926. His grandparents were Russian Jews who had emigrated to Britain in 1910 and were involved in the fish trade. His father, a china and glass merchant, was so orthodox that he would later refuse to meet Mitchell’s wife, the actress Connie Wake, because she was not a Jew. He only relented when she took the part of a Jewish girl in a play.
Young Warren was influenced more by his mother, who fed him bacon at Lyons Corner House and took him to performances by Max Miller or The Crazy Gang. Is faith was dealt a further blow when he played football for his school First XI on Yom Kippur instead of fasting and was not immediately struck dead. He celebrated with egg and chips and was thereafter a fervent opponent of dogma and tradition.
He was educated at Southgate County School and in 1944 went up to University College, Oxford as an RAF cadet to read Physical Chemistry. His mother had sent him to singing and dancing lessons since he was seven and he soon fell into dramatic company in Oxford, making friends with Richard Burton. His studies were ended in 1945 when the pair were sent for air training in Canada, where Burton’s ability to impress girls by declaiming Shakespeare convinced Mitchell to take up acting. He was accepted by Rada in 1947.
He struggled to find work on leaving and was employed first as a porter at Euston Station and then making ice cream at the Walls factory. He made his first professional appearance at the Finsbury Park Open Air Theatre in 1950 and met his wife soon after while at the Unity Theatre. A spell standing in as a disc jockey on Radio Luxembourg prompted him to change his name when told he needed one “people could write in to”.
His break came when appearing on Hancock’s Half Hour, then transmitted live. When Tony Hancock dried on one occasion, Mitchell was quick-witted enough to fill for him while he recovered. A grateful Hancock gave him a regular role, often as an indeterminate, peculiar foreigner. Mitchell’s dark complexion also secured him numerous small roles as ethnic types in films from 1954, when he made his debut in The Passing Stranger. He had appeared in nearly 40 films, including the Beatles picture Help! and with Burton in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold before his apotheosis as Alf Garnett.
He continued to perform in the theatre and surprised many who had overlooked, amidst Alf’s bigotry, the quality of Mitchell’s acting. He was particularly drawn to playing life’s losers. In 1979 his Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the National Theatre brought him an Evening Standard Theatre award and an Olivier. Sir Peter Hall said it was one of the finest half-dozen pieces of character acting he had seen. Mitchell also appeared at the National in The Caretaker and in a tour of Pinter’s The Homecoming in 1991.
He played the miser Harpagon in Moliere’s play at Birmingham, although the critics felt his stab at King Lear in 1995 to be underpowered. He had more success as an excellent Shylock, both in 1981 BBC television production of The Merchant of Venice and for Radio Four in 1996.
He appeared in several other unmemorable films but despite increasing ill health in his later years he found his best roles on television and stage. In So You Think You’ve Got Troubles, a BBC series in 1991, he played Ivan Fox, a Jewish businessman caught in the religious crossfire of Belfast, and in the BBC’s ambitious adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast in 2000 he played the vicious bearded dwarf Barquentine.
On stage, he won a second Olivier award in 2004 for his role as the crotchety Yiddish furniture dealer, Solomon, in Arthur Miller’s The Price; he carried on with the run despite having suffered a mild stroke. His performance, aged 82, in Visiting Mr Green (again, playing an elderly Jewish man) in the West End was described by the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer as “incredibly touching”.
Mitchell lived in Hampstead but was a regular visitor to Australia, frequently appearing on the Sydney stage, and in 1989 he took dual Australian-British citizenship, saying he preferred its egalitarian culture to the hidebound structure of British society. He could be forceful, even aggressive, company, always seeing himself as something of an outsider. He loathed what he considered to be the cautious mediocrity of contemporary television, believing that “you can’t be funny unless you offend people. Comedy comes from conflict, from hatred.”
He had a wide range of interests, from playing the clarinet to sailing and yoga. Several hip operations made him more implacable at the tennis net, but he had to give up the game after developing transverse myelitis, a nerve condition. His chief passion was Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, first attending a game aged five. Fans were always astonished that Alf Garnett was among them rather than at West Ham.
Date of Birth: 4 March 1947, Reykjavik, Iceland
Birth Name: Gunnar Milton Hansen
Nicknames: Gunnar Hansen
Gunnar Hansen, played the iconic villain Leatherface in the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre,"
Hansen starred in the 1974 film that has become a classic among horror-movie aficionados and spawned a series of sequels. In the movie, friends visiting their grandfather's house are hunted by Leatherface, a chain-saw wielding maniac.
Hansen's character in the movie "is one of the most iconic evil figures in the history of cinema."
In 2013, Hansen published his book "Chain Saw Confidential," which gave readers a behind-the-scenes look at how the film was made.
Hansen lived in Maine for about 40 years, where he worked as an actor and writer.
At the time of his death, Hansen was at work on a film called "Death House," his agent said. Hansen was a writer and producer of the film, which IMDB says is about how a secret government facility becomes ground zero for the most horrific prison break in the history of mankind. The film is scheduled to come out next year, Eisenstadt said.
Hansen was born in Reykjavik, Iceland. He came to the U.S. and studied at the University of Texas, where he majored in English and Scandinavian Studies.
Date of Birth: 24 June 1919,
Birth Name: Umberto Francesca Molinaro
Nicknames: Al Molinaro
Al Molinaro, was best known for playing Big Al Delvecchio, the owner of Arnold’s Diner in the nostalgic US sitcom Happy Days.
The series, set in Milwaukee, in Molinaro’s home state of Wisconsin, harked back to the 1950s as a happier and more innocent age. It ran for 11 seasons from 1974 until 1984, with Molinaro joining the show in its second year. With his Roman nose, hangdog looks and waddling gait, Molinaro brought physical presence and light relief to the diner. There he presided benignly over the antics of the youthful gang which included Henry Winkler’s leather-jacketed Fonz and the flame-haired Ritchie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard. He soon devised a catchphrase, introducing anecdotes with a muttered “Yep-yep-yep-yep.”
The programme’s creator, Garry Marshall, knew Molinaro from The Odd Couple, a previous hit series which they had made together. They had been introduced by Marshall’s sister Penny, who was later to star in a spin-off from Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley . Meanwhile, after some 170 episodes, Molinaro hung up his cook’s apron to appear in another off-shoot of the programme, Joanie Loves Chachi, although this only survived for a year.
By then, he had repaid the faith shown in him by Marshall by doing some star spotting of his own. When the actor slated to play an alien in an episode of Happy Days failed to show up at short notice, Molinaro suggested replacing him with a young, budding comedian called Robin Williams. Such was the reaction to Williams’s performance that it led to the creation of his own series, Mork and Mindy, which launched his acting career.
“I spent 20 years here before I got anything going,” reflected Molinaro towards the end of his career, “and from that I got lucky… You’ve just got to be lucky and in the right place at the right time.”
“I spent 20 years here before I got anything going,” reflected Molinaro towards the end of his career, “and from that I got lucky… You’ve just got to be lucky and in the right place at the right time.”
The youngest of 10 children, he was born Umberto Francesco (later Albert Francis) Molinaro, on June 24 1919, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where his father owned restaurants and hotels. He struggled at school but was a good clarinet player and discovered a talent for public speaking. At 21, encouraged by a friend who knew that he wanted to act, he took a bus to Los Angeles.
While working on the fringes of the television industry, he built up a debt collection agency and then began to buy land for property development. In the early 1960s he sold one lot to the builders of a large shopping mall, providing him with a financial cushion to pursue his acting ambitions.
Bit parts in shows such as Bewitched and Get Smart followed, but his break came when he joined an improvisational comedy class in 1970. There he met Penny Marshall, then an actress and subsequently the director of films such as Big. She introduced him to her brother Garry, who cast him as the slow-witted cop Murray in The Odd Couple, the television series he was producing based on Neil Simon’s play.
Starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as the mismatched flatmates, it ran for five years. By then Molinaro’s battered features had become familiar to US audiences. In one episode, trying to ascertain whether Klugman’s character was in, Molinaro pushed his nose through the door’s peephole. “Oh, hi, Murray!” calls out Klugman at once.
After leaving Happy Days, Molinaro appeared in several short-lived series before retiring in the early 1990s. As Big Al he reappeared in 1994 in the video for the song Buddy Holly by the band Weezer. For more than two decades, he also promoted frozen dinners in television commercials.
He had opened a chain of diners in the Mid-West in the late-1980s with Anson Williams, who had played Potsie in Happy Days, but the venture was not a success. Garry Marshall repeatedly offered him roles in the films that he went on to make, notably Pretty Woman, but Molinaro turned these down.
“I can’t work in movies with Garry because I’m so square that I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it,” he explained. “That puts me pretty much totally out of films these days.” None the less, syndication of Happy Days ensured that he was known even by younger generations of viewers, and he defended the show against charges that it sentimentalised the 1950s.
“In the industry, they used to consider us like a bubble-gum show,” he said. “But I think they overlooked one thing. To the public in America, Happy Days was an important show, and I think it was and I think it still is.”
His first marriage, in 1948, to Jacquelin Martin was dissolved. He married secondly, in 1981, Betty Farrell. She survives him together with the son of his first marriage.
Date of Birth: 17 August 1920, Ranelagh, County Dublin, ireland
Birth Name: Maureen Fitzsimmons
Nicknames: Maureen O'Hara
Maureen O'Hara, appeared in more bad films than she cared to remember but nevertheless emerged as a Hollywood star on the strength of her extraordinary flame-haired beauty and a successful screen partnership with John Wayne.
She appeared in five of his films, forging a strong bond of mutual admiration and respect. “I prefer the company of men,” Wayne declared, “except for Maureen O’Hara. She’s the greatest guy I ever met.” Her Irish roots led one critic to describe her as “Hollywood’s ultimate fiery colleen”.
With her creamy complexion, striking auburn tresses and haunting jade blue eyes, Maureen O’Hara was celebrated in her early films as the “Queen of Technicolor”, but she considered it a dubious accolade: it tended to imprison her in elaborate wartime features where she looked merely decorative or ornamental. “Almost every letter I receive,” she complained in 1945, “asks why Hollywood doesn’t take me out of those silly Technicolor pictures and give me dramatic pictures.”
Maureen O’Hara had become an overnight star in 1939 when she played Mary, the pretty niece of Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), in Alfred Hitchcock’s film of Daphne du Maurier’s Regency romance Jamaica Inn. Later that year she was again cast opposite Laughton as Esmeralda in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.
Her third big success came in 1941 with How Green Was My Valley, the turn-of-the-century Welsh mining tale based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn and directed by John Ford. Her next three films, To The Shores Of Tripoli (1941), Ten Gentlemen From West Point and The Black Swan (both 1942), saw her embrace wartime romance, historical drama and buccaneering adventure.
In 1944 she signed a contract dividing her commitments equally between 20th Century Fox and RKO, and co-starred with Joel McRea in Buffalo Bill as the hero’s wife. A string of eminently forgettable films followed, excepting perhaps Miracle On 34th Street (1947), now a Christmas favourite on television . Initially reluctant to star, Maureen O’Hara relented when she read the script and returned to New York from a trip home to Ireland for location filming.
By 1950 she was back in John Ford’s fold to star in Rio Grande, her first film with John Wayne, followed by the pastoral comedy The Quiet Man (1952), in which she co-starred with Wayne as the tempestuous Mary Kate Danaher in the story of a disgraced American boxer who retires to Ireland. In Ford’s films she regularly played the thorny Irish rose who comes to appreciate the virtues and values of domesticity.
In The Quiet Man and also in Rio Grande, The Long Gray Line (1954) and Wings of Eagles (1957), Maureen O’Hara was the archetypal Fordian woman, embodying the shared values of duty, service and loyalty once taken for granted but in increasingly short supply in a modern world.
Although during the war she had complained that directors considered her to be “a cold potato without sex appeal” , in March 1957 the American scandal sheet Confidential ran a story about her indulging in a steamy “necking session” with a mystery South American man in the back row at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the famous Hollywood cinema (“It was the hottest show in town when Maureen O’Hara cuddled in Row 35”). She claimed the report was inaccurate and libellous, and produced her stamped passport to prove that she was abroad at the time.
Confidential, however, produced no fewer than three witnesses, including Grauman’s former assistant manager who said he had flashed a torch in the darkened auditorium to discover Maureen O’Hara, blouse undone and hair in disarray, sprawled across her companion’s lap.
The case ended in a mistrial and she was awarded only $5,000 damages (she had claimed $5 million); the question of just what happened on Row 35 was never incontrovertibly settled.
She was born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17 1920 at Milltown near Dublin. Her father was a clothier, her mother a one-time actress and contralto singer. Although her older sister Peggy became a nun, her other four siblings all had aspirations to make it in showbusiness. “We were an Irish von Trapp family,” she recalled. “A little eccentric but wonderful.”
During her school days Maureen acted in local amateur productions, studied music and dance, and took small roles with the Dublin Operatic Society as well as “spear-carrying” parts with the famous Abbey Theatre.
When she was 14 she enrolled at the Abbey’s theatre school and within a year was playing Shakespearean roles, winning the All-Ireland Cup for her portrayal of Portia in The Merchant Of Venice. She was the youngest student to complete the drama course at the Guildhall School of Music, and at 16 had been awarded a degree and an associateship by the London College of Music.
When she was 17, while considering an offer of a leading role from the Abbey Players, Maureen FitzSimons sailed with her mother on a steam packet for England and a holiday in London, where she was invited for a disastrous screen test at Elstree by an English film company, Mayflower.
A brief extract from her scene, however, attracted the attention of Charles Laughton and producer Erich Pommer, who cast her as Mary Yellan, the female lead in Jamaica Inn (1939). It was Laughton (acting as co-producer) who changed her name to Maureen O’Hara it was a better fit on cinema marquees and offered her a seven-year film contract, on which her signature was witnessed by her parish priest.
Assuming she would remain in London, she took a long lease on a house in Hyde Park, but lived there for only six weeks before her success in Jamaica Inn led to her being invited to Hollywood to play the part of the gipsy girl Esmeralda, opposite Laughton’s Quasimodo, in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (also 1939). She subsequently starred in A Bill Of Divorcement and Dance, Girl, Dance (both 1940).
When America entered the war in 1941, Maureen O’Hara found herself marooned in Hollywood. Unhappy and homesick, she plunged herself into her work, and was soon making five films a year, many of questionable merit.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Maureen O’Hara was often described as the “Queen of the Swashbucklers”; always capable of holding her own in a man’s world. Passive roles were not for her; she was an active, high-spirited and often athletic presence. When Paul Henreid stole a screen kiss in The Spanish Main (1945), she had him flogged, and when Tyrone Power did likewise in The Black Swan (1942) she knocked him out. In real life Maureen O’Hara scolded a drunkenly amorous Errol Flynn.
She co-starred with Alec Guinness in Our Man In Havana (1959) and as the mother in Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961). With John Wayne, she made a further three films including McLintock! (1964) and Big Jake (1971); after the latter she made no feature films for two decades.
In 1991 Maureen O’Hara returned to the screen with her old fire and energy for the comedy Only The Lonely, in which she played Rose Muldoon, the smothering Irish mother of John Candy’s Chicago policeman.
She became an American citizen in 1946. She had five homes and for much of her later life lived on the Caribbean island of St Croix. In 1993 Maureen O’Hara was honoured by the British Film Institute for her contribution to “moving image culture”. She published her memoirs, 'Tis Herself, in 2004.
“If you are proud of one in 15 films you’ve made you can consider yourself lucky,” Ronald Colman once told her. “Well,” noted Maureen O’Hara, “I’m proud of more than that and I know that I’ve been in some movies that’ll be played long after I’m dead and gone.”
Maureen O’Hara married, in 1939, George Hanley Brown, a British film director whom she met while making Jamaica Inn, and who subsequently, in another marriage, became the father of the journalist and editor Tina Brown. His marriage to Maureen O’Hara was annulled in 1941 and later that year she married Will Price, another director with whom she had worked, and with whom she had a daughter. This marriage was later dissolved.
Date of Birth: 29 Jully 1933, Childham, Sussex, UK
Birth Name: Peter Francis Baldwin
Nicknames: Peter Baldwin
Peter Baldwin played the accident-prone chocolate novelty salesman Derek Wilton in ITV’s long-running Coronation Street and with his dithering on-screen wife Mavis (Thelma Barlow) became one of the comic mainstays of the serial when humour was an innate part of its popular appeal.
But in 1997 Baldwin was abruptly written out when a new producer, Brian Park, sacked him on his first day in the job as part of a wholesale purge of ageing male characters. Thelma Barlow was reportedly so upset by the removal of her on-screen partner that she resigned after more than 25 years in the cast.
“The Street is currently being terrorised by a smiling axeman,” complained the critic Victor Lewis-Smith. “Apparently it doesn’t matter that this is a first class soap, superbly scripted and flawlessly performed by a seasoned repertory company.” Baldwin himself was distraught. “The feeling was that Derek and Mavis had had their day,” he recalled.
For 21 years Baldwin had played Derek as a lovable if wimpish buffoon with the lightest of comic touches as he toyed with Mavis’s emotions. By the time they finally wed, the oddball couple were already middle-aged, and in the absence of children lavished their affections not only on each other but also on Mavis’s pet budgie and a pair of garden gnomes named Arthur and Guinevere, one of which became the subject of a notable comic plotline when it was stolen and a piece of its ear sent to Derek in a matchbox.
Baldwin made his Coronation Street debut in 1976 when, as a shy travelling salesman, he called in to the Kabin corner shop in the fictional Weatherfield to ask directions from Mavis Riley, the mousy spinster behind the counter. In the course of his stuttering 12-year pursuit of Mavis, Derek married his boss’s daughter Angela Hawthorne, while Mavis entertained a proposal of marriage from Derek’s rival Victor Pendlebury.
In 1984 Derek and Mavis became engaged, only to jilt each other at the church door. But in 1988 their romance was rekindled in a classic scene in which Derek, on his hands and knees, proposed to Mavis through the Kabin letterbox. Once married, they became one of the programme’s most enduring and eccentric double acts until Derek was written out, suffering a fatal heart attack in a road-rage incident in April 1997.
The elder of two sons of a primary school headmaster, Peter Baldwin was born on July 29 1933 at Chidham near Chichester in West Sussex. Taking an early interest in the stage, when he was 12 his parents gave him a toy theatre as a Christmas present which inspired a lifelong enthusiasm.
Leaving Chichester High School for Boys, he did his National Service in the Army before enrolling at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Baldwin worked in various repertory companies before joining the West of England Theatre Company at Exmouth in Devon in 1960 in a production of Congreve’s The Way of The World, appearing opposite Thelma Barlow for the first time and sharing a house with her and other members of the cast.
After a spell with the BBC Repertory Company, Baldwin made his television debut in 1969 in ATV’s Girls About Town, created by Adele Rose, a regular Coronation Street writer. In 1976, while appearing in The Browning Version at the Kings Head Theatre in London, he was invited by Granada Television to audition for the part of Derek Wilton. Another actor from the same agency had been asked but was unavailable, and Baldwin went in his place.
For the next 12 years he featured intermittently in Coronation Street while making other television appearances including the miniseries Goodbye Mr Chips (1984) and Bergerac (1987). He was playing Mr Birling on the West End stage in An Inspector Calls (Westminster Theatre, 1987) when he was asked back to Coronation Street, and offered a long-term contract as a regular character.
During periods of unemployment as a jobbing actor, Baldwin worked at Pollock’s Toy Museum in London and from 1980 managed Pollock’s traditional toy shop in Covent Garden. After the death of Benjamin Pollock in 1988, he took over the ownership of the shop and, as a recognised expert on 19th-century toy theatres, published a history of the genre, Toy Theatres of the World (1993).
Date of Birth: 5 March 1943, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
Birth Name: Michael Hugh Scully
Nicknames: Hugh Scully
Hugh Scully, hosted the Antiques Roadshow for nearly 20 years between 1981 and 2000, bringing to the role a naturally gentle manner that proved a perfect fit for the programme’s traditional Sunday evening slot.
Scully’s unflappable air also commended him for the job of current affairs anchorman, in which capacity he served from 1977 on the early evening news programme Nationwide and its consumer rights offspring Watchdog, launched in 1980, which later became a successful show in its own right.
But Scully’s relaxed style on-screen masked a steely business sense that stood him in good stead when, at key moments in his broadcasting career, he forced himself to make a change of direction. Facing a potentially disastrous drop in income when Nationwide was wound up in 1983, he formed his own production company, and when, in 2000, he finally left the Antiques Roadshow he launched his own internet antiques valuation service, a venture that reportedly made him Britain’s oldest dotcom millionaire.
As well as his television career, Scully had carved out a parallel one on radio presenting the long-running Sunday afternoon series Talking About Antiques. In 1970 this led to a television series with his radio confrère Arthur Negus, Collectors’ World, and in 1981 to the Antiques Roadshow, which in those days attracted an enormous weekly audience of some 15 million viewers.
One of the highlights of Scully’s stewardship of the Roadshow came in Barnstaple, North Devon, when a couple turned up with a painting while out walking their dog. The programme’s picture expert, Peter Nahum, was sure it was a long-lost watercolour by the 19th-century artist Richard Dadd, and sent it to London for a second opinion. Confirmed as Dadd’s Halt in the Desert by Moonlight, the painting was valued at £100,000 and how hangs in the British Museum.
Hugh Scully was born on March 5 1943 at Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, the son of a wing commander in the RAF, also called Hugh but known as Pat because he was Irish. Brought up in Malta and Egypt, where his father was stationed, the 11-year-old Hugh presented a monthly radio show for Boy Scouts on BFBS Radio, an experience that set him thinking about becoming a broadcaster. When he returned to England at the age of 13 he boarded at Prior Park near Bath.
He thought of following his father into the RAF, but failed his interview and at 17 took a job with the Steinway piano company, music having been a particular interest at school, where he had daydreamed of becoming a concert pianist. Sacked for bad time-keeping, Scully next tried his hand as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. But when an aunt left him £500 in her will, he determined to travel the world, in the event getting only as far as Paris, where he fell in with some journalists who spent each evening drinking at a particular café near the Arc de Triomphe. Envying the journalists’ lifestyle, and having soon frittered the money away on horses and high living, he returned to Britain and wrote to every newspaper in the country asking for a job. He received no offers.
In April 1963, and just turned 20, he wrote to the BBC, claiming quite falsely to have worked as a correspondent for the International Herald-Tribune in Paris, and setting out 10 good reasons why he thought they should employ him. By return of post, they invited him to an audition. The result was a two-week spell in Southampton as a newsreader, followed by a freelance contract with the BBC’s newsroom in Plymouth.
His big break came in March 1967 when the oil tanker Torrey Canyon ran aground off the Scilly Isles and started leaking oil. Having had a tip-off from the local stringer, Scully telephoned the BBC’s main newsroom in London and organised a twin-engined aircraft to get a camera crew aloft to film aerial pictures of the disaster.
Promoted a year later to be the frontman of the south-west regional news magazine Spotlight, Scully also began making regular appearances on the national television network through the Nationwide programme when it launched in 1969. In 1977 he moved to London to take over from Michael Barratt as its main anchorman.
Meanwhile, since the age of 24, he had also become a familiar voice as the presenter of Radio 4’s Talking About Antiques, a role he filled by chance after a BBC producer friend, visiting Scully’s Devon home for dinner, found it cheaply but tastefully furnished with antiques and bric-a-brac that Scully and his wife had bought at country auctions. With the furniture expert Arthur Negus already on board, Scully took on the job of demystifying the arcane and esoteric world of antiques for the enthusiastic but untrained listener. Beginning in 1967, Talking About Antiques ran on Sunday afternoons for some 17 years.
Following the demise of Nationwide in 1983, Scully formed his own successful production company, Fine Art Productions, and was executive producer and interviewer on such acclaimed television documentaries as The Falklands War with the British Task Force commander Admiral Sandy Woodward; Thatcher: The Downing Street Years (1993) with Lady Thatcher, and an analysis of the lost “wilderness years” of the Labour Party, pre-1997.
For his Falklands series, Scully remortgaged his house and set off for Argentina where he persuaded the military and members of the Argentine junta to take part. In Washington, DC, he filmed intervews with the former US Secretary of State Al Haig and the American Secretary for Defence Caspar Weinberger.
Commissioned by Channel 4, The Falklands War became an award-winning, four-part series of one-hour documentaries and was shown all over the world.
In 1992 he read that Margaret Thatcher was planning to publish her memoirs, and persuaded her to co-operate with a television tie-in. Waiting for the former prime minister in her Belgravia drawing-room, Scully noticed a collection of Worcester porcelain but when he ventured a conversational ice-breaker on the subject discovered that she had no small talk. “Yes, yes, yes… come and sit down” was all she said before barking: “What do you know about the Franco-Prussian war?” Despite this unpropitious start, Fine Art Productions got the job.
The resulting four-part documentary, Thatcher: The Downing Street Years was broadcast by the BBC to coincide with the publication of her memoirs, and was sold worldwide. It led in turn to a BBC commission to make Labour: The Wilderness Years, as well as a four-part series on the first Gulf War in 1996.
In 2000 Scully finally wearied of life on the Antiques Roadshow and signed a £3 million deal with the online auctioneer QXL.com to host the Hugh Scully’s World of Antiques website.
In retirement he collected 18th-century political cartoons, marine watercolours and an enviable cellar of French burgundies. He also augmented his lifetime’s collection of LPs (he owned 10,000, most of which were in storage) and many thousands of classical music CDs.
Date of Birth: 17 January 1930, Abersychan, Wales, UK
Birth Name: Ron Bridle
Ron Bridle, was the Department of Transport’s Chief Highway Engineer from the mid-1970s to 1980 and oversaw the rapid expansion of Britain’s motorway network.
At 6ft 4 in tall, weighing more than 20 stone and with a big grey beard, he looked like a cross between Orson Welles and James Robertson Justice, and cut a colourful figure in the upper ranks of the Civil Service. He was also a talented artist and painted portraits of several presidents of the Institute of Highways Engineers, including himself when he held the office in 1982.
Ron Bridle was born on January 17 1930 at Abersychan, near Pontypool, the son of a bookmaker who was often in trouble with the authorities in those days of tight legal controls. Ron attended West Monmouthshire Grammar School, where he excelled at rugby. He was capped for Wales Schoolboys against England and by the age of 19 had established himself in Newport’s first team.
He spent his National Service in the RAF but his two years were spent playing rugby for the RAF and painting murals and officers’ portraits. “I don’t think I ever got near a plane,” he later said.
He then went to Bristol University to study Civil Engineering. His rugby career continued and he was offered the huge sum (for the time) of £5,000 to play rugby league for St Helens. To his father’s frustration, he turned the offer down and instead chose to head for Ghana to work on the construction of the Accra to Tefle road.
On the birth of his first daughter in 1958 Bridle returned home and found a job with Cwmbran Development Corporation. But the limitations of local government spurred him to seek a more exciting position, which he found as project engineer on the construction of the M1 between Sheffield and Leeds, where he made his mark by using computers to speed up the programme . He was appointed project manager (bridges) for all contracts and produced a computerised method of monitoring concrete quality to avoid failures.
After a brief spell as deputy county surveyor of Cheshire, in 1967 he was appointed director of the newly created Midlands Road Construction Unit, responsible, among other things, for “Spaghetti Junction”.
When in 1970 a bridge under construction at Milford Haven collapsed, Bridle was assigned as technical adviser to a government inquiry into box girder bridges. His investigations revealed that loading on another box girder bridge, the Severn Bridge, was not random as HGVs tended to cross in convoy, imposing nearly three times the design loading. A major re-strengthening programme on the bridge was begun.
In 1974 he was promoted to Chief Highway Engineer and, six years later, he was appointed director of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory at Crowthorne, Berkshire.
After three years at the TRRL he took a post as director of technical development for Key Resource Industries, a subsidiary of Mitchell Cotts. Among other projects he helped to restore tea plantations in Uganda after the fall of Idi Amin.
He eventually left the company, taking with him a patent for a technique for reinforcing earth embankments called soil nailing. Returning to Wales, he worked with Cardiff University on the technique giving the patent to the university when he was appointed honorary professor in the 1990s. He served as president of the Institution of Highways and Transportation (1981-82) and won its award for professional distinction in 1993.
In his later years he was a driving force behind the Motorway Archive, a collection of documents outlining Britain’s motorway achievement.
Date of Birth: 4 October 1937, London, UK
Birth Name: Jacqueline Jill Collins
Nicknames: Jackie Collins
Jackie Collins, was the British-born author of titillating blockbuster Hollywood novels, breaking into bestsellerdom with Hollywood Wives (1983), which sold 15 million copies and became her most successful book.
Her output never varied in format, every one of her 30-odd bestsellers featuring headstrong women and rampant men coupling for graphic sex in a whirlwind of lust, money, power and revenge. “It’s a good slam-bang story,” agreed one reviewer of Hollywood Wives, “punctuated with tongue-in-cheek naughty bits and without pretensions.”
Jackie Collins’s format, while scarcely original, was certainly a winning one; in a career spanning nearly half-a-century, she sold half a billion books worldwide.
Her elder sister, the actress Joan Collins, starred in film versions of two of her early books, The Stud (1969) and its sequel The Bitch (1979), and much was made of the see-saw relationship between the two siblings over the years, particularly when Jackie thought Joan had taken up with the wrong men.
During Joan’s marriage to Peter Holm and again during her affair with Robin Hurlstone, Jackie was distinctly icy, dispensing forthright sisterly advice along the lines of “How can you possibly marry Pete Holm are you mad?” and “Robin is the worst snob I ever met. How dare he correct my pronunciation?” The sisters were subsequently reconciled.
Having moved to Los Angeles from London in the late 1970s, Jackie Collins wrote of what she found there. “From Beverly Hills bedrooms to a raunchy prowl along the streets of Hollywood; from glittering rock parties and concerts to stretch limos and the mansions of the power brokers, Jackie Collins chronicles the real truth from the inside looking out,” observed one breathless piece of pluggery.
She claimed to offer her readers an unrivalled insider’s knowledge of Hollywood and the glamorous lives and loves of the rich, famous, and infamous inhabitants of an increasingly rackety Tinseltown. “I write about real people in disguise,” she declared. “If anything, my characters are toned down the truth is much more bizarre.” After one reviewer warned that Hollywood Wives should be read under a cold shower, the actor Roger Moore said he just hoped no one recognised him from one of the characters in the book.
Jackie Collins earned critical as well as popular acclaim, being hailed a “raunchy moralist” by the film director Louis Malle and, perhaps more gnomically, “Hollywood’s own Marcel Proust” by Vanity Fair magazine. Her fiction debut, The World is Full of Married Men (1968), set in “swinging” 1960s London, was said to have ignited the touchpaper of female sexual fantasy in much the same way as EL James achieved nearly half-a-century later with Fifty Shades of Grey. But, as Jackie Collins herself noted, there was one important difference: “My heroines kick ass. They don’t get their asses kicked.”
Her heroines certainly led voracious erotic lives. Jackie Collins wrote about empowered, rich and sexy women before mass-market popular fiction was considered ready for them. Fortunately for her, her early work coincided with the growing use of the birth control pill and the ascent of feminism.
In her eighth novel Chances (1981), Jackie Collins introduced her Mafia princess Lucky Santangelo, a character she placed at the centre of an Italian-American gangster series that progressed through Lucky (1985) and Vendetta: Lucky’s Revenge (1996), and which was still running in 2015.
As a writer she commanded enormous fees for her work, and in 1988 secured an advance of $10 million for three consecutive novels. Her agent, Michael Korda, described it as “the largest amount of money in American book publishing, about the same size as the Brazilian national debt”. Having sped through one of her novels, one Fleet Street critic sheepishly confessed to having rather enjoyed it. “It is a load of tripe, but who cares? This is Hollywood. This is showbusiness. This is Jackie Collins.”
Jacqueline Jill “Jackie” Collins was born on October 4 1937 in north-west London, the younger daughter of a variety agent, Joe Collins, and his wife, Elsa. Jackie started writing short stories when she was nine, which her elder sister, Joan, illustrated.
In an attempt to curb Jackie’s chronic truanting (using letters she forged from her mother) her parents sent her to the Francis Holland School in Baker Street, which bore the motto “That Our Daughters May Be As The Polished Corners Of The Temple”. When her teachers discovered her selling dirty limericks (which she had written herself) to fellow pupils at a penny a time, and instalments of her passionate saga Letters from Bobby, Jackie was asked to leave. “I was finally expelled after they caught me smoking behind a tree on the lacrosse pitch,” she recalled.
At school Jackie Collins aspired to study journalism but her father, counter to the traditional parental stance, insisted that she give up the chance of a steady job and follow Joan to Hollywood to become an actress. At 16, after a short period in repertory in Ilfracombe, Jackie Collins was sent to live with her sister in Beverly Hills. On the day she arrived she found Joan packing for a year-long location shoot in the Caribbean. “She left me alone in the flat with her car keys and some money,” Jackie Collins remembered, “and the one piece of advice she ever gave me: Learn to drive.”
Jackie Collins approached several casting directors and in the course of fending off the inevitable invitations to the casting couch was employed variously as a waitress, pin-up model and mechanic’s assistant in a Beverly Hills garage owned by two brothers. “I used to drag along Sunset Boulevard in an old roadster they gave me,” she recalled. “Of course, I was dating both of them at the time.”
After a less than successful attempt at becoming an actress, in 1960, when she was 23, Jackie Collins married Wallace Austin, a manic depressive and drug addict. Following the birth of her first daughter, Jackie Collins discovered that Austin was addicted to methadone. She began divorce proceedings in 1965, and the following year her husband committed suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates.
In 1968 Jackie Collins published her first novel, The World is Full of Married Men. Her publishers, WH Allen, urged her remove all the four-letter words to prevent the novel from being banned. “Women didn’t write about sex then,” Jackie Collins noted, “they wrote about women going off to the Cotswolds to have a nervous breakdown over a man.”
In contrast to the rampant promiscuity in her novels, Jackie Collins’s home life remained remarkably incident-free. After the success of her debut novel, in 1969 she married Oscar Lerman, owner of the Tramp nightclub in London, whom she met on a blind date. They had two daughters.
The Jackie Collins fiction factory began in earnest with her second novel, The Stud (1969) and continued throughout the 1970s. Despite having to invent ever more lurid plots, her output was consistent, and she produced a novel roughly every two years. She denied that she wrote to a rigid “sex and shopping” formula with a bedroom scene every 20 pages, and insisted that she never made any plot outlines before starting a novel nor any corrections afterwards.
“I know I’m not always grammatical,” she confessed, “but if I changed the grammar it wouldn’t be authentic Jackie Collins. A lot of people think they can write like me, but they can’t.” Her writing schedule was fixed: at least 10 pages a day, seven hours a day, seven days a week. “I like to write by the pool, she said, “listening to Lionel Richie add surrounded by all those phallic cacti.”
In 1978 the Collins sisters collaborated for the first time on the film version of The Stud. Surprisingly, given that Barbara Cartland had described the novel as “disgusting and filthy” and had claimed to have lost sleep reading it, the film was tepid soft pornography. It told the story of a waiter, embarrassingly played by Oliver Tobias, who makes his way to the top by sleeping with his boss, Joan Collins (in the first of what was to become an apparently endless run of “rich bitch” roles).
Although the film flopped badly in cinemas, the producers felt sufficiently confident to invest in the sequel, The Bitch, also starring Joan Collins. This, too, was a box office failure.
By the late 1970s Jackie Collins had been a bestselling author for 10 years and declared that she wanted to broaden her interests. Disappointed by the failure of her early films, and perhaps inspired by one of her own characters, she determined to retain total control of production on her next film, The World is Full of Married Men (1979). “I like to have power,” she said. “I like to think of myself as strong and positive.”
In the 1980s Jackie Collins attained the kind of fame usually associated with film stars. Her novel Hollywood Wives was an immediate success and was followed by Hollywood Husbands, described by one theatrical agent as “the definitive book about Hollywood in the 80s”.
Jackie Collins claimed that her research was done either at her husband’s nightclub or at real Hollywood parties. “I have to keep nipping off to the loo to make notes,” she remembered, “and I have to tone it all down for publication.” She believed that her books were successful because the public wanted to know who her characters really were. “Often stars come up to me at parties and say: ‘Darling, I’ve got a wonderful story for you, but you must promise not to put me in your books’. I always tell them they’re already in one.”
When Jacqueline Susann died in 1986, the tabloids crowned Jackie Collins “The New Queen of Sleaze”, but by the late 1980s her daily routine was more like that of a corporate executive than a novelist. By 1989 she was simultaneously acting as a consultant on the planned film of her book Rock Star, producing two six-hour miniseries of her novels, Chances, Lucky and Lady Boss, and planning a further novel Hollywood Kids.
“It’s not the money I’m interested in,” she once said, “ and I certainly don’t think of my books as literature, more a mild send-up. It’s the success I love, and, of course, the power.”
Shortly after the death of her husband in 1992 she moved into a mansion in Beverly Hills inspired by David Hockney’s painting of a swimming pool “A Bigger Splash”. She wrote all her books in longhand with a black felt-tip pen. Every morning an assistant typed her previous day’s work into a computer, and she kept the original handwritten manuscripts in leather-bound books in her library.
Jackie Collins was appointed OBE in 2013. Her marriage to Oscar Lerman lasted 27 years until his death. She later became engaged to a businessman, Frank Calcagnini.
Date of Birth: 15 June 1931, London, UK
Birth Name: Brian Sewell
Brian Sewell, first came before the public as the loyal friend of Anthony Blunt when that traitor was publicly exposed in 1979; his celebrity, however, began when he was appointed art critic of the Evening Standard in 1984.
In that role, Sewell waged witty, unwavering and vitriolic battle against what he what he regarded as the posturing inanities of modern British conceptual art. His readers were at once amazed and gratified to discover that this seemingly effete highbrow, whose outrageously camp voice (“Lady Bracknell on acid”) they knew from radio and television, should reflect all their own prejudices.
Those inclined to scepticism over the artistic potential of formaldehyde rejoiced to find that Sewell thought Damien Hirst (whom he had initially admired) had degenerated into “a fairground barker, whipping us to wonder at his freaks”. Those who recoiled from the scabrousness of Gilbert and George were delighted to read of “the sheer vanity of this Tweedle-Dum and Dee”, which “must repel even those who want to like their work, or at least admire their ingenuity”.
There was satisfaction, too, in learning that “John Bratby paints no better than Rolf Harris”. And though few Evening Standard readers would have heard of John Bellany, they could not but gasp at Sewell’s reaction to an exhibition held in the aftermath of this artist’s recovery from a liver transplant: “Who died, I wonder, from not receiving this donated liver when Bellany’s was judged to be the more important life?”
Sewell was no less severe on the British art establishment which supported the works he found so repellent. The Arts Council was chastised as “an incestuous clique, politically correct in every endeavour, the instrument of the unscrupulous and self-seeking, rewarding the briefly fashionable and incompetent”.
A particular bugbear of Sewell’s was the Turner Prize, that “annual farce”, which, under the auspices of the Tate, exposed “a sad little band of late labourers in the exhausted pastures of international conceptual art”. The seemingly daring British avant-garde, Sewell loved to point out, was actually dated and provincial: “Such things have been done before (and better) in the golden ages of Dada and Surrealism.”
In dealing with conceptual art, Sewell saw himself as the lone voice which dared to point out that the emperor had no clothes; other critics, he claimed, were more interested in gaining the good opinion of their peers. “Nothing matters more than intellectual probity,” he thundered, “and on that altar the critic must sacrifice even his closest friends.”
Certainly Sewell attacked “the homosexual mafia in the art world”, who puffed their own kind without the least regard to the quality of their work. He reckoned, for instance, that David Hockney owed his fame “entirely to his homosexuality”. His own views, however, were tainted by a strong misogyny. “By and large,” he held, “women are bloody awful painters. Don’t ask me why; they just are.”
At the end of 1993, Sewell provoked a furore with his review of an exhibition at the Tate, in which various women writers had been asked to choose a favourite painting by a woman. Sewell took exception to most things in the exhibition, in particular to “a frightful female nude by Vanessa Bell; ugly and incompetent, it could hardly be the favourite of even a purblind lesbian.”
Had the choice been free, he concluded, “I am sure that all but the most doctrinaire of boiler-suited feminists among those writers would have chosen works by men.”
This review elicited a letter of protest to the Standard, signed by 35 worthies, including George Melly, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, Bridget Riley, and Marina Warner. The signatories took “the greatest exception to Brian Sewell’s writing”, and concluded that “the capital deserves better than Sewell’s dire mix of sexual and class hypocrisy, intellectual posturing and artistic prejudice”.
Naturally, this outburst only increased Sewell’s popularity with the Evening Standard’s readers, whom he had always taken good care to please: “I think sincerely of the man or woman, for that matter strap-hanging home to Wimbledon. It is essential to tackle the topic with either an element of humour or such gusto as will hold the attention of someone at the end of their working day.”
For his pains in expressing his opinions Sewell was punched in the eye by a young painter, jostled at a “video exhibition”, and screamed at by feminists. But he stuck to his beliefs with admirable courage.
“If membership of the art world,” Sewell wrote, “implies that the critic must voice the views of the generality of that world and be its instrument, then criticism in this country is moribund, the contrary voice as stifled as it was in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany.”
On the other hand, Sewell reflected, the effort made to suppress his own writing “suggests a measure of insecurity that I find quite heartening.”
Brian Sewell was born in London on St Swithin’s Day 1931, and brought up in Kensington. At school he was nicknamed “Sewage”. His father, only latterly identified as the Old Etonian composer Peter Warlock, committed suicide before Brian was born but after putting out the cat. Brian would later share both his gloomy nature and his love of animals.
His mother brought him up in isolation, being more likely to take him to dinner with Augustus John than introduce him to another child. Brian visited the National Gallery every week, and grew up with an astonishing command of adult pursuits such as Greek mythology, Roman history and opera.
He was also a regular worshipper at the Carmelite church in Kensington Church Street. For the rest of his life he would feel guilty if he walked past that church “without nipping in for a quick genuflection and a dab of cold water”. He was also grateful for an upbringing which had enabled him to understand the intensity in Christian art.
On the other hand, he was also conscious, from an early age, of “the irredeemable nature” of his homosexuality, which set up an extreme conflict with the teaching of the Church. To complicate matters still further, the arrival of a stepfather, Robert Sewell, when he was 11 meant a sudden change to Anglicanism. It also meant being sent to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School in Hampstead, which he loathed.
After leaving school he spent a year painting, from which he discovered that he had some talent, but nothing whatever to say. For a while he toyed with the notion of going into the Church: “My ambition was to be Archbishop of Canterbury; certainly a bishop.”
He survived National Service, then turned down a place at Oxford in favour of the Courtauld Institute, where he experienced what he described as “a conditioning of the soul”. This involved losing his faith in God and learning to appreciate art.
“Anthony (Blunt) taught me how to look at architecture, but (Johannes) Wilde taught me what no other art historian did, that it is right and proper to enjoy looking a pictures. Looking at pictures is a sensuous activity, now out of fashion.”
Through Blunt, Sewell encountered Guy Burgess. “I found his hand on my knee. I thought, shit, I’m not into this. I have to scoot. He was smelly and dirty.”
Originally Sewell had no intention of following up his first degree by taking a doctorate. Blunt, however, persuaded him to continue with his studies, and took Sewell under his wing at the Royal Library at Windsor. “The only trouble,” Sewell observed, “was that he forgot to pay me.”
Even so, Blunt became a close friend, though never, Sewell insisted, a lover. Sewell rather saw himself as a was the court jester, eager to amuse Blunt with the latest gossip from the art world, without ever erring on the side of generosity. His companionship proved particularly valuable to Blunt, during the crisis of 1964, when the traitor was under interrogation by MI5. Sewell, however, claimed that he knew nothing of this.
In 1958 he joined Christie’s as a prints and drawings expert, and remained there until 1966. He seemed to have found his metier, until he resigned in a huff after failing to gain a place on the board. “I sleep with the wrong people,” he replied when asked why he had not been made a director. “I was tied to Christie’s with an emotional bond, and felt betrayed in the end.”
Next, he became an art dealer, for which, however, he was not well qualified temperamentally. On one occasion a potential buyer was informed that the picture he wanted to purchase was too good for him.
He moved into 19 Eldon Road, Kensington, in 1972, a road down which his pram had once been pushed. It was one of the most interesting and eye-catching houses in the area, adorned with higgledy-piggledy sculptures dating from the Coronation year. Former owners included the art collector Chester Beatty, who had once hung Van Gogh’s Sunflowers above the fireplace in the front room, and Arpad Elfer, a Hungarian photographer who had held full-scale orgies on the roof garden. Over the years Sewell shared the house, as he observed in 1994, “with four women (including his mother) and nine bitches”.
On November 14 1979 Anthony Blunt was warned that the next day Margaret Thatcher would reveal his treachery to the Commons. On the morning of November 15 Sewell drove him from his flat off the Edgware Road to a hiding-place at Professor James Joll’s house in Chiswick.
He then stalled relentlessly as reporters pressed him to divulge Blunt’s whereabouts: “I shall tell you what he had for breakfast, but nothing more.” It was outrageous, he said, that the government should have named Blunt after granting him immunity from prosecution 15 years before. Splashed all over the front pages, and photographed walking his dogs, Sewell instantly proved a natural for the media.
Tina Brown, then editor of Tatler, was so impressed by the performance that she employed him as art critic. Sewell was confirmed in this new calling what he called “the sad end to a once promising career” when he moved to the Evening Standard in 1984. “Under no circumstances must you get rid of that nice Mr Sewell,” Max Hastings’s mother told him when he became editor of the Standard in 1996. He wrote all his reviews on an old Adler manual typewriter.
That year The Sunday Telegraph employed Sewell as a general columnist. He was one of the first to attack Tony Blair’s deliberate blokeishness; suggested an army composed entirely of homosexuals would have certain advantages in mobility; crusaded against cruelty to animals; and wrote a fine article against abortion. The Evening Standard also employed him as a columnist as well as an art critic: he wrote an op-ed piece opposing same-sex marriage on the grounds that matrimony was a sacrament. In the winter of 1998, he left Eldon Road for a house in Leopold Road, Wimbledon, which he described as an “Edwardian monstrosity”. Here there was a lake, a coach-house and a vast walled garden for his rampaging dogs.
Rather surprisingly, Sewell was a great enthusiast for cars, ever ready to review the latest Land Rover, and eager to rhapsodise about the Daimler Sportsman (“4.5 litre straight cylinder engine and a pre-selector gearbox”) he had once owned. At the age of 22 he bought his first car, a blue and grey vintage Wolseley, and in later middle age claimed to have once driven his famous gold-plated Mercedes at 140mph.
He confessed himself unable to account for the viciousness of his reviews. “I am a church mouse,” he insisted. “I am essentially a sweet, kind, giving sort of person, but when I write it is as if I am possessed. I cannot reconcile my own nature with what appears in my writing. I just accept it.”
He published three collections of his criticism, The Reviews That Caused The Rumpus (1994), An Alphabet of Villains (1995) and Naked Emperors: Criticisms of English Contemporary Art (2012). Another book, South From Ephesus (1988) gave a good account of both the archaeology and of the sex in Turkey, and Sleeping with Dogs (2013) was an account of his lifelong affection for canine companions. But the great work on Michelangelo which he had once envisaged as his passport to immortality was never written.
Only in the second of his two volumes of memoirs, Outsider (2009) and Outsider II (2012), did Sewell fully explain his role in the Blunt spy scandal, revealing that he had known of Blunt’s treachery years before it became public, but remained loyal none the less. Moreover, Sewell suggested the identity of the fifth man in the Cambridge spy ring: Andrew Gow, a Cambridge don and friend of Blunt’s, who had told Sewell about Blunt’s clandestine career.
Sewell’s work for television included a programme about the North West Frontier in India, which he did not like a bit, and an attack on Leonardo da Vinci.
After suffering a heart attack in 1994 Sewell was always in doubtful health, which he confronted with the same steel that he had shown in resisting those who abused him as a critic.
“We’ve got you down as an atheist,” a Sister in the hospital told him the night before an operation. “No, no,” Sewell protested, “I’m an agnostic. But if something goes wrong, you must call a Roman Catholic priest.”
Date of Birth: 20 October 1926, London, UK
Birth Name: Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu
Nicknames: Lord Montagu
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who has died aged 88, was the founder of the National Motor Museum, a pioneer of the stately home movement and, as a hereditary member of the House of Lords, an active parliamentarian whose views on heritage and transport commanded widespread respect.
His name became more widely known, however, through his involvement in what became known as “The Montagu Case”. In 1953 Montagu, although engaged to be married, was arrested on a charge of sexually assaulting a boy scout at his beach-hut on the shores of the Solent. The charges were thrown out, but shortly after his acquittal the young peer was re-arrested, together with his cousin, the Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers, and the diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail, Peter Wildeblood.
This time the charges involved homosexual activities with two aircraftmen who had turned Queen’s Evidence and were prepared to testify against the accused. In a lurid and highly publicised trial at Winchester Assizes, Montagu vigorously protested his innocence. He was, however, found guilty, albeit on lesser charges than those against his co-defendants.
All three were sentenced to prison but there was widespread public disquiet. This was prompted partly by what was perceived as the unfair victimisation of a public figure, together with serious irregularities in police behaviour, which even involved tampering with Montagu’s passport.
There was also concern about the criminality of sexual acts between consenting adults. Unlike the discredited boy scouts in the earlier case the aircraftmen were adults and at no time complained that they had been forced to commit any acts without their willing agreement. As a direct result of the case a committee of enquiry was set up under the chairmanship of Sir John Wolfenden and, after a lengthy delay, the law on homosexuality was eventually reformed.
Montagu always believed that he and his friends were the victims of a reactionary conspiracy headed by diehards like the home secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, later Lord Kilmuir, and Lord Goddard, the Lord Chief Justice. Montagu always maintained that men such as this not only saw “reds” under every bed, they saw them in every bed as well.
Montagu served almost a year in prison at Wormwood Scrubs and Wakefield before returning to resume the running of his family estate in Hampshire and to pursue his interests in motoring, journalism and politics. For many years he declined to comment publicly on the events surrounding his imprisonment but in 2000 he published a candid autobiography, Wheels within Wheels, in which he wrote frankly about all aspects of his life and declared his belief that bi-sexuality was a universal condition and one which would come to be acknowledged as such. As a result of the case and his unrepentant candour he became an unlikely icon of the gay movement, of which he himself was never an active member.
Indeed the trauma of the case was such that when it came to writing his memoirs he could still not face the prospect of reading the case transcripts and papers stored away in a trunk in the vaults of Coutts Bank but instead retained a ghost-writer to read the material and write a draft, which he finally brought himself to correct.
Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu was born on October 20 1926. His father, the second Lord Montagu, had already fathered four daughters by his two wives, as well as another girl, born to his mistress Eleanor Thornton, his sometime secretary and the model for the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy .
His father had been trying for a son and heir for 36 years and according to legend the local euphoria was such that at dawn on the day of the birth the sleeping swans on the Beaulieu River suddenly took off and flew three times round Palace House.
The second Baron died when Edward was only two and a half so the boy succeeded to the title in 1929. Lord Montagu, a somewhat sickly blond child, cruelly nicknamed the white mouse, was brought up in an almost exclusively female household of mother, nannies, governesses and sisters. In later life he used to wonder whether this feminine domination contributed to his own ambiguous sexuality.
His conventional upper-class education at St Peter’s Court, Broadstairs, and Eton was interrupted by the Second World War. This led first to evacuation along with the rest of St Peter’s to a country house in Devon and later with a small group of other affluent refugees to the Canadian Ridley College, where he learnt to appreciate ice cream and jazz – two enduring passions. Returning to Eton two-and-a-half years later and with a noticeable Canadian accent he had some difficulty acclimatising, and was relieved to leave school and join the Brigade of Guards Training Battalion at Sandown Park.
After an enjoyable period with the Grenadier Guards in Windsor and London he was posted to the 3rd Battalion in Palestine. This he later described as no picnic, since he and his comrades found themselves caught in the middle of the early stages of the savage Arab-Israeli conflict. This made such an impact on him that it was the subject of his maiden speech in the House of Lords, when he returned to read Modern History at Oxford.
At New College he shared rooms with his old Etonian friend Colin Tennant, later Lord Glenconner, the founder of Mustique and, like Montagu, a friend of Princess Margaret. At university he pursued an active social life to the neglect of his studies and was never entirely able to reconcile his membership of hearty traditional dining clubs like the Bullingdon with part-time jobs such as photographer to the Opera Club and the Experimental Theatre Group.
He eventually left Oxford of his own accord when his rooms were “trashed” by the Bullingdon after an end-of-term party featuring Terence Rattigan and an entire cast of Santa Clauses.
Thanks to such connections as Tennant, Montagu quickly found himself employed by the public relations agency Voice and Vision, where he was involved in the launch of the Eagle, a famous boys’ magazine in its day; publicised everything from South Pacific to Cadbury’s drinking chocolate; and became a well-known figure in café society.
He had just been voted the most promising young PR man in Britain by the American Institute of Public Relations when nemesis struck and he was arrested on the boy scout charges. For the next year or so he became the subject of endless blue jokes and innumerable bawdy songs. But he enjoyed the support of his close family and a wide variety of friends.
Cyril Garbett, the Archbishop of York , was a regular prison visitor and Montagu received letters of support from fellow Guards officers such as Freddie, the Kabaka of Buganda. Even prison had its lighter moments and a highlight of his time in Wakefield was a Christmas concert where he sung Noel Coward’s The Stately Homes of England as a duet with the former butler to the Duke of Sutherland accompanied on the piano by an ex-organist from Norwich Cathedral.
After the jury’s verdict on March 24 1954, Montagu’s counsel told the court bleakly that he was faced with a bitter future. Montagu was, however, resolved that as far as possible he would return to normal life. At Beaulieu he worked assiduously to restore an estate which, though ably administered by his widowed mother and a conscientious land agent, had suffered from years of low investment. In 1951 he had displayed a handful of vintage cars in the entrance hall of Palace House, partly as homage to his father, an early motoring pioneer.
Thanks to Montagu’s enthusiasm and entrepreneurial skills the Motor Museum rapidly grew to such an extent that Beaulieu outstripped more naturally endowed rival stately homes such as Longleat, Woburn and Chatsworth, and become one of the most popular and lucrative tourist attractions in Britain.
In addition to motoring activities Montagu also staged a number of concerts and festivals in the Beaulieu grounds, most notably a series of jazz festivals which culminated in what became known as the Battle of Beaulieu when, on 1961, a crowd of 20,000 got out of control. Much of the blame was attributed to groups of drunken or drug-crazed beatniks, though Montagu maintained that this was unfair to beatniks and that they were simply hooligans. The situation was made worse by the ineffective policing, which Montagu ascribed in part to a continuing vendetta on the part of the homophobic local chief constable. Montagu delayed his return to the Lords until January 1958, when he took part in a debate on the lighting of main roads. Thereafter he became a regular participant in political life and, after the partial reforms of the Blair administration, he was one of the few hereditaries chosen by his peers to retain his parliamentary rights and privileges.
His advocacy of heritage causes in parliament as well as his crucial role in the establishment of the Historic Houses Association led to his appointment, in 1984, as the first chairman of English Heritage. In almost 10 years in this post Montagu established what he believed were solid foundations. This appeared to be questioned after his succession by the colourful and controversial Jocelyn Stevens, and it was a matter of widespread surprise that Montagu’s achievements went unrecognised by any honour.
He himself used to say, ruefully, that he was already a Baron and could hardly expect to be elevated to a Viscountcy.
By his 70th birthday (celebrated with one of his characteristically flamboyant parties). Montagu had handed over most of the day-to-day running of the estate to his elder son Ralph, the child of his first wife, a local girl called Belinda Crossley. This first marriage also produced a daughter, Mary, a successful interior designer. The Montagus subsequently divorced and he later married Fiona Herbert, by whom he had a son.
Unlike Peter Wildeblood, who wrote a brilliant, polemical book about the Montagu Case called Against the Law (1955), Montagu never became active in sexual politics . He continued to take a keen interest in the arts, especially in London . At the weekend at Beaulieu he found rest and solace at his isolated Beach House, designed by Hugh Casson in the wide-decked open-plan style of the American west coast. Ironically this isolated and tranquil retreat was built on the site of the more primitive structure in which the infamous events concerning the boy scouts were alleged to have taken place in the early 1950s.
Date of Birth: 5 May 1924, Bethnal Green, East London, UK
Birth Name: Joycelyn Chinery
Nicknames: Joy Beverley
Joy Beverley was the eldest of the Beverley Sisters, a singing trio that found fame in the pre-rock and roll era with novelty songs such as I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Little Drummer Boy.
The girls, Joy and her younger twin sisters Teddie and Babs, were famous for the identical clothes in which they always performed and their carefully rollered blonde hair-dos. Millions of Britons grew up with their close-harmony rendition of songs including Ferry Boat Inn; Sisters (written by Irving Berlin); How Much is That Doggie in the Window?; and Little Donkey. For more than a decade they broke box office records as the highest paid female entertainers in Britain; they became the first British girl group to break into the American Top 10 and entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2002 as the world’s longest surviving vocal group without a change in line-up.
As well as pop hits, for seven years during the 1940s and 1950s they had their own BBC television series , and they frequently topped the bill at the London Palladium, alongside such stars as Danny Kaye, Bob Hope and Max Bygraves, taking part in several Royal Command performances.
In later life the sisters were sometimes described as the Spice Girls of their day, and the parallels were not just musical. When, in July 1958, Joy married the Wolverhampton Wanderers star and England captain Billy Wright, it caused almost as much hysteria as the nuptials of Posh and Becks, although the venue, a register office in Poole, Dorset, was rather more modest than the medieval castle chosen by their modern counterparts.
The wedding was meant to have been secret, but news leaked out and thousands of people converged on the town. “Police, taken unawares, were unable to deal with the traffic, despite a call for reinforcements,” reported The Daily Telegraph. “People stood on walls, climbed fences and trees and sat on roofs of cars. They sang, 'For they are jolly good fellows’ and brandished football rattles. Two girls fainted. Several others, including one of the bride’s sisters, Teddie Beverley, lost shoes in the jostling crowd.”
Like the Spice Girls, too, the Beverley Sisters sometimes gingered up their performances with more risqué fare. Songs with titles such as We Like To Do Things Like That; It’s Illegal, It’s Immoral, Or It Makes You Fat, and British pop’s first covert paean to contraception, We Have To Be So Careful All The Time (which was banned by the BBC), helped to maintain their appeal into the 1960s.
Although Joy and her sisters went into unofficial retirement in favour of full-time motherhood in the late 1960s, they returned to performing when their children had grown up. In the 1980s they emerged as icons on the gay cabaret scene after appearing for a season of all-gay nights at Peter Stringfellow’s Hippodrome in London, where their cheerfully bitchy anthem Sisters (“Lord help the mister / Who comes between me and my sister / And Lord help the sister / Who comes between me and my man”) brought the house down. They continued to perform into the new millennium, singing for the Queen at her Golden Jubilee Concert in 2002 and taking part in the the 60th anniversary celebrations for D-Day in 2004 and for VE Day the following year.
Joy Beverley was born Joycelyn Chinery on May 5 1924, Bethnal Green, East London, UK.
Three years to the day before her younger sisters, Babs and Teddie. Their parents, George and Victoria, performed in musical halls as “Coram and Mills”, and the family lived in a two-up, two-down in the Homerton district, near Hackney, where the girls shared the same bed until they were teenagers.
During the war, the girls were evacuated together to Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, where they amused themselves by singing close harmony. Spotted by a man recruiting for the “Ovaltinies”, the harmony-singing advert for Ovaltine on Radio Luxembourg, they soon caught the eye of Glenn Miller and went on to record with his orchestra at the BBC’s secret wartime studio in Bedford. Having signed their first contract, with Columbia Records, in 1951, by 1952 they were starring at the London Palladium. The following year they had their first Top 10 hit with I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, which reached No 6 in the charts.
In 1953 the sisters made their debut in the US, performing on NBC with the Glenn Miller Band (Miller himself being presumed dead in 1944, having disappeared after heading out over the English Channel on a small aeroplane bound for Paris). Three years later they broke into the US charts with their version of Greensleeves. In the late 1950s they made a coast-to-coast appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, their host pronouncing them “sassy, but classy”.
At the time Joy married Billy Wright in 1958, the Beverley Sisters were reportedly earning £1,000 a week. Billy, by contrast, was never paid more than £24 a week by Wolverhampton Wanderers , and in more than 100 matches for England he never walked away with more than £60. As Joy recalled, the life of a footballer’s wife in the 1950s was very different from what it became in the high-rolling 1980s and 1990s: “'We were boringly well behaved, and loyal. In marriage you have to keep telling yourself that your husband is very important. That is not fashionable now, is it? I am disappointed at the way some women behave.”
The disparity between their earning power seemed to have no effect on their relationship, however, and they remained happily married until Billy Wright’s death in 1994.
The Beverley Sisters enjoyed their late-blossoming status as gay icons, although Joy complained to an interviewer that their cabaret audiences wore “more make-up in an evening than we wear in a year”.
In later life the sisters lived in Totteridge, in three near-identical next-door houses. When in 2006 they were awarded MBEs in the New Year Honours, they turned up at Buckingham Palace in identical white suits with pink hats and scarves.
Date of Birth: 2 August 1939, Cleveland, Ohio, US
Birth Name: Wesley Earl Craven
Nicknames: Wes Craven
Wes Craven, the film director, who made his living out of scaring the wits out of people in such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), earning the nickname “Sultan of Slash”; later, as audiences became cynical about the franchise-driven genre, he served up horror with an ironic tongue in cheek.
Craven’s work left the critics divided. Some reviewers denounced him as a purveyor of gore with a dazzling technique and nothing to say; others compared him to Ingmar Bergman.
Craven himself recalled, during his early career, that guests would leave dinner parties upon realising who he was. But he always had fans among younger directors who appreciated the intelligence and psychological insight he brought to low-budget film making.
He created some of the most memorable bogeymen in film, culminating, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, in the blade-taloned Freddy Krueger, a murdered child molester in a moth-eaten sweater and filthy fedora who is brought back to life via the dreams of the teenage descendants of his killers.
Made at a time when Aids was coming to public attention and the prospect of environmental Armageddon had become a topic in classrooms, the film seemed to tap into deep-seated fears.
Craven, who had a master’s degree in philosophy, became a prominent defender of the horror genre which, he argued, gives people the mental equipment to deal with a frightening world. “You’re talking about the beasts in the forest that come after you during the daytime or during the night but in a way that’s under control. So in a sense, you can own the beast,” he explained.
His films were often inspired by true stories. Nightmare was inspired by reports in the Los Angeles Times about a group of refugees who had fled the Khmer Rouge, healthy young men in their twenties, who, after fleeing to the United States, were suffering disturbing nightmares, after which they refused to sleep. “They would try to stay awake, and they would describe the nightmares to their families,” Craven recalled. “Finally there would be a scream and the guy would be dead. Death by nightmare.”
The resulting film established Craven as a leading director . His producers established a franchise and went on to make several more Freddy Krueger films of varying quality, without Craven’s input, until 1995 when he released Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
By this time, as he recalled, “horror had reached one of its sort of classical, cyclical stages of ennui on the part of the audience”. So Craven decided to poke fun at the genre. New Nightmare had the actors, studio head and Craven himself being stalked by Freddy Krueger as they worked on a new instalment of the series.
Craven subverted the horror genre again with Scream (1996), the tale of a high-school student who becomes the target of a mysterious killer known as Ghostface. Full of ironic self-reference (“This is like something out of a Wes Carpenter film,” one character observes), the film was a box office hit, taking $173 million worldwide, spawning a lucrative franchise and inspiring the “Scary Movie” parodies.
Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 2 1939 to strict Baptist parents. Even though he was forbidden from going to the cinema, he claimed that his religious upbringing had shaped his talent as a film maker, encouraging him to “ask big questions about life and death”.
The character of Freddy Krueger, however, drew on an event in his own childhood when, one night, he heard a shuffling sound outside his bedroom window: “I crept over there and looked down. It was a man wearing a fedora.
“He stopped and looked up directly into my face. I backed into the shadows, listening and waiting for him to go away. But I didn’t hear anything. I went back to the window. He looked up at me again and then turned away. He walked into the door of our apartment building. I’ve never, ever been that scared in my life. I was terrified.”
Craven studied English and Psychology at Wheaton College, Illinois . He later earned a master’s in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University, but it was while he was working as a humanities professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York state, that he first went to the cinema and fell in love. In 1971 he left his teaching job to work as a film editor at a post-production house in Manhattan.
After writing and directing pornographic films under pseudonyms, Craven made his debut under his own name in 1972 with the ultra-low-budget ($90,000) shocker The Last House on the Left, about a gang of psychotic killers who rape, torture and murder two teenage girls, only to meet a more horrific fate at the hands of the girls’ parents.
Marketed under the slogan, “To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie . . . only a movie . . .” the film was a grisly remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning Virgin Spring (1959) featuring sickeningly real scenes of sadism and violence. Released mostly on drive-in screens in America, the film was banned by the censors in Britain, though it has come to be seen as a classic .
His follow-up, The Hills Have Eyes, about cannibalistic mutants stalking a suburban family who have become stranded in the desert, established his reputation as a cult director, but it was A Nightmare on Elm Street that propelled him into the mainstream.
Craven’s other films included Deadly Friend (1986); The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988); Shocker (1990); The People Under the Stairs (1991); Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and Red Eye (2005). In 1999 he made a rare foray outside the horror genre with Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar. His last film, in 2011, was the fourth in the Scream franchise. People were sometimes surprised to learn that Craven was not, in his words, “a Mansonite crazoid”, but a charming, humorous man whose hobby was bird-watching. When asked by an interviewer to name the thing that most terrified him, he replied “my ex-wife’s divorce lawyer”.
Date of Birth: 16 May 1937, Tayorville, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Yvonne Joyce Craig
Nicknames: Yvonne Craig
Dancer turned actress who brought a spirited grace to the high-kicking antics of the superheroine Batgirl
Yvonne Craig trained as a dancer and became the youngest-ever member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; but it was on television that her athletic grace won legions of fans, as Batgirl to Adam West’s Batman.
Now fondly remembered as an example of 1960s camp, Batman, made by the ABC television network, was steeped in the Pop Art sensibility of the era. The storylines were comic, the sets garish, and colourful bubble words like KAPOW!, BAM! and ZOK! livened up the fight sequences. When audience figures started to pall towards the end of the decade, the writers decided to freshen up the show by bringing in the character of Barbara Gordon, a good-looking librarian who pursues a second career as the crime-fighting Batgirl.
The producer, Howie Horwitz, was anxious to preserve the character’s femininity, so Batgirl was forbidden to punch her various on-screen nemeses, relying instead on high kicks and handily placed objects. While Adam West had his black Batcycle (with a detachable self-propelled sidecar for Robin), Yvonne Craig drove a purple version with a large yellow bow. She did most of her own stunts, which were made all the more uncomfortable by the bat wings that had replaced the motorcycle’s shock absorbers “like jumping off a table stiff-legged”, as she put it.
Such dedication could not halt the show’s decline, however, and after one more series it was cancelled in 1968. Looking back, Yvonne Craig expressed disappointment in the way the character was handled after her initial test screening. “When we did the pilot, Batgirl was supposed to be not only as good as the guys but better,” she recalled. “She ended up being this cute little bland character, when she could have been more in the style of Katharine Hepburn.”
None the less, her performance was eagerly taken up by feminist critics as a spirited example of the hard-working career girl an ally to the hero, rather than his dependant. In 1972 Yvonne Craig stepped into the role once more, this time on behalf of the US Department of Labor. A 30-second skit had Batgirl swinging to the rescue of a captive Batman and Robin but not before demanding equal pay.
Yvonne Joyce Craig was born on May 16 1937 in Taylorville, Illinois, and aspired to a career in dance from an early age. While attending the Edith James School of Ballet she was spotted by the Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova, who helped her win a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York. Aged 16 she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but left three years later and eventually fell into acting after a chance meeting with John Ford’s son Patrick. Her first starring role was as the beautiful yet spoiled Elena in The Young Land (1959), which the younger Ford produced.
By the mid-1960s she had moved away from temptress roles to play more traditional leading ladies, appearing alongside Elvis Presley in It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963) and Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The two of them hit it off and Yvonne Craig spent time with Presley at his home in Bel Air though, coming from the insulated life of the professional dancer, she had little idea of his rock-and-roll credentials. The reality was finally brought home to her when, trying to find the light-switch in his bedroom late one night, she accidentally hit a panic button and was greeted by several carloads of policemen at the front door.
On television she made a foray into the spy arena with a guest part in the original series of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1965), gave a passionate performance as the creatively named Ecstasy La Joie in The Wild Wild West (1966) and was painted green for a memorable turn as a psychotic alien in Star Trek (1969). In later life she swapped acting for a career in property, but continued to make regular appearances at comic and fantasy conventions in America.
Date of Birth: 17 December 1926, Poplar, London, UK
Birth Name: Stephen Lewis
Nicknames: Stephen Lewis, Stephen Cato
In 1960, he wrote Sparrers Can’t Sing, a play about life in the East End that relied heavily on actors’ improvisations. It was a success and was released as a film (Sparrows Can’t Sing) in 1963, with a cast that included Barbara Windsor and Roy Kinnear – although even their talents could not sell the social realist dialogue to a global audience.
The New York Times sniffed: “This isn’t a picture for anyone with a logical mind or an ear for language. The gabble of Cockney spoken here is as incomprehensible as the reasoning of those who speak it.” It was the first English-language film to be released in the US with subtitles.
As Lewis’s career illustrates, a great number of the comedy stars of the 1960s and 1970s came from serious theatre with proudly socialist roots, while television and film started to tap into a growing appetite for working-class drama and comedy. Throughout the 1960s, Lewis took a series of small roles culminating in a large part in the 1969 television play, Mrs Wilson’s Diary, alongside another Theatre Workshop regular called Bob Grant.
That same year, he landed a role in a new series called On the Buses, which also featured Grant as a lascivious bus ticket-collector teamed up with Reg Varney, his equally Dionysian mate.
Although the show was undoubtedly rude, crude and occasionally prejudiced, it offered genuinely witty reflections on the nature of 1970s class conflict. In the world of On the Buses, workers were constantly on strike and after more money; managerial characters such as Lewis’s Blakey were exploitative snobs who thought they had authority just because they wore a badge.
It was plain where the audience's sympathies were supposed to lie: many was the time that a bus “hilariously” ran over poor Blakey’s foot or a bucket of water was tipped over his head. The cry: “I ’ate you Butler” was born of impotent rage. Although Varney the actor was Lewis’s senior, it was still Varney’s character, Reg, that got all the “crumpet”. Lewis was only in his early forties when he took the role of Blakey, but playing ageing authority figures became his stock in trade. In the 1970s, he appeared in the television sequel to On The Buses, Don’t Drink the Water, three big-screen outings of On The Buses and two cinematic sex comedies (Adventures of a Taxi Driver, Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate). He later had parts in the films Personal Services (1987) and The Krays (1990).
In 1988, he played a new character in the long-running BBC series Last of the Summer Wine as the character Clem “Smiler” Hemmingway which he thoroughly enjoyed. “It’s got so much charm,” he said of the show. “I don’t think any other country in the world has comedy like that.” From 1995 to 1997, he appeared in the equally gentle sitcom Oh, Doctor Beeching! In 2007, he stepped down from Last of the Summer Wine because of ill health.
Stephen Lewis remained a committed socialist. In a stroke of irony, however, in 1981 he was hired to promote CH coaches, in the character of Blakey; it was the first private bus company to break the public transport monopoly of Cardiff city council. This was exactly the kind of Thatcherite revolution of which Blakey would probably have approved.
In his diaries, Tony Benn recalled campaigning with Lewis in 1984, describing him as “very direct” and “extremely amusing”.
Date of Birth: April 26 1977, Northampton, UK
Birth Name: Jonathan Byrne Ollivier
Nicknames: Jonathan Ollivier
Jonathan Ollivier, the dancer, was an internationally acclaimed star in British companies, particularly the choreographer Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and Northern Ballet.
With his vulpine good looks and rangy body, Ollivier could inject an ambiguous mystery into leading roles in contemporary ballet stories, such as Bourne’s male Swan in his celebrated Swan Lake rewrite, in which the Wall Street Journal’s critic considered that he had even more forceful charisma in 2010 than the role’s originator in 1995, Adam Cooper of the Royal Ballet.
Jonathan Ollivier had built up a rack of stage roles such as Stanley Kowalski, Dracula, Heathcliff and Romeo in productions at Northern Ballet, Leeds, where for seven years he was a major attraction as principal dancer, able to cut an appealingly romantic figure in a variety of costume roles.
Even though few of the ballets were highly rated by critics, Ollivier’s distinction as a performer was consistently given critical recognition and was twice nominated in the National Dance Awards as Best Male Dancer in 2003 and 2004.
Despite the success of his youth, it was in his thirties, and after he decided to become freelance, that Ollivier achieved a more complex and interesting artistic profile. This arrived mainly through his performing of three subtle character creations by Matthew Bourne, in which the mature Ollivier found a new dramatic range.
As the mysterious, dangerous male Swan in Bourne’s modern Swan Lake, as the amoral 1960s London “babe-magnet” Speight in Play Without Words, and this summer as the devilish mechanic in The Car Man, Ollivier deployed a memorable unpredictability and virile presence.
It was his ability as a dance-actor to fuse edgy vulnerability with fatal attractiveness that led to his being given the prestige of leading the last performance of The Car Man’s run, tragically prevented on Sunday.
Jonathan Byrne Ollivier was born in Northampton on April 26 1977. His father, a builder, left when Jonathan was two, and his mother brought him up on her own with his three sisters. Having an Irish grandfather, he had taken up Irish dancing young, but after being shouted at by his teacher changed to ballet aged six.
He asked his mother to let him stay to watch two of his sisters as they took ballet and tap classes, rather than go with her to the shops, recalling later: “I made up my mind from a very young age that it was exactly what I wanted to do.” He dealt with bullies at school by taking up karate and progressed to a black belt.
At 16 Ollivier considered himself fortunate to have failed the Royal Ballet School audition, since full-time training at the Rambert Ballet School opened up a range of possibilities in both ballet and contemporary dance that he would exploit later. Aged 19, he got his first job in South Africa with Cape Town City Ballet, where he met his future wife, the South African dancer Desiré Samaai.
Three years later he returned to Britain to join Northern Ballet Theatre, Leeds, where Desiré Samaai, whom he had married, joined him. Ollivier soon originated the role of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire by the contemporary choreographer Didy Veldman and the main part in Michael Pink’s Dracula. He then attracted fans by dancing the more classical Romeo and Tybalt in Massimo Moricone’s Romeo and Juliet, he said he preferred playing the bad Tybalt to the good Romeo.
While in Leeds, Ollivier was a dancer of notable strength, though not always in works worthy of him. He proved his versatility by the range of the leading roles created for him: in Birgit Scherzer’s Requiem, Moricone’s Jekyll and Hyde, and in many by Northern Ballet Theatre’s choreographer-director David Nixon including Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream .
In 2005 Ollivier and his wife starred together in Veronica Paeper’s dance version of La Traviata.
Ollivier left in 2007 for the more classical atmosphere of Canada’s Alberta Ballet, but returned to Britain as a freelance in his thirties, with signal success. Soon after his first son was born, he caught attention in three highly varied roles, with Michael Clark in his New Work 2012, and in Britain’s first tour of the musical Dirty Dancing, in which he starred.
He was then hired by Bourne for his innovative Play Without Words, a dance production based on Joseph Losey’s film The Servant, in which Ollivier’s Speight was considered by one critic to be “as explosive as Elvis”.
After this, he took over the leading role in Bourne’s Swan Lake, hailed as exceptional in New York on the company’s 2010 tour, and then to The Car Man this summer.
Always an eloquent advocate for ballet for boys, in 2006 Ollivier was presented with an honorary fellowship from the University of Northampton. “I don’t think people understand how athletic dance is,” he said. “It’s actually very close to training for martial arts .”
Date of Birth: 18 March 1947, Surbition, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Susan Haydn Thomas
Nicknames: Susan Sheridan
Susan Sheridan, who has died aged 68, was an actress and voice artist who provided the voices of Trillian in the original radio production of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978), and a range of children’s television characters, most notably Noddy in the BBC’s Noddy’s Toyland Adventures (1992-94 and 1999-2001).
The mischievous doll in the red and yellow taxi first appeared in Enid Blyton’s book Noddy Goes To Toyland in 1949 and on television in the 1950s. Known as Oui-Oui in France, Doddi in Iceland and Purzelknirps in Germany, he was an immediate hit with children, though he tended to be sniffed at by the literati for shallow characterisation, and even found himself accused of racism and sexism.
By the 1990s, when Susan Sheridan was picked to voice the character, Noddy had been forced to clean up his act. The original stories had featured “golliwogs” who lived in Golly Town, including Mr Golly, the proprietor of Toyland’s garage. These characters had been dropped from the BBC’s television adaptation of the books in the 1980s and replaced by other soft toys. Also gone was Miss Rap, the schoolmistress who dished out spankings with a slipper.
Noddy’s Toyland Adventures featured a new character not present in the original books, Dinah Doll, a china doll described as a “black, assertive, ethnic minority female”, for whom, among several other minor characters, Susan Sheridan also provided the voice.
The animation studio Cosgrove Hall made the series and it did a superb job bringing the Noddy stories to life. Much of the success of the series was due to Susan Sheridan, whose voice had been selected out of some 200 audition tapes. Explaining how she came up with Noddy’s sing-song cadences, she explained that she had studied the illustrations in the original Noddy books: “He’s got eyebrows that look surprised or cross, so that’s how I found the voice. He talks up and down like that most of the time.”
She was born Susan Haydn Thomas in Surbiton, Surrey, and educated at the Brigidine Convent, Windsor, and at Ashford Grammar School.
After training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she cut her teeth in regional rep before making her West End debut in 1975 at the Phoenix Theatre as Christopher Robin in a production of the musical Winnie-the-Pooh.
Her voice skills led to auditions with BBC radio, on which she made her name as the astrophysicist Trillian in the radio adaptation of Douglas Adams’s cult sci-fi comedy. Other characters she voiced included Angus and Elspeth, the children who befriend a family of Loch Ness Monsters in the BBC cartoon series The Family-Ness (1984), Jimbo the talking aeroplane in Jimbo and the Jet-Set (BBC1, 1986), and Princess Sylvia in the BBC animated English language teaching series Muzzy in Gondoland (1987) and Muzzy Comes Back (1989).
She dubbed voices in several films, including Princess Eilonwy in the Disney cartoon The Black Cauldron (1985), the young Puyi in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) and one of the chickens in Chicken Run (2002). She also “voiced” video games, read audio books and in later years worked as a voice coach. She remained active on the stage with roles in touring productions and a one-woman show The Merry Wife of Wilton (2004).
In 2011 she made a rare appearance in front of the cameras as Mother Thomas Aquinas, a nun found strangled in a chicken coop, in Midsomer Murders.
Date of Birth: 22 April 1925, Tooting, London, UK
Birth Name: George Edward Cole
Nicknames: George Cole
George Cole, the actor, who has died aged 90, was best-known as the devious and conniving Arthur Daley in the popular ITV series Minder and as Alastair Sim’s crooked accomplice Flash Harry in the St Trinian’s films of the 1950s.
One of the most endearing and enduring popular players of rueful light comedy, and once described as looking like “an amiable pall bearer”, Cole played numerous untrustworthy characters in a career spanning 70 years. He believed that his “crafty but sad” appearance was responsible for his repeated casting in what he described as “spiv” roles.
Apart from a weakness for strong-smelling cigars and a passion for horse racing, Cole had little in common with the roguish Arthur Daley. An inveterate punter, he confessed that “the ITV Seven was my downfall. I got it the very first time, about £1,100. After that I couldn’t leave it alone.” It was perhaps just as well that Cole’s portrayal of Arthur Daley had made him one of the highest-paid actors on British television.
Unlike his screen persona, Cole considered himself primarily a family man. After his unofficial adoption at the age of 16 by Alastair Sim and his wife, Naomi, Cole moved in with the couple. When he later married, he built a house on a five-acre plot of land next to the Sims’ home at Nettlebed in Oxfordshire and lived there with his own family.
Despite his long career Cole claimed that he had never been ambitious as an actor, insisting that he preferred “an afternoon pottering in the garden to almost anything”. He distinguished himself from later generations of artists by taking up acting at the age of 14 to avoid starting work as a butcher’s boy. Cole claimed that his success was based on a sense of timing and a talent for droll facial expressions, skills he had learned from Alastair Sim whom he described as “one of the most talented actors in the business”.
George Edward Cole was born on April 22 1925 in Tooting, south London, and adopted when he was 10 days old after being abandoned by his mother. Educated locally, he won a scholarship to the Surrey county council school at Morden, but his educational hopes were dashed when his father had to give up work because of illness. “My father was gassed in the First World War and was an epileptic,” Cole recalled. “He couldn’t hold down a job, and when we couldn’t pay the rent the council gave him a job pulling a road roller. That did for him in the end.”
Cole – who described his upbringing as “the poorest you could get” – left school at 14 to help support his family. He worked as a newspaper delivery boy before gaining an apprenticeship with the local butcher. Due to start at the butcher’s on Monday morning, he answered an advertisement in The Star on Friday night that read “Boy wanted for West End show”. He auditioned on the Saturday, declaring that he could recite a poem by Julius Caesar called Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Cole was offered a part and joined the touring company performing The White Horse Inn in 1939.
When the tour ended after six months, Cole returned home and made his London debut as a Cockney evacuee in Cottage to Let (Wyndham’s, 1940). Hailed in The Daily Telegraph as “a very youthful actor with spirit and a grand sense of the occasion”, Cole reprised the same role in the film version two years later, appearing for the first time opposite Alastair Sim. Sim and his wife were responsible for all Cole’s theatrical training, including the thankless task of eradicating Cole’s Cockney accent.
With Sim’s help he appeared in his second film, Those Kids from Town (1942) before joining the RAF the following year. Cole ended his service career running an officers’ mess bar in occupied Germany.
After the war Cole returned to acting, appearing in a variety of mediocre films including My Brother’s Keeper (1948), The Spider and the Fly (1949) and Gone to Earth (1950). He had greater success with Alastair Sim in the classic comedies Laughter in Paradise (1951) and Scrooge (1952).
Over the next decade, Cole and Sim repeated their screen partnership in a string of films, the most successful of which were the St Trinian’s series, directed by Frank Launder. In the first, The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954), Cole (as the spiv Flash Harry) received third billing after Sim and Joyce Grenfell. The film was extremely successful and was followed by five more, including Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1958) and Cole’s only films in the series without Sim, The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1961) and The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966).
Between films, Cole starred as the bumbling bachelor David Bliss in the long-running radio series A Life of Bliss (1952-67). The show was broadcast on Sunday afternoons. Cole recalled it as “wholesome to the point of nausea”, and insisted that the best part of the show had been Percy Edwards’s performance as Psyche the dog.
By the mid-1960s, along with the rest of the British film industry, Cole’s film career had stalled. Parts dried up and Cole turned to the stage to revive his flagging fortunes. He worked consistently throughout the 1960s and 1970s in productions such as Banana Ridge, The Philanthropist and Too Good to be True. He also appeared in several musical hits such as Front Page (1981), The Pirates of Penzance (1982) and as Captain Hook in Peter Pan (1987).
But his greatest success came on his move into television, in series like The Bounder (1976) and Minder (1979). Cole was offered the part of Arthur Daley in Minder while making Dennis Potter’s banned play, Brimstone and Treacle.
Minder was not an instant success, and the first two series flopped. But by 1984, the show had become a hit, with Cole becoming inseparably linked with the shifty second-hand car dealer Arthur Daley. He was not the first choice for the role, and recalled that the writer and most of the production team were unhappy about the casting. “Verity Lambert [the producer] was the only one who thought I’d do,” he remembered, “and she was right.”
Playing the part with droll understatement, he helped to revive Cockney rhyming slang and deployed many a fine malapropism “The world is your lobster, my son” being one of the most memorable.
He was unable to account for his enormous success in the part or the longevity of the series, which ran until 1991. “It’s a bit worrying really,” he said. “After all, Arthur is a crook. He nearly always lets [his boneheaded bodyguard] Terry down and yet he’s one of the most popular characters on television.” Cole appeared in each series of Minder, seamlessly adapting to a new sidekick when Dennis Waterman left the programme.
Cole became so identified in the public’s mind to the Arthur Daley character that even when he appeared away from the series as in television commercials for the Leeds Building Society – Arthur’s pork pie hat and sheepskin coat were in evidence. The series sold all over the world, making it (as Arthur himself would have noted) “a nice little earner” for ITV.
In 1991 Cole followed the final series of Minder with an appearance as Henry Root in the film dramatisation of The Henry Root Letters. Asked if he minded being typecast as a string of unscrupulous characters he replied: “I think it’s just marvellous to be in work. Before Minder I never really knew where my next job was coming from. Now I’m booked up for the next two years.” His later television work included appearances in staples such as Agatha Christie’s Marple, Midsomer Murders and Heartbeat. In the mid to late-1990s he played in two short-lived sitcoms, first as a lonely pensioner in My Good Friend and then as a cantankerous father in Dad.
He was appointed OBE in 1992.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK
Birth Name: Priscilla Maria Veronica White
Nicknames: Cilla Black
Cilla Black, broke through in the 1960s as a buck-toothed pop singer in the Merseybeat boom and went on to become one of the enduring stars of television light entertainment, hosting the brassy Saturday night favourites Surprise, Surprise and Blind Date.
In August 1963 she was a 20-year-old typist in a Liverpool office. A month later, having left the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein smitten, she recorded her first hit, Love of the Loved, a Paul McCartney number. By 1965 she had become the female symbol of British youth with two No 1 hits and a season at the London Palladium, and by 1968 she was a millionaire at 25. A quarter of a century later she was the highest-paid female entertainer on British television.
She made a career out of what one critic described as “the phenomenon of ordinariness”. Indeed she would scarcely demur at the description “dead common”. “Class, I haven’t,” she conceded, “but style I’ve got.” As the Liverpool docker’s daughter and ingenue pop star trailing in the Beatles’ wake, Cilla Black resolutely adhered to type: lacquered mane of flame-red hair (the consequence of a sixpenny rinse at the age of 13) short skirts, long legs and a strong Scouse accent.
After starring in her own BBC series Cilla in the late 1960s, she moved to ITV to star in a live Saturday night variety show, popping up “somewhere in Britain” with a camera crew to knock at someone’s front door. She once famously disturbed a man who skulked blinking on to his balcony followed by someone else’s wife wrapped in a sheet; another “Come on, luv, it’s Cilla 'ere” intrusion took her into a room where rows of embarrassed men on chairs who muttered one-word answers to her increasingly querulous questions turned out to be the clientele of the local brothel.
It was her ability to combine mischievous curiosity with deadpan humour that sealed her success with Surprise, Surprise (1984) on ITV, the strangely gripping show for which she was paid £15,000 a week. As well as emotional reunions of long-lost relatives, the show featured “Cillagrams”, in which she again turned up at a location unannounced but this time marking some special occasion with a song. Invited to the run-down port of Holyhead by the local Mayor, she sang Hooray for Holyhead in the main street, the watching crowds swelled by the staff of Woolworths who trooped out to hear her while looters trooped in through the back door and plundered the shop.
Unashamedly working-class, the show was panned by the critics as rubbish, but Cilla was unflinching. “I didn’t choose television. Television chose me,” she said. “I was a bit of fun and a bit of Scouse rough and everybody liked me, I was normal. I could have been the kid next door. And then I turned into the auntie next door. And now I’m the granny next door.”
But accusations of bad taste followed when, at Christmas 1987, the show took her to a hospital at Zeebrugge where victims of the ferry disaster were being treated, and she led medical staff and survivors through the streets of Bruges singing Little Drummer Boy.
“She really is a battler,” noted The Daily Telegraph critic, “and has honed to a fine edge her skills of cajolery, intimacy and self-deprecation .”
Her second television hit, Blind Date, launched in 1985, was a game of flirtatious lucky-dip between the sexes featuring participants separated by a screen who paired off without seeing each other amid laboured, scripted repartee. She had seen the show while touring in Australia, thought it hysterical and urged LWT to make a British version. The programme was compulsive viewing for many, although it came to be criticised for its increasingly explicit sexual innuendo.
The success rate for many of the couples was low, and most viewers tuned in to watch Cilla’s brilliantly scathing put-downs delivered (usually to the men) with robust Scouse grit. Three of the paired-up couples did, however, get as far as the altar after meeting on the show, and Cilla was guest of honour at all three weddings. In January 2003 she announced during a live broadcast that she was leaving Blind Date after 18 years. Paul O’Grady and Dale Winton were both lined up to replace her, but the show was cancelled after she left.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born in Liverpool on May 27 1943, the only daughter of a Mersey docker. Her mother ran a market stall selling stockings and trinkets. The family lived in a four-roomed council flat above a barber’s shop on Scotland Road, the rough and ready “Scottie Road” of Liverpool folklore and an Irish-Catholic stronghold; until she was nine, they had no indoor lavatory and bathed in a tin tub in front of the kitchen stove.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK and educated at St Anthony’s Catholic secondary modern school nearby, she left at 15 to learn office skills at Anfield Commercial College. Within a year, she had taken a job at £4 a week as a filing clerk at British Insulated Callenders Cables, where she typed and deployed her 80wpm shorthand, supplementing her wages during her lunch hour by checking the coats at the Cavern Club, the up-and-coming music venue in Mathew Street in Liverpool city centre. At night she sang with some of the emergent Merseybeat groups such as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and the Big Three.
At the nearby Iron Door club, she also sang with the still-unknown Beatles, courtesy of John Lennon who called her “Cyril”. In early 1962 Lennon introduced her to the Beatles’ new manager, Brian Epstein, who rejected her after she underwent an impromptu audition in the middle of a Beatles show at the Majestic ballroom in Birkenhead; she sang Gershwin’s Summertime but it was not in her key.
Her luck changed when, accompanied by John Rubin’s modern jazz group, she sang a few standards at the Blue Angel club, not knowing that, again, Epstein was in the audience. By now the Beatles were on their way to stardom, and Epstein’s talent stable was expanding. “Why didn’t you sing like that before?” Epstein asked. He was convinced that Cilla would become a huge star. Having changed her name to Cilla Black (the local Mersey Beat newspaper had mistakenly called her by the wrong colour) she made her first proper appearance with the Beatles at the Odeon, Southport, on August 30 1963, watched by Epstein’s father, Harry, who predicted she would be “the next Gracie Fields”.
A week later, over Sunday tea, Cilla and her father signed a contract with Brian Epstein. She was to be his first designer pop star and so was born Cilla black.
Cilla’s first single, Love of the Loved, written by Paul McCartney, charted disappointingly at number 35. But in February 1964 she had her first number one with Burt Bacharach’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. The American singer Dionne Warwick, who had already released her own recording of the song in the US, was miffed; while her version sounded effortless it was apparent that, as one critic put it, “Cilla was straining her garters”. Cilla Black herself recalled 30 years later: “Dionne was dead choked and she’s never forgiven me to this day.”
Epstein had heard Warwick’s record in the USA and had returned to Britain with a copy which he played to the producer George Martin. He immediately declared it would be perfect for Shirley Bassey. When Epstein insisted he had earmarked it for Cilla, Martin doubted that the Liverpool singer had the vocal ability to pull off such a powerful number. In the event Cilla’s recording sold a million copies.
When in May she followed up with a second No 1, You’re My World, Cilla became the first British female singer to have two successive No 1 hits. She appeared in that year’s Royal Variety Performance, where she met Gracie Fields, who did not take to her. Nor did Noël Coward, watching in the stalls, who thought her “ghastly beyond belief”.
In November 1966 she appeared with the comedian Frankie Howerd in Way Out in Piccadilly (Prince of Wales), the start of a long-standing friendship between them. The following year she signed a £63,000 contract to present her own series, Cilla, on BBC Television. Paul McCartney wrote the signature tune, Step Inside Love, and the critics loved her. “She’s ordinary and unassuming,” noted Philip Purser in The Sunday Telegraph, “and still tickled to death at being plucked out of the typing pool by the great god Pop.”
Cilla Black married her long-time boyfriend and manager, Bobby Willis, in 1969 who later died in 1999.
An appearance on Terry Wogan’s television chat show in 1983 was followed by a similar date with Jimmy Tarbuck on ITV; this was seen by John Birt, then director of programmes for LWT, who was struck by her fresh, unaffected, and “delicious, naturally funny” style. Realising her potential as a game show host, he booked her for Surprise, Surprise. She became a regular guest at Birt’s lunches for fellow celebrity Scousers when, with the likes of Anne Robinson, Roger McGough and Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, she tucked in to chip butties, scouse stew with pickled beetroot and jelly and evaporated milk.
Cilla Black never refused an interview request, the River Room at the Savoy being her venue of choice, and the presence of her beloved husband being a pre-condition a relic of her being invited, by one journalist in the 1960s, to stroke his war wound.
Politically, she swung from supporting Harold Wilson in the 1960s to backing John Major in the 1990s. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Thatcher . In August 2014, she was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to the Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September’s referendum.
Cilla Black was named ITV Personality of the Year for Blind Date in 1987 and Variety Club Showbusiness Personality of 1991. She won a Bafta in 1995, but disliked being labelled a television presenter. “I always think of myself as a singer. That’s what I want on my gravestone: Here lies Cilla Black, singer. Not TV presenter.”
Appointed OBE in 1997, the proudest moment of her career, she once declared, was “absolutely rubbing shoulders with and meeting the Royal family”. At her own palatial 10-bedroomed house in Denham, Buckinghamshire, once owned by Sir Malcolm Sargent and bought in 1965 for £40,000, she enjoyed her 17-acre garden and, in keeping with her lifelong frugality, vacuumed it herself every Sunday (the housekeeper’s day off) “in case the Queen drops in”.
She published her memoirs, Step Inside, in 1985. In 1994 she turned down an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University (formerly Polytechnic) when some of the students complained it would “devalue” their degrees.
In 2014 the actress Sheridan Smith gave a highly acclaimed performance in Cilla, a three-part television drama about Cilla Black’s rise to fame, acted, noted The Daily Telegraph, with a “killer combination of warmth, mischievousness and vulnerability”. Cilla herself described the portrayal as “terrific”, adding, “but God knows how she sang so well with those false teeth in.”
“I didn’t want to be Doris Day,” Cilla Black once reflected, “but I wanted what went with it. She’d talk about her backyard and it was three acres of lawn; our backyard was where we kept the coal. I wanted her backyard, the fame and fortune. If there had been Blind Date then, I would have been first in the queue.”
Date of Birth: 10 April 1932, Alexandria, Egypt
Birth Name: Michel Demitri Chalhoub
Nicknames: Omar Sharif
Omar was introduced to the international screen in one of the most dramatic star entrances of film history. This was the scene in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in which Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) first makes contact with the Arab chieftain Sherif Ali (Sharif), who will become his key ally in the desert fighting, and the latter, in a daringly protracted sequence, develops from a speck on the horizon into a towering, huge horseman, rifle at the ready.
Sharif was instantly elevated by this debut into a major box-office figure, and went on to star in a succession of big-budget films during the 1960s, most notably the contrasting blockbuster hits Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968), as perhaps the last of the “exotic” Hollywood heartthrobs in line of descent from Rudolph Valentino.
This situation, however, proved comparatively short-lived. Almost like the protagonist of a Victorian novel, Sharif was overtaken by his own success, to the extent that in order to service the debts incurred by gambling and a playboy lifestyle, he was thrown back on accepting any work that came his way, and entered a downward spiral into trivial and meretricious movies.
He was born Michel Chalhoub in Alexandria, the son of well-to-do Lebanese-Syrian Christians, Claire (nee Saada) and Joseph Chalhoub, and educated at a private school and at Cairo University. He worked briefly and reluctantly in his father’s lumber business but fell for the lure of acting, and was delighted when a friend, the director Youssef Chahine, offered him a role in the film Struggle in the Valley (1954). The female star was Faten Hamama, who was greatly taken by her leading man and in the same year became his wife, Sharif converting to Islam in the process. The marriage lasted for 20 years and the couple had a son, Tarek, who was to make a brief appearance in Doctor Zhivago in the guise of Yuri Zhivago’s childhood self.
Sharif became established as a principal figure in Egyptian cinema and also starred in the French-backed Goha (1958), which afforded him wider recognition, if only in the arthouses.
But it was his selection by the producer Sam Spiegel and the director David Leanto play Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia that proved the turning point in his career. As he later observed: “Maybe if I hadn’t made Lawrence, I would have gone on living in Cairo and had five children and lots of grandchildren.” He blamed the eventual failure of his marriage on the simple fact of his constant absences in Europe and the US.
The role of Sherif Ali was pivotal in the film’s dramatic scheme, and Sharif’s swarthy, romantic aura was played off to great effect against the blue-eyed blondness of O’Toole’s Lawrence. The two became close friends while making the film. Sharif’s performance won him Golden Globe awards as best supporting actor and most promising newcomer, as well as an Academy Award nomination, though he ruefully recalled that he had signed a contract with the studio that netted him only £8,000 for this and several subsequent appearances.
Fluent in English and French, he worked steadily for the next few years, though as an all-purpose “foreigner”, mainstream cinema never having been especially concerned about precise ethnicity. Thus he played a Spanish priest in Behold a Pale Horse (1964), the title role in a comic-strip historical extravaganza, Genghis Khan (1965), a Yugoslav partisan in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), and even, a little later, a Nazi officer, complete with blond-streaked hair, in The Night of the Generals (1967).
But it was as the Russian hero of Lean’s Doctor Zhivago that he achieved his best-remembered screen role, a brooding, magnetic presence, even if some critics felt that the performance, like the whole film, manifested a degree of shallowness.
There was no doubt about his box-office stature, though, and it was revealing that the film version of the musical Funny Girl, which in the theatre had been an unabashed vehicle for Barbra Streisand, was marketed on the basis of her co-starring with Sharif. As the shady gambler Nicky Arnstein, by whom Fanny Brice (Streisand) was enslaved, Sharif was the essence of the homme fatal, and even weighed in with a couple of song numbers. There were rumours at the time that the stars’ relationship had blossomed off-screen too, a notion that was ill received in Sharif’s native land in the light of Streisand’s pro-Israeli sympathies.
Sharif later admitted that he had briefly imagined himself in love with Streisand, and also recalled being smitten by Ava Gardner, his co-star in Mayerling (1968), in which he brought a suitable intensity to the doomed Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, and Gardner, with some incongruity, played his mother.
Mayerling was hardly a distinguished film, but was considerably superior to some others in which Sharif went on to appear, not least Che! (1969), a dully temporising Hollywood account of the life of Che Guevara, in which at one point Sharif’s Guevara is confronted by Jack Palance’s Fidel Castro with the mumbled expostulation: “Che, sometimes I just don’t understand you.”
The Last Valley (1971) and The Horsemen (1971) were poorly rated would-be spectacles. It seems significant that in the French-made thriller The Burglars (1971), Sharif was cast opposite a contemporary European box-office favourite, Jean-Paul Belmondo, but in the guise of a stereotypical scheming villain, who ends up smothered by Belmondo in a deserted silo under tons of grain, an intimation of the fate that was to befall him professionally as he appeared in increasingly obscure productions.
But there were still one or two brighter spots to come. In 1975 he reprised the role of Arnstein in the Funny Girl sequel, Funny Lady, and the previous year gave one of his most effective, because downplayed, performances, as the captain of a stricken cruise liner in Juggernaut. Of his playing in this film, the American critic Pauline Kael percipiently remarked: “He is not allowed to smile the famous smile, or even to look soulfully lovesick. He is kept rather grim.”
At this time, Sharif was perhaps more readily associated with the game of bridge than with acting. Though he took it up in adult life, he developed into a world-class player. In addition to competing in international tournaments, he wrote a syndicated column on the subject for several years for the Chicago Tribune, was the author of several books on bridge, and licensed his name to a bridge computer game.
He was also an inveterate high-stakes gambler, a regular at the casinos of Paris and elsewhere, and at the racetrack in Deauville. He maintained that claims of his philandering were ill-founded, but his lifestyle certainly encompassed heavy drinking and smoking more than 50 cigarettes a day, at least until he underwent heart bypass surgery in 1993. And the cost was high in financial terms as well.
Professionally, he drifted from one minor role to the next in a run of TV movies and mini-series, often costume dramas of one kind or another, and mostly of the sort only liable to be found at off-peak hours on the more obscure channels. He candidly told a journalist in 2003 that “for 25 years I have been making rubbish movies”.
There were, moreover, some unedifying moments in his private life. In 2003, he headbutted a policeman in a Paris casino rumpus and was subsequently fined and given a suspended jail term, tactlessly telling the press that to assault a cop was “the dream of every Frenchman”. Two years later, he slugged a parking attendant at a Beverly Hills restaurant. He was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution.
But at least he had returned into the realms of serious acting by taking the leading role in the 2003 French movie Monsieur Ibrahim, in which his characterisation of an elderly Turkish Muslim shopkeeper secured him a best actor César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar.
In 2006 he declared that he had abandoned gambling and even bridge in favour of family life, and described himself as semi-retired from the screen.
In the previous year he had been the recipient of a Unesco medal for contributions to world cinema and cultural diversity. Lawrence and Zhivago might by then have seemed a long way in the past, but despite or possibly even because of the intervening vicissitudes of his life, Sharif’s reputation remained undimmed.
Date of Birth: 3 February 1927, Waterford, Ireland
Birth Name: Michael Valentine Doonican
Nicknames: Val Doonican
Val Doonican's gentle style made him a popular feature on Saturday night television for more than two decades.
He became famous for his sweaters and the rocking chair in which he invariably sat to sing the final number of his show.
At a time when the 60s pop explosion was stalling the careers of so many crooners, Doonican bucked the trend with eight Top-20 hits.
And songs like Delaney's Donkey and Paddy McGinty's Goat allowed record-buyers to indulge themselves in a touch of Irish-flavoured whimsy.
Michael Valentine Doonican was born in the Irish city of Waterford on 3 February 1927, the youngest of eight children.
His father died of cancer when he was 14 and he was forced to leave school and work in a packaging factory to supplement the family income.
He wrote music from a very young age, and formed a singing group with his friends when he was just 10.
With his guitar, he later took part in the town's first ever television broadcast and, after his first paid engagement at the Waterford fete, left his factory job to tour the country in a caravan.
In 1951, Doonican was invited to join a group called the Four Ramblers.
The band toured England where Doonican was introduced to the joys of golf, and also to his future wife, the cabaret star Lynnette Rae.
Doonican later moved to London, where he continued his entertainment apprenticeship in radio, television, cabaret and music hall.
He recalled that "it took 17 years to become an overnight success", when his appearance on Sunday Night at the Palladium prompted the BBC to offer him his own series in 1964.
He was given an initial series of six half-hour programmes which were broadcast live from a BBC studio in an old chapel in Manchester.
The Val Doonican Music show saw him become a mainstay of Saturday night television.
But he was always grateful that his career gave him the opportunity to meet his idols such as Bing Crosby and Howard Keel.
"You can't imagine," he later recalled, "that you're going along in your young life, buying records of people that you think are fantastic and, in my case, I ended up singing duets with them on my show."
The comedian Dave Allen also got his big break by appearing on the show.
In the 1970s, his fame spread when the programme was transmitted overseas.
Two of Doonican's most enduring props were his collection of multi-coloured sweaters - which became known as "Val Doonican jumpers" and his ever-present rocking chair.
In fact, the star swapped his sweaters for jackets back in 1970, so remained bemused when people everywhere continued to ask him where his jumper was.
Doonican went on to record more than 50 albums, and he appeared several times on Top of the Pops.
At a time when the charts were dominated by pop groups he had a string of hits including Special Years, Walk Tall and What Would I Be?
The television shows came to an end after 24 years, but Doonican continued to tour, choosing mostly intimate regional theatres, in the UK and abroad.
He eschewed television appearances, preferring to share his time between Buckinghamshire and Spain, and to spend his semi-retirement playing golf.
"Golf is like an 18-year-old girl with big boobs," he once said. "You know it's wrong but you can't keep away from her."
His other great hobby was painting, and his work was exhibited around the country.
A lot of his art was inspired by his Irish homeland, where he remained revered for his modest charm and embrace of original Gaelic values.
Date of Birth: 6 February 1922, Paddington, London, UK
Birth Name: Daniel Patrick Macnee
Nicknames: Patrick Macnee
Patrick Macnee was cast to perfection as the imperturbable secret agent John Steed in the 1960s television series The Avengers, he brought etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity to the part.
The programme began as unremarkable detective fare, with the raincoated Macnee playing second fiddle to Ian Hendry’s forensic surgeon. When Hendry left after the first season, Steed was pushed to the fore and Macnee threatened with the sack unless he breathed life into the character. Steed re-emerged as a lethal dandy, sporting boutonnière, sword-cane and curly-brimmed bowler. He was indubitably a gentleman and Macnee imbued the part with plenty of his own Etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity.The Avengers became an unlikely farrago of Aleister Crowley and P G Wodehouse, a mix of the surreal and the camp set in an England of village greens and stately homes that concealed murderous marriage bureaus, sinister vicars and scientists over-boiling the white heat of technology. Produced with considerable visual flair, it became synonymous with the “Swinging Sixties” and was one of the first British programmes to do well in America.
Much of its success and enduring appeal lay in its ironic subversion of the conventions of the spy genre. Steed was not averse to fisticuffs, but he had none of Bond’s sadism and he eschewed guns Macnee had experienced too much real violence during the Second World War. The programme was also novel in the status given to Steed’s female partners notably Honor Blackman as the steely Cathy Gale and Diana Rigg as the coolly kittenish Emma Peel. Brought up by women, Macnee was willing to let Steed’s leather-clad partners demonstrate their mental and physical equality. He also thrived on the playful sexual tension between the characters.
The Avengers ran between 1960 and 1969; a lame sequel made in the mid-1970s, The New Avengers, also featured Macnee, but only served to show how charming and how definitive had been his performance the first time round.
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born in London on February 6 1922. His mother, a niece of the 13th Earl of Huntingdon and a rather giddy socialite, went into labour at a party and Macnee never discovered from her whether she reached hospital or if he was born in a carriage half-way down the Bayswater Road.
The rest of his childhood was no less confused. His father was a racehorse trainer, a diminutive man known as “Shrimp” Macnee whose dapper wardrobe his son later recreated for Steed. He had a taste for gin and enlivened his dinner parties by levelling a shotgun at those guests he suspected of pacifist tendencies.
Macnee’s mother took refuge in a circle of friends that included Tallulah Bankhead and the madam Mrs Meyrick, before absconding with a wealthy lesbian, Evelyn. Young Patrick was brought up by the pair and was instructed to call Evelyn “Uncle”. He managed to resist their efforts to dress him as a girl, wearing a kilt as a compromise. His father fled to India, from where he was later expelled for urinating off a balcony on to the heads of the Raj’s elite, gathered below for a race-meeting.
Evelyn financed Macnee’s education, at Summer Fields where he first acted, playing opposite Christopher Lee and then Eton. His corruption began when he was introduced to whisky by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, who had escaped into the garden with a bottle when brought in to consecrate Evelyn’s private chapel. Macnee was then expelled from Eton for running a pornography and bookmaking empire.
He trained as an actor at the Webber-Douglas school and began to get some repertory work. Cast more for his looks than talent, he was due to play his first West End lead opposite Vivien Leigh when he received his call-up papers in 1942. He served in Motor Torpedo Boats until 1946, rising to lieutenant. He caught bronchitis shortly before D-Day; while in hospital his boat and crew were destroyed in action.
Macnee made his film debut in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in 1943, and after the war landed several other small parts, appearing as a courtier in Olivier’s Hamlet and The Elusive Pimpernel. The latter starred David Niven, whom he mistakenly claimed as a cousin and who consequently found him work. Yet by now he had a family to support, and when promised better roles by the embryonic Canadian Broadcasting Corporation moved to Toronto, while his wife and children remained behind. It was a decision he later bitterly regretted.
For the next eight years Macnee drifted across North America. His breezily crisp accent brought him regular stage and television work, though he also played a sheriff in the Western series Rawhide. He continued to attract the bizarre. Once he rescued some chimpanzees from a fire at an animal trainer’s ranch; while driving them to safety, one monkey clamped its hands over his eyes, almost causing his car to plunge into a ravine. In Toronto itself for The Importance of Being Earnest, he was forced by Dame Edith Evans to strap her to a stretcher and drag her through snow 10 feet deep to her hotel.
In 1960 he returned to England, his marriage over. He decided he was too old not to have a proper job, a conclusion reached when he came home to find he had been replaced in the affections of a much younger girlfriend by a French thief and his team of huskies.
He was producing a television documentary series based on Churchill’s history of the war, The Valiant Years, when he was cast in The Avengers, having literally bumped into the producer in Piccadilly. Although he was a more competent actor than he gave himself credit for, he was content in later years to stroll through a series of unmemorable roles. He believed he might have been offered better parts had he not rejected the lead in Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth when offered it in 1970. He later played the part on Broadway.
Among his less forgettable film appearances were as a record producer in the seminal rock spoof This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and as Bond’s chauffeur in A View To A Kill (1985). He retired to Palm Springs, California, and cheerfully took well-paid cameo roles in American television series, among them the sublimely dreadful Thunder In Paradise, a vehicle for the wrestler Hulk Hogan. In 1996 he appeared in a video for the rock group Oasis.
Macnee made considerable efforts to escape the constraints of his own character and Establishment image. He felt strongly that he had been socially and sexually confused by his upbringing and schooling and found America a less repressed environment; he became an active member of a nudist colony in the mid-1970s.
Although he remained outwardly chirpy and chivalrous, he was prone to depression and guilt, particularly over his infidelities and the severe asthmatic illness of his daughter, which he saw as a punishment for deserting his family for Canada. He also fought lengthy, and ultimately successful, battles against alcohol and mounting weight.
He published a candid autobiography, Blind In One Ear, in 1988.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1922, Belgravia, London, UK
Birth Name: Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
Nicknames: Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Lee defined the macabre for a generation of horror film enthusiasts with his chilling portrayals of Count Dracula; in a career that spanned more than half a century Lee played the sinister vampire no fewer than nine times in productions including Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
With his saturnine glamour and striking physique at a gaunt 6ft 4in he was a dominating physical presence with an aristocratic bearing, dark, penetrating eyes and a distinctive sepulchral voice Lee was an ideal candidate to play the bloodsucking Count. “Dracula is a very attractive character,” he insisted, “he’s so heroic erotic too. Women find him irresistible. We’d all like to be him.”
After almost 20 years of playing Dracula, Lee eventually tired of the role. He moved to the United States where he enjoyed a lucrative career in both films and made-for-television mini-series such as The Far Pavilions and Shaka Zulu. While in America, Lee resisted all offers of parts in soap operas including Dallas and Dynasty.
After decades in the film industry, Lee remained as eager as ever to take on new roles. At one point in his early seventies he appeared in 12 different films within 14 months. “I get restless and frustrated if I don’t work,” he explained. “I like a continual challenge.” In his eighties he gained a new audience, bringing sulphurous intensity to the role of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings films.
Lee’s one regret, he maintained, was his decision not to become an opera singer. “I was born with the gift of a very good voice,” he said, “and I have been asked to sing in various concerts but I’m too old now.” Late in life, however, he was persuaded to lend his rich bass tones as a narrator to various heavy metal records including those of the symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire. In 2010 he released an album of his own, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, followed two years later by Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27 1922 in Belgravia, London, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope-Lee of the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Lee’s father had fought in both the Boer and Great Wars and had later married an Italian contessa, Estelle Maria Carandini, a descendant of the Borgias whose parents had founded the first Australian opera company. Among Lee’s stories of his early life he claimed that his father was descended from a band of gypsies in Hampshire and that his mother was descended from Charlemagne.
Christopher’s parents were divorced when he was four and his mother remarried. Lee grew up in his stepfather’s house, where he was waited on by a staff of five (a butler, two footmen, a chauffeur and a cook). He attended Wagner’s in Queensgate and Summerfields, and sat for a scholarship to Eton before being sent to the more affordable Wellington College where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar.
Fluent in Italian and French, in later life Lee added Spanish, German, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Greek to his repertoire. When his alcoholic stepfather was bankrupted in 1938 Christopher was forced to leave school at 17 in order to find work. For the next 12 months he worked as a city messenger, licking stamps and making tea for a wage of £1 a week.
When the Second World War broke out, Lee joined the RAF and was promoted to flight lieutenant. He won six campaign medals, was mentioned in despatches and received decorations from Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. He also worked for British Intelligence. “Serving in the Armed Forces was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he insisted. “I did not know how other people lived.”
After the war, Lee served with the Central Registry of War Crimes, work that took him to concentration camps including Dachau, but when he was demobbed at the age of 24, he remained undecided about which career to pursue. He toyed with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, opera singer and diplomat before his cousin (at that time the Italian ambassador to the Court of St James) suggested he try acting.
Greatly against his mother’s wishes (“Just think of all the appalling people you’ll meet!” she warned him) Lee met the Italian head of Two Cities Films, part of the J Arthur Rank Organisation, signed a seven-year contract, and joined the Rank Company of Youth (otherwise known as the Rank Charm School) in 1946. He made his film debut with a bit part in Corridor of Mirrors (1948).
A succession of “walk-on” parts ensued until, in 1951, he appeared in a speaking part as a swarthy Spanish sea captain in Captain Horatio Hornblower RN. It was one of Lee’s last films for Two Cities and when his contract ran out neither he nor the Rank Organisation were eager to renew it. Instead Lee accepted roles in a television series made in Britain but shown first in America Douglas Fairbanks Presents, appearing in some 40 half-hour productions.
After a series of military film roles in the mid-1950s, including a lieutenant in Innocents in Paris (1953), a submarine commander in The Cockleshell Heroes and a captain in That Lady (both 1955), Lee landed his first horror role for Hammer Films. He played the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), a part which required him to be coated in artificial gangrene and which left him looking, in his opinion, “like a road accident”.
Described as “the first gothic horror film made by Hammer”, The Curse of Frankenstein was graphic in its depiction of large quantities of gore. The film was extremely popular and Lee, playing opposite the studio’s resident star Peter Cushing, was enormously successful as the monster. Realising that a film about Bram Stoker’s vampiric Transylvanian nobleman might prove equally successful, a Hammer executive, James Carreras, offered Lee the role of the Count in their next production, Dracula.
The film proved to be one of the seminal horror movies of the 1950s. Lee looked the part (tall and thin, as in Stoker’s novel) and imbued the character with a dynamic, feral quality that had been lacking in earlier portrayals. With his bloody fangs and bright red eyes ablaze, Lee made a frighteningly believable vampire. In contrast with Bela Lugosi’s eerie, somnambulistic count of the 1930s, Lee spoke his lines with crisp assurance and tried to portray what he described as “the essence of nobility, ferocity and sadness”.
With Cushing cast this time as the vampire hunter, Dracula (retitled Horror of Dracula in America) was a box-office success for Hammer and horror aficionados at the time labelled it “the greatest horror movie ever made”. Lee also regarded it as the best of the series of Dracula films which he made with Hammer. “It’s the only one I’ve done that’s any good,” he recalled. “It’s the only one that remotely resembles the book.”
With the success of his portrayal of the Count, Lee treated himself to a grey, second-hand Mercedes and became established as a horror star for the first time. He was swamped with offers of film roles and took leading parts in several films throughout the late 1950s.
In productions such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy (all 1959), Lee played characters ranging from Sir Henry Baskerville to a 2,000-year-old corpse. He later claimed that the make-up for The Mummy was so uncomfortable that he swore never to submit to special effects again. The exceptions were the essential red contact lenses for his appearances as Dracula. Lee found the lenses excruciatingly painful but, as he had worn them in the first film, continuity demanded that he wear them in all subsequent productions.
Lee continued to be in demand throughout the 1950s and 1960s, starring in more than 20 films in only six years. Although he accepted some unlikely projects (including The Terror of the Tongs and The Devil’s Daffodil, both in 1961), he was also able to make films in which he had a personal interest. He had long wanted to play the Chinese arch-villain Fu Manchu and in 1965 he was offered the title role in The Face of Fu Manchu. The film was so popular that a series of four more were filmed, including Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1968). After roles in horror films such as Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors and The Skull (both 1965), Lee returned to his earlier incarnation in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
He was less happy with this second film. He had become too expensive a star for the Hammer studios, and in a cost-cutting measure his scenes were kept to a minimum and remained devoid of dialogue. Lee was reduced to making a soft hissing noise which drew laughter from audiences when the film was screened. He enjoyed more success with the lead in Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966). Although the film was badly flawed, Lee was convincing in the title role.
After The Devil Rides Out (1968), a suspenseful adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel with Lee as an aristocrat in pursuit of devil-worshippers, he returned to the role of Dracula in Dracula has Risen from the Grave, on the understanding that he would have well-scripted dialogue. The film made more money than previous Hammer productions and Lee was persuaded to appear in the 1970 project, Scars of Dracula. But he had by this time become disenchanted with the role. He feared he was being typecast and that the quality of scriptwriting had deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
Nevertheless Hammer were eager to continue with Lee as their horror star and persuaded him to make two more Dracula films that year. After rapidly completing Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Magic Christian, Lee devoted himself to non-vampire roles for a period.
Later in 1970 he played Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (“so commandingly good,” reported The Sunday Telegraph, “that this must surely be the end of shabby Draculas for him”) and followed it with a tiny appearance as Artemidorus in Julius Caesar in 1971. After four more Dracula films, including a modern interpretation titled Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula the year after, Lee was increasingly unhappy with the manner in which the character was being portrayed. “It’s ridiculous,” he complained, “you can’t have Dracula in a modern office block, it completely undermines the original idea.”
Taking another break from the Count, Lee appeared in one of his favourite films, The Wicker Man (1973), playing a Scots laird who practises human sacrifice in the 20th century. He then went on to play the evil one-eyed Comte de Rochefort in both The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) before appearing in his first Bond film as the assassin Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (also 1974). Lee was finally persuaded to make one more Dracula-style film in the 1970s, Dracula Père et Fils (1976), before giving up the role for good.
Despite his physical likeness to the Count, Lee’s affinity with his baleful character stopped there. Throughout his career he had a reputation for being a long-winded raconteur whose reminiscences tended to focus on himself. In 1976, when Lee left Britain for the US, the move prompted an acquaintance to joke that “the population of Los Angeles were dusting out their bomb shelters in anticipation of a barrage of anecdotes”. According to another account, on one occasion an actress got off an aircraft looking ashen and exhausted. Questioned about her health by airport staff, she explained that she had been seated next to Lee and that he had not stopped talking about himself during the 10-hour flight.
Through the late 1970s, Lee continued to make films at a prodigious rate, appearing in 10 in two years. He accepted roles as diverse as Captain Rameses in the science fiction film Starship Invasions (1977) and that of the head gypsy in the Second World War drama The Passage (1979).
In the 1980s, Lee combined his film career with a return to television, appearing in mini-series including Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982) and The Far Pavilions (1984). In 1985 he suffered a heart attack, returned to London and underwent heart surgery. Instead of seeing this as a signal to retire, Lee was back at work within a year and had returned to the horror genre for the dreadful The Howling II (1986), subtitled Your Sister is a Werewolf in America.
Although Lee continued to work prolifically throughout his life, he never again enjoyed the same success as when playing Dracula. He made some fatuous comedies in the mid-1980s such as Rosebud Beach Hotel (1985) and Jocks (1986), and continued into the 1990s with a starring role in the spoof horror film Gremlins II The New Batch.
He starred in the title role of Jinnah soon after the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan in 1997, and was Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002). He returned to the same role in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and was the wizard Saruman in two of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films (2001-2002), in two of his Hobbit series (2012-14) and in various video games.
With Uma Thurman, Lee was due to appear as a retired surgeon in The 11th, a film about the lead-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, to be shot this autumn.
Reflecting near the end of his life about the role of Dracula, Lee said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about me in that role. It had never been played properly before that. With me it was all about the power of suggestion to make the unbelievable believable.”
He published two volumes of autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1977) reissued as Lord of Misrule (1997) and was appointed CBE in 2001. He was knighted in 2009 and made a fellow of Bafta in 2011.
Date of Birth: 29 September 1964, Islington, North London, UK
Birth Name: Terry Sue-Patt
Terry Sue-Patt was a former child actor and star of the long-running BBC children’s television drama Grange Hill, in which he played Benny Green between 1978 and 1982; he appeared in almost 30 episodes of the series which was set in a comprehensive school in the fictional London borough of Northam and became one of its best-loved characters.
The small and somewhat vulnerable-looking Benny was the first child to make an appearance in the first episode of Grange Hill when he let himself in through the school gates and was caught kicking a football against a wall by an irate caretaker. But Benny was not one of the chief trouble-makers in the show; generally his role was that of the anxious side-kick to the mischievous Tucker Jenkins (played by Todd Carty, who has since gone on to a successful acting career in adulthood). Their various scrapes were the basis of many of the storylines, and prompted, on more than one occasion, the hapless Benny to exclaim: “Flippin’ ’eck, Tucker!”
During Sue-Patt’s time with Grange Hill (created by Phil Redmond, who also wrote and produced Brookside and Hollyoaks), the series tackled the problems faced by a group of pupils growing up in the capital in the late 1970s and early 1980s with a candour hitherto unseen on children’s television. It was regarded as controversial viewing by some parents with its frank approach to issues involving bullying, racism, teenage pregnancy and drugs. Mary Whitehouse spoke out vigorously against it, deeming the series “quite unacceptable for family viewing”. The social and political messages brought it media attention, but it was the day-to-day life of the characters football in the playground, lining up for disgusting school dinners and escaping the clutches of the bullying and self-righteous PE teacher “Bullet” Baxter which attracted Grange Hill’s young viewers. They came to regard Sue-Patt and his on-screen contemporaries with almost as much affection as their own schoolmates.
Terry Sue-Patt was born on September 29 1964 in Islington, north London, one of six children of African parents. He was educated at Sir William Collins Comprehensive School, and was also a pupil at the Anna Scher Theatre School.
Terry’s early acting experience included small parts in various Children’s Film Foundation productions, and in 1978 he landed the role of Benny after being spotted by a talent scout while playing football in a park. He went on to appear in General Hospital for ATV and the BBC’s Jackanory. In 1990 he played a gunman in the Channel 4 sitcom Desmond’s, and during the 1990s he appeared in the BBC Schools programme Scene. He also played Yusef in The Firm (1989), directed by Alan Clarke.
Grange Hill aired for 30 years until 2008 when it was felt that the show had run its course.
Latterly, Sue-Patt worked as an artist and photographer and exhibited his work which was influenced by graffiti and by artists such as Basquiat, Gilbert and George and Picasso in London galleries.
In 1989 Sue-Patt’s brother, Michael, was killed in a car crash. Terry Sue-Patt was sitting in the passenger seat next to him at the time of the accident and he subsequently struggled in his recovery.
Date of Birth: 12 November 1943, Kingston, Jamaica
Birth Name: Lester Errol Brown
Nicknames: Errol Brown
Errol Brown was the lead singer of Hot Chocolate, the British soul band best known for the 1975 disco anthem You Sexy Thing; the group’s funky and harmonious sound was defined by Brown’s seductive voice and charismatic stage presence.
Bald-headed and slinky-hipped, Brown was a master of the art of the come-hither look (and gently come-hither lyrics) but when he originally wrote You Sexy Thing it was intended to be a B-side for Hot Chocolate’s single Blue Night. The band’s producer, Mickie Most, remixed the song several months later and it became an instant hit, reaching No 2 in the British charts and No 3 in America. It was, Brown later recalled, “a joyous song. I remember when I thought of the title I had a shiver go through me. Because it was such a nice way of using sex in a title without it being crude.”
In 1997 the track underwent a renaissance when it featured in the film The Full Monty, which told the story of six unemployed steel-workers from Sheffield who decide to form a striptease act. The scene in which the actor Robert Carlyle grinds his hips to You Sexy Thing attracted a new generation of fans and gave Brown’s career a major boost.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said, “it relaunched my career and took me back into the Top 10. Then at my first gig in Scotland shortly after its release I was rushed on stage by about a hundred screaming girls it was like the old days. I played more gigs the year after the film than I’d ever previously done over a 12-month period.”
In 2005, buoyed up by the renewed adulation, Brown released an album titled Still Sexy. The promotional video for the single, Still Sexy (Yes U Are), showed a still dapper Brown, impeccably dressed in a grey silk suit and grooving in the back of a limousine with two attractive young women, while You Sexy Thing played in the background.
“You Sexy Thing is a hook that’ll last for decades and decades,” he explained, “because it’s such a nice, pleasant thing to say to somebody.”
Lester Errol Brown was born on November 12 1943 in Kingston, Jamaica, where he spent his early childhood before his mother brought the family to London. When he was in his early teens his mother took him out of secondary modern school to attend a private school, where, as he later recalled, “everyone there was very wealthy and I came to appreciate good clothes and good food. You could say I was a teenage yuppy”.
At this stage, Brown showed very little interest in the music business, although he liked singing. He preferred the prospect of a proper job with a regular payslip and for a time did temporary clerical work at the Treasury, which he found unrewarding.
In his early twenties he met and became friends with Tony Wilson, a Trinidad-born musician, who suggested they should try writing music together. “Tony and I used to go out 10-pin bowling,” Brown recalled, “and while driving I’d start to sing. When asked what I was singing, I’d tell him it was just a tune I had in my head. This happened a few times and Tony suggested I try writing songs with him so we did and that’s how I got into songwriting.”
Brown could not play the guitar at this point, but he soon picked it up and within six months he and Wilson had cut a demo of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, performed in a reggae rhythm. He sent the tape to the Beatles’ label, Apple, and Lennon signed the pair called The Hot Chocolate Band virtually on the spot.
Their recording of Give Peace a Chance failed to make any impact on the charts, but the next single, Love is Life, proved more fruitful. Brown’s verve, flair and musical imagination were essential to the band’s success. He refused to be pigeonholed as a black musician, preferring his music to reflect the multi-racial mixture of West Indian and British influences in his cultural background. To this end he included strings and a rock guitarist in the band.
“It was never my intention to make black music,” he said. “I just wanted to make music. You have to understand, the only reason I’ve survived so long is because I make music that’s true to me… I’m influenced by all the things I listened to growing up and that’s what comes out in my music.”
The Hot Chocolate Band was quickly taken over by the British record producer Mickie Most and his Rak Records label. Most, who had a sharp ear for a hit, had been responsible for acts including The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Lulu and Suzi Quatro. The first thing he did was to shorten the name of Brown’s group to the snappier “Hot Chocolate”. Under Most’s tutelage the band for most of its life a five-piece led by Brown, with his distinctive shiny shaved head became a regular fixture in the UK Top 40 through the disco era of the mid-1970s, with Brown and Wilson writing most of the songs.
Harvie Hinsley was taken on in 1970 and the principal other members were Tony Connor, Larry Ferguson and Patrick Olive. Love is Life reached No 6 in Britain in September 1970. You Could Have Been a Lady fared less well, then I Believe (in Love) entered the Top 10.
All in all Hot Chocolate recorded more than 20 hits at a rate of roughly one a year, among them Every One’s A Winner, It Started With A Kiss, No Doubt About It and So You Win Again, a soulful, funky ballad which was, in 1977, the band’s only No 1.
By the early 1980s Hot Chocolate had become a treasured part of British culture: as an indicator of their status, they were invited to perform at a reception in 1981 at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the imminent marriage of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. Three of their singles reached the charts in the mid-1980s: No Doubt About It, Are You Getting Enough Happiness? and Love Me to Sleep.
By now, however, there were worrying signs of friction between band members. “We took everything pretty lightly for 12 years,” Brown recalled, “but at the end of the day, the laughter turned into animosity.” In 1987 he went solo for WEA Records.
He continued touring in later life and enjoyed the fruits of his fame, claiming to have made £2 million from You Sexy Thing before The Full Monty and the same after it. He voted Conservative, took up golf he was a member of Loch Lomond Golf Club and owned National Hunt horses, including Gainsay, trained by Jenny Pitman.
Errol Brown was appointed MBE in 2003.
Date of Birth: 17 February 1930, South Woodford, East London, UK
Birth Name: Ruth Barbara Grasemann
Nicknames: Ruth Rendell - Baroness Rendell of Babergh
Baroness Rendell of Babergh, the novelist Ruth Rendell, was one of Britain’s best-selling celebrity crime writers.
She revitalised the mystery genre to reflect post-war social changes and wove into more than 60 books such contemporary issues as domestic violence, transvestism, paedophilia and sexual frustration. Her Inspector Wexford mysteries became an extremely popular television fixture in the 1990s.
Her work, mapping the manic and malevolent extremes of human behaviour, was distinguished by terse yet elegant prose and sharp psychological insights, as well as a talent for creating deft and intricate plots and believable characters.
With her friend and fellow crime writer PD James with whom she shared the accolade of "Britain’s Queen of Crime" (which she detested) Ruth Rendell redefined the “whodunnit” genre, fashioning it into more of a “whydunnit”.
But unlike the conservative Lady James, Rendell was politically to the Left and professionally far more prolific; she completed more than 50 novels under her own name and 14 writing as Barbara Vine, as well as two novellas and more than a dozen collections of short stories.
She remodelled the traditional detective story to explore what she considered to be the complex social causes of crime. Her books were largely gore-free, focusing instead on the unsettling details of ordinary madness. Ruth Rendell’s characters often lived on the margins of society and sanity; a recurring theme was how they integrated into their communities and how society controlled the quiet threat they could pose.
Ruth Rendell represented the bridge between the golden age of crime fiction, the formulas of Agatha Christie and her heirs and successors, and a new, more urban style. Even so, some critics took her to task for a perceived failure to keep up with the times. For her own part she insisted that she always strove to give a picture of contemporary life. “I try to be very, very aware of all sorts of changes in society, because people do tend to write the same book set in the time when they first started to write.” She kept ahead of the curve by being a good eavesdropper, and by walking everywhere instead of travelling by car, “a very good way of seeing things and people and hearing what they say”.
A small, neat woman with dark, intense eyes and a faintly disquieting air, she seldom allowed her privacy to be violated and when, reluctantly, she gave book-plugging interviews, she tended to be edgy and brusque. A staunch Labour supporter “I am very much of the Left,” she insisted she was active in CND in the 1980s before mellowing into a Christian socialist, although even her later novels betray a deep-rooted pessimism.
Sex was an abiding theme in her work; she considered it one of the most interesting things in life “and it’s grotesque the way some writers shy away from it”. She invariably took a liberal line: the murderer in her very first book was a lesbian with whom Wexford was sympathetic by the end of the novel.
Ruth Rendell herself was a lifelong feminist; her early novels feature women trapped in oppressive domestic settings. “I think if you’re a woman, you are naturally a feminist,” she once explained. “Unless you’re hiding something.”
She was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann on February 17 1930 at South Woodford in suburban east London. Her parents were teachers, and she was their only child. The marriage was unhappy, and her Swedish mother fell ill with multiple sclerosis and died while Ruth was still very young. She was raised by the family housekeeper at Loughton in Essex, where she attended the County High School for Girls. Ruth often spent Christmas and other holidays in Scandinavia, and learned both Swedish and Danish. Her upbringing, she said, was coloured by a sense of being on the outside.
Leaving school at 18, she determined not to become a teacher. Her first job was as a reporter on the Chigwell Times, but she was sacked after covering the annual dinner of the local tennis club by writing it up in advance in order to meet a deadline; her report made it into the paper, but overlooked the fact that, on the night, the chairman had dropped dead in the middle of his after-dinner speech.
In 1950, when she was 20, she married Donald Rendell, a fellow reporter whom she met at an inquest; he later became a financial journalist on the Daily Mail. The couple were together for a quarter of a century, until they divorced in 1975, only to remarry each other two years later. Having nursed her husband through his final illness, Ruth Rendell was badly affected by his death in 1999, but picked up her writing again, viewing her work as “a very separate world” from her personal trials.
Seized at a young age by a compulsion to make up stories, at 23 she began to experiment with different styles and genres. She completed at least six unpublished novels before the ingenious From Doon With Death (1964), her first published mystery featuring her enduring and popular yeoman detective (later Chief) Inspector Reginald Wexford, which was bought by the publisher John Long for £75. The Wexford books are traditional crime stories set in the fictional mid-Sussex town of Kingsmarkham, and if there was a certain sameness about them, more marked as Ruth Rendell’s interest in the orthodox detective yarn waned, she always sought to compensate by applying an unerringly astute eye and ear to the sights and sounds of life in middle England.
Indeed, Wexford himself “born at the age of 52” as she readily admitted is every inch the middling sort, old-fashioned and decent; in almost half a century striding through Ruth Rendell’s pages, her hero remained the eternal stalwart, clever, shrewd, engaged, always up-to-date. Ruth Rendell claimed that the character “has a bit of my father, a bit of me”. In Wexford, the crime novelist and critic Frances Fyfield noted, Rendell had created “a singular everyman. He regrets; he accepts.” In one of Wexford’s last cases, End in Tears (2005), he was old and tetchy but infinitely more tolerant.
In 1988, the Inspector Wexford series introduced Ruth Rendell’s work to a huge new audience of television viewers. The series starred George Baker in the title role and Louie Ramsay as his wife Dora.
Although her Wexford police procedurals and the television spin-offs represented her best-known work, Ruth Rendell herself preferred her second genre, a series of gruelling and violent psychological thrillers that explored crimes springing from some sexual or social obsession that was often rooted in childhood mistreatment or misfortune.
She admitted to having read Freud and Jung but not much criminology, and remarked that she often felt the imminence of personal disaster. “It is a neurotic state,” Ruth Rendell conceded. “I wish I didn’t have it. I have it.” Many of her characters have it too, and these neuroses splinter up in her books as a personality flaw leading to violence when subjected to emotional stress.
A Demon in My View (1976) and A Judgement in Stone (1977) are rated the best of her early stories about the psychology of killers. There were two less successful attempts, in A House of Stairs (1988) and Gallowglass (1990), but she found her form again in The Bridesmaid (1989), with its terrifying account of a doomed love affair. Other titles in this Rendell genre include The Killing Doll (1984), Live Flesh (1986) which was filmed by Pedro Almodóvar in 1997 Talking to Strange Men (1987), Going Wrong (1990) and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me (2001).
In the mid-1980s, under her pseudonym Barbara Vine (her middle name and her great-grandmother’s maiden name), Ruth Rendell created a third and wholly individual strand of literary noir with the publication of A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986). Together with A Fatal Inversion (1987), they were hailed by the veteran crime buff Julian Symons as “among the most memorable and original crime stories of the [20th] century”, constructed “with a cunning Wilkie Collins might have envied and Dickens would have admired”.
Although these and other titles such as King Solomon’s Carpet (1991) and Asta’s Book (1993) cover the same territory as her psychological suspense novels, they develop further Rendell’s recurring themes of family misunderstandings and the side effects of secrets kept and crimes committed. “They are about ordinary people,” she explained, “who are pushed over the edge.” Her 24th and last Wexford mystery, No Man’s Nightingale (2013) was followed a year later by her final stand-alone novel, The Girl Next Door.
Ruth Rendell is three fine writers, Julian Symons declared, but the best of them is Barbara Vine. Other critics, however, suggested that, as Vine, Rendell was more subtle, less black. “The Vine books are less violent,” she acknowledged, “and they lack the frightening qualities of the suspense books.”
An organised, businesslike writer, Ruth Rendell would arrive at the word processor and her tidy desk at 8.30 each morning already knowing “pretty much” what she was going to say. On a good day, she would write 2,500 words, on a bad day 500: there were very few bad days. The technicalities of writing fascinated her. She had a great facility for the right choice of viewpoint, and could shunt her stories back and forth in time: flashbacks, what she called her “great leap backwards”, were her stock-in-trade.
While she considered Agatha Christie to have been a bad writer, Ruth Rendell recognised that for many of Christie’s readers, her detective stories offered an escape from reality. She was at a loss to understand why some people found her own books depressing: “Bad things happen to good people,” she once explained. “Who wouldn’t want to write like PG Wodehouse? To be so light and blithe would be wonderful. But unfortunately, it’s not how things are, or what I’m like.”
She found it hard to relax, but when she did she read modern and Victorian novelists, although she was never herself a keen reader of crime. Indeed, she readily admitted to being not much interested in crime or criminals, and was perfectly content to confirm that she had never actually met one. She never researched. “Oh no,” she said, “I make it all up.”
A millionairess several times over, Ruth Rendell was remarkably generous with her phenomenal success. She donated about £100,000 a year to charities including the Royal National Institute for the Blind, but never bought flags in the street or gave to people at the door.
She divided her time between a London house in Little Venice and, at one time, a pink 16th-century cottage near Polstead in Suffolk, where she did most of her writing.
Ruth Rendell received many awards, including a clutch of Silver, Gold and Diamond Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association and three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America.
She was appointed CBE in 1996 and created a Labour life peer the following year, choosing polar bears her favourite animals for her coat of arms. In 2008 she admitted to having had a relationship with an unnamed politician in widowhood, but declined to elaborate.
Date of Birth: 28 September 1938, North Carolina, US
Birth Name: Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson
Nicknames: Ben E King, Ben Nelson
Ben E King was one of the senior figures of soul music, having made his mark in the 1960s first as the lead singer of the Drifters and later with solo hits such as Spanish Harlem and, pre-eminently, Stand By Me.
The Drifters originally enjoyed considerable success in the mid-1950s when led by Clyde McPhatter, but after he left the band their fortunes declined and the remaining members fell out with their manager, George Treadwell, the former husband of Sarah Vaughan the jazz singer. In 1958, Treadwell, who owned the rights to the group’s name, abruptly sacked the entire line-up and replaced them with an up-and-coming outfit named the Five Crowns, one of whom was King.
The new Drifters toured for a year to a poor reception from audiences loyal to the earlier group, but their fortunes changed in mid-1959 when they recorded a song co-written and sung by King, There Goes My Baby. Produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it was the first R&B track to feature orchestration, and reached No 2 in the Hot 100. Its sophisticated, Latin sound became the group’s signature and propelled them to renewed popularity.
Other hits quickly followed, notably Save The Last Dance For Me, but then in 1960 King quarrelled with Treadwell over an increase in pay his contract gave him only £64.19 a week, however many concerts the band did, and no share of record royalties. He, too, therefore, left the Drifters and was replaced by Rudy Lewis, who went on to sing on the group’s later hits, including Up On The Roof and On Broadway. (Lewis, however, choked to death on the morning that they were due to record perhaps their best-remembered song, Under the Boardwalk, and had to be replaced by former member Johnny Moore.)
Having gone it alone, King teamed up again with Leiber and Stoller and in one afternoon recorded both the songs that were to be the cornerstone of the remainder of his career. Spanish Harlem, co-produced by Phil Spector, reached No 10 in the British charts (which were always receptive to King’s clear baritone) in March 1961.
Three months later he released Stand By Me. “It’s a love song, it’s a friendship song, it’s a song where you promise anybody in need to do anything you can to help,” King said. It reached No 4 in America.
Both songs helped to steer R&B away from its blues roots towards a more pop sound, and served as a template for the later work of both Spector and Motown, whose stars were soon to replace King in the public’s fickle affections.
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, North Carolina, on September 28 1938. His first exposure to music was in a church choir, but in 1947 his family moved to Harlem, where he soon began singing doo-wop on street corners with three friends from school. They called themselves the Four Bs for Ben, Billy, Billy and Bobby. King later married Betty, the sister of Billy and Bobby.
After he did well in a talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Ben Nelson (as he was called until he began his solo career) was offered a place in the Moonglows, a well-known group of the time, but he found the pressure too great and returned to working in his father’s restaurant. There he was spotted singing by the manager of the Five Crowns, and persuaded to return to the stage.
Following his heyday in the early Sixties, King’s star gradually declined, with Don’t Play That Song (1962) being his last substantial hit in America, although his two best-known numbers were revived with great success in the 1970s, first by Aretha Franklin, who took Spanish Harlem to No 2 in the US chart, and then by John Lennon, who covered Stand By Me in 1975.
By that time King had been reduced to playing the veterans circuit (and to appearing on the Genesis LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and it was while performing in a Miami hotel that he was spotted by Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic, his former record label. Ertegun was impressed once more by King’s voice, re-signed him, and helped him to score a Top 5 hit in the disco era with Supernatural Thing Part 1 (1975).This revival of King’s career proved to be short-lived, however, and he had to wait another decade until he once more returned to the limelight.
This came courtesy of the use of Stand By Me as the theme song to Rob Reiner’s 1986 film of the same name (based on a coming-of-age story by Stephen King). When the song was re-released that year, the single reached No 9 in the American charts, 25 years after its first placing there.
The track did even better in Britain the following year when it was used in a Levi’s television commercial, on the back of which it climbed to No 1 and exposed a generation of teenagers to classic American soul. Its success led to King recording a series of LPs in the 1990s, although there proved to be little demand for them.
Nevertheless, he continued to tour regularly, occasionally with various versions of the Drifters, finding a steady audience for his highly polished renditions of some of pop’s finest moments.
Date of Birth: 21 September 1947, Lyndhurst, Hampshire. UK
Birth Name: Keith Shenton Harris
Nicknames: Keith Harris
The ventriloquist Keith Harris, designed and made more than 100 dummies during his career, but was most famous for creating Orville, the green duck who spoke in a high-pitched voice and wore a nappy held on by a gigantic safety pin. Such was his fame at a time when variety acts were the staple diet of many television programmes that he had his own Saturday evening series, The Keith Harris Show (1982-86).
His 1982 Christmas single Orville’s Song, opening with the wistful “I wish I could fly…”, reached No 4 in the charts and sold more than 400,000 copies. Harris’s other memorable character was Cuddles, a blunt-speaking orange monkey with a blue face who shouted: “I hate that duck!”
The ventriloquist once said: “I’m the best there is, technically. You can’t see my lips move. People don’t appreciate the cleverness of it.” But despite his success, Harris claimed last year that being dyslexic had caused him to lose millions of pounds because he was unable to read contracts properly. He said he had been labelled “thick” at school and that friends had read out the lines of scripts that he needed to memorise. With the demise of variety on TV, he became depressed, drank heavily and received a two-year ban for drink-driving but fought back to continue his stage and television career.
Harris was born in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, the son of Norman, a singer, comedian and ventriloquist, and Lilian (nee Simmons), a dancer. Growing up in Chester and attending the city’s secondary modern school, he was taught ventriloquism by his father, with whom he performed a double act in working-men’s clubs. The boy, as a pretend puppet called Isaiah “because one eye’s higher than the other” would sit on his father’s knee as both sang Sonny Boy.
From the age of 14, he developed his own act and began creating characters. Among the first dummies were Percy Picktooth the rabbit and Freddie the frog. A summer season at Rhyl, Denbighshire, in 1964 was followed by further work in variety, cabaret, overseas tours and pantomime, including his own production of Humpty Dumpty. He made his TV debut in Let’s Laugh (1965).
Some green fur left lying around while he was performing with the Black and White Minstrels on stage in Bristol gave Harris the idea for “a little bird that was green and ugly and thought he wasn’t loved”. Orville, named after the pioneering American aviator Orville Wright and insured for £100,000, was born, and appeared on dozens of programmes, alongside stars including Ronnie Corbett and Val Doonican.
Harris’s children’s series The Quack Chat Show (1989-90) finished as television was turning away from variety acts, so Harris switched to performing summer seasons at Butlin’s holiday camps. He also opened, in Blackpool and Portugal, clubs whose failure led him to declare himself bankrupt twice.
Appearances on Harry Hill and Louis Theroux’s TV shows, a 2004 detergent commercial, and a part in Peter Kay’s video of the Tony Christie hit (Is This the Way to) Amarillo (2005), established a new cult status for Harris and Orville and triggered a small comeback. The pair even won the reality show The Farm in 2005 and were cast in the drama series Ashes to Ashes (2009) and Shameless (2011). Harris also found new audiences by performing for the Big Brother housemates in 2012 and touring student union venues with Duck Off, a show whose adult humour contrasted with his previously child-friendly act. However, he refused to play a racist version of himself in the Ricky Gervais sitcom Extras.
Diagnosed with cancer in 2013, Harris returned to the stage after surgery and underwent a bone marrow transplant, but the cancer spread to his liver.
Date of Birth: 26 July 1926, Powderly, Kentucky, US
Birth Name: Jewel Franklin Guy
Nicknames: James Best
James Best was best known for his performance as Rosco P Coltrane, the childishly inept sheriff in the American television series The Dukes of Hazzard, which was a fixture of Saturday afternoons on the BBC during the early 1980s.
The role of Sheriff Coltrane probably did not do justice to Best’s talents as a serious actor, but the character with his rustic accent, high-pitched cackle and pet basset hound, Flash was well-loved by fans of the show. The highly formulaic plots typically featured Coltrane as the accomplice and comic foil of the show’s pantomime villain, the fat and avaricious county commissioner Boss Hogg.
Hogg’s criminal schemes brought him into conflict with the Duke family of good-natured country bumpkins Bo and Luke, their attractive cousin Daisy (known for her “short shorts” and played by Catherine Bach) and uncle Jesse giving a pretext for interminable car chases filmed in rural locations in Georgia and latterly in California.
The son of a Kentucky coal miner, James Best was born Jewel Franklin Guy in humble circumstances at Powderly, a settlement south of Nashville, on July 26 1926. He was the youngest of nine siblings, and the Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, were cousins. His mother died in 1929 and when his father struggled to support the family he spent time in an orphanage before being adopted, and renamed, by Esse and Armen Best, who brought him up at Corydon, Indiana.
Best began acting while stationed with the military police in Wiesbaden after the war, taking his first role, as a drunk, in My Sister Eileen, a play directed by Arthur Penn, later a leading Hollywood figure.
On his return to the US Best joined touring stock companies before being put under contract by Universal in 1949. Through the 1950s and 1960s he turned up in supporting roles in television series such as The Virginian, Wagon Train, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and The Andy Griffith Show. He also appeared in a number of films, including three notable westerns starring James Stewart, Winchester ’73 (1950), Shenandoah (1965), set during the Civil War, and Firecreek (1968). In The Left Handed Gun (1958), with Paul Newman, Best was reunited with the director Arthur Penn, making his debut as a feature film director.
In early 1979 Best appeared in the pilot episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, “One-Armed Bandits”. He enjoyed working on the show and formed a close bond with Sorrell Booke, the actor who played Boss Hogg; many of their scenes were improvised. The series ran until 1985, gaining large audiences in both Britain and America, with a film spinoff in 2005 and regular jamborees reuniting the cast members. However, Best fell out with the producers Time Warner reaching an undisclosed settlement over what he felt was his inadequate share of the multi-million dollar profits.
Best developed a sideline in teaching the technique of film acting; he had posts at the University of Mississippi in the 1970s and, some years later, at the University of Central Florida.
He continued working into old age. In Return of the Killer Shrews (2012) a remake of The Killer Shrews, a 1959 B-movie in which he had starred he played a ship’s captain hired by a reality television show to deliver passengers to an island populated by giant mutant shrews.
He wrote a play, Hell Bent for Good Times, a comedy about a family living through the Depression, and published a memoir, Best in Hollywood: The God, the Bad and the Beautiful (2009). James Best retired to Hickory, North Carolina, where he spent happy hours fishing on the lake.
Date of Birth: 26 March 1931, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Birth Name: Leonard Simon Nimoy
Nicknames: Leonard Nimoy
Few actors outside soap opera become defined by a single role to the exclusion of all else in their career. But that was the case for Leonard Nimoy, who has died aged 83. He did not simply play Mr Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek he was synonymous with him, even after taking on other parts and branching out into directing and photography.
Star Trek began life on television, running for three series between 1966 and 1969, and later spawned numerous spin-offs, including a run of films of varying quality, two of which (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from 1984, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from 1986) Nimoy directed. “I’m very proud of having been connected with the show,” he wrote in 1975. “I felt that it dealt with morality and philosophical questions in a way that many of us would wish were part of the reality of our lives.”
In front of the camera, as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock, he captured with delicious wit the tensions in the character. Spock’s logical, detached perspective could be infuriating to his more demonstrative colleagues; it also caused him to be amused or bewildered by the workings of humans. This could play out humorously or poignantly. He was uniquely placed, for example, to analyse coolly our emotional shortcomings: “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want,” he mused in the first series. His dry rapport with the more passionate, full-blooded Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) was a pleasure that endured long after the Star Trek brand itself showed signs of having been around the galaxy a few too many times.
Once seen, Spock was never forgotten. The hair, boot-polish black, was snipped short with a severe, straight fringe; it looked more like headgear than a haircut, more painted on than grown. An inch of forehead separated that fringe from a pair of sabre-like eyebrows that arched extravagantly upwards. These came in handy for conveying what the reserved Spock could not always express verbally. “The first thing I learned was that a raised eyebrow can be very effective,” said Nimoy.
Spock’s defining physical feature, though, was his pointed ears. The actor’s first reaction upon seeing them was: “If this doesn’t work, it could be a bad joke.” Sharply tapered but in no way pixieish, the ears somehow never undermined his gravitas. Or rather, Nimoy’s sober disposition precluded laughter. Besides, in a show suffused with messages of inclusivity and tolerance, it would never do for audiences to laugh at someone just because he came from Vulcan.
Nimoy contributed key details to the character, including the traditional Vulcan greeting: a hand held up and the four fingers parted to create a V. This was inspired by prayer gestures witnessed by the young Nimoy at synagogue.
He would later title his 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock. “I was trying to illuminate the actor’s process in creating a character. I talked about the fact that I grew up in Boston and Spock did not. My parents were Russian immigrants; Spock’s were not. I’m an actor who portrays this character.” He conceded, though, that the title had been a mistake and had given the erroneous impression that he was trying to shrug off his best-known role. He made amends by calling the 1995 follow-up I Am Spock.
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Max, a barber, and Dora, and showed an interest in acting from a young age (though his father tried to persuade him to take up the accordion instead). He studied drama at Boston College and began to get small parts in theatre, film and television. At 20 he was cast in the lead role of a young boxer in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni, and discovered a kind of sanctuary in the prosthetics he was required to wear. “I found a home behind that makeup,” he wrote in I Am Not Spock. “I was much more confident and comfortable than I would have been, had I been told I was to play ‘a handsome young man’.”
Nimoy did military service from 1953 to 1955, during which time one of his duties was producing army talent shows. He continued acting after leaving the army and in the early 1960s began teaching acting classes, while also starring in guest roles on television series including Bonanza, Rawhide and The Twilight Zone. He established his own acting studio where he taught for three years.
Nimoy auditioned for an earlier Gene Roddenberry project, and when Roddenberry created Star Trek he thought of him for the role of Spock. “I thought it would be a challenge,” Nimoy said. “As an actor, my training had been in how to use my emotions, and here was a character who had them all locked up.”
After 79 episodes across three series, the NBC network cancelled the show because of its low ratings. Nimoy went straight into another regular gig a role on the light-hearted spy series Mission: Impossible and then began studying photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He would later publish photographic studies including Shekhina (2002), a celebration of spirituality and sexuality in Judaism, and The Full Body Project (2007), focused on unorthodox female body sizes.
His acting work in the 1970s included a chilling performance in Philip Kaufman’s intelligent 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1979, he returned to play Spock in the rather leaden Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He would do so in a further seven Star Trek films. Among them were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He was the only original cast member to appear in JJ Abrams’s instalments of the revived or “rebooted” franchise, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). His appearance in the first of those Abrams films, as the older Spock coming face to face with his younger self (Zachary Quinto), was deeply affecting and played with characteristic restraint. He also revived Spock in two 1991 episodes (“Unification I” and “Unification II”) of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in animated and computer-game incarnations of Star Trek.
If Nimoy never escaped association with Spock, it was not for want of trying. He wrote seven poetry collections, released several albums and established himself as a successful and varied director. Alongside his two Star Trek movies, he directed himself in a TV movie version of the one-man play Vincent (1981), about the life of Van Gogh. He scored an international box-office hit with 3 Men and a Baby (1987). He also made the drama The Good Mother (1988), starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson, as well as two disappointing comedies, Funny About Love (1990) and Holy Matrimony (1994).
Date of Birth: 19 June 1921, Marseille, France
Birth Name: Louis Robert Gendre
Nicknames: Louis Jourdan
For audiences in the 1940s and 50s, Louis Jourdan’s incredible good looks and mellifluous Gallic purr seemed to sum up everything that was sexy and enticing about Frenchmen. As a result, he became the most sought-after French actor since Charles Boyer. Though perhaps this hampered him, stymying opportunities to extend his dramatic range, any actor who was constantly in demand by both French studios and Hollywood producers had a lot to be grateful for.
When Jourdan played the consummate bon vivant in Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (1958), he became an international celebrity. The film, which co-starred Maurice Chevalier and Leslie Caron, won nine Oscars, including best picture. Though the best-known of its Lerner and Loewe numbers was Chevalier’s Thank Heaven for Little Girls, the title song went to Jourdan. He later widened the breadth of his work, and in old age was still one of the most handsome men on the screen, even if the films themselves seldom matched the fineness of his looks.
He was born in Marseilles, one of the three sons of Henri Gendre, a hotelier who organised the Cannes film festival after the second world war, and Yvonne, from whose maiden name, Jourdan, Louis took his stage name. The family followed Henri’s work, which accounted for the ease with which he was later able to perform overseas. He was educated in France, Turkey and Britain, where he learned to speak perfect English with an accent that he was clever enough to realise he should keep superbly French.
Jourdan, who knew from early on that he was going to be an actor, studied under René Simon in Paris. Admired for his dramatic talent and a certain polish that no one could readily explain, he was cast in his film debut, Le Corsaire (1939), which starred Boyer, though the outbreak of the second world war prevented its completion. He went on to appear in L’Arlésienne (1942) before his career was interrupted by the Nazi occupation of France.
His father was arrested by the Gestapo, and Louis and his two brothers were active members of the resistance, whose work for the underground meant that he had to stay away from the studios. But it also resulted in his becoming a favourite of the resurgent French postwar film industry. At a time when many had worked on films that had served to help Marshal Pétain’s propaganda campaign and stars such as Chevalier were being accused of collaboration – it was easy to promote a star who had actively worked against the Nazis.
In 1946, Jourdan married Berthe Frédérique (known as Quique) and went to Los Angeles, having been persuaded by the movie mogul David O Selznick that he would be able to make more of himself in Hollywood than he ever could in Paris. He shone in his first American film, The Paradine Case (1947), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Gregory Peck. This was followed by Max Ophüls’s masterly Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), based on the story by Stefan Zweig. Jourdan played the debonair, womanising pianist with whom Joan Fontaine falls hopelessly and tragically in love. He invested the performance with a vulnerability that saved his character from being simply caddish.
In Minnelli’s 1949 film of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, he starred as the lover of the adulterous anti-heroine, played by Jennifer Jones. He returned to France for Rue de l’Estrapade (1953) and La Mariée Est Trop Belle (The Bride Is Too Beautiful, released with the title Her Bridal Night, 1956), the latter with Brigitte Bardot, while in Italy he appeared in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), its title referring to the Trevi fountain in Rome. His image as the light romantic lead was burnished in that film, and his status as such was sealed by Gigi, which made him the No 1 pin-up of sophisticated American women.
He had a similar role in Can-Can (1960), which starred Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Chevalier. There followed continental roles in Hollywood productions: as a playboy in The VIPs (1963) and a fashion designer in Made in Paris (1966).
He had made his Broadway debut, playing a repressed gay man embarking on marriage, in an adaptation of André Gide’s The Immoralist, in 1954. The production co-starred Geraldine Page and James Dean, before Dean’s movie breakthrough. The following year, Jourdan returned to the New York stage in Tonight in Samarkand. He soon let it be known that he wanted more serious film roles and was not getting enough of them. In 1961 he took the lead in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Comte de Monte Cristo and, in 1975, he appeared in a British TV movie production of Alexandre Dumas’s novel, this time playing De Villefort to Richard Chamberlain’s Count. Two years later, he was D’Artagnan in The Man in the Iron Mask on TV, again opposite Chamberlain.
He played Dracula in a 1977 BBC TV adaptation and an Afghan prince in the James Bond adventure Octopussy (1983), but few of his later roles showed the range of his talents. Certainly, Swamp Thing (1982) and The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) were not the sort of movies that the Gigi star would want to be remembered for. In the mid-80s he returned to Gigi, this time in Chevalier’s role, for a touring show; he replied to the criticism that he lip-synched songs by saying: “If I sang them live, the fragile little voice I have would go.”
Jourdan’s final film appearance came as a suave villain in Peter Yates’s caper about a rare bottle of wine, Year of the Comet (1992). In 2010 he was appointed to the Légion d’Honneur.
Date of Birth: 9 May 1932, Old Windsor, Berkshire, UK
Birth Name: Geraldine McKeown
Nicknames: Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan, could purr like a kitten, snap like a viper and, like Shakespeare’s Bottom, roar you as gently as any sucking dove. She was a brilliant, distinctive and decisive performer with a particular expertise in high comedy whose career incorporated West End comedy, Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre, and a cult television following in EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia.
She was also notable on television as a controversial Miss Marple in a series of edgy, incongruously outspoken Agatha Christie adaptations (2004-09). Inheriting a role that had already been inhabited at least three times “definitively” by Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson she made of the deceptively cosy detective a character both steely and skittish, with a hint of lust about her, too.
This new Miss Marple was an open-minded woman of the world, with a back story that touched on a thwarted love affair with a married man who had been killed in the first world war. Familiar thrillers were given new plot twists, and there was even the odd sapphic embrace. For all her ingenuity and faun-like fluttering, McEwan was really no more successful in the part than was Julia McKenzie, her very different successor.
Although she was not easily confused with Maggie Smith, she often tracked her stylish contemporary, succeeding her in Peter Shaffer roles (in The Private Ear and The Public Eye in 1963, and in Lettice and Lovage in 1988) and rivalling Smith as both Millamant and Lady Wishfort in Congreve’s masterpiece The Way of the World in 1969 and 1995.
And a decade after Smith won her Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, McEwan scored a great success in the same role on television in 1978; Muriel Spark said that McEwan was her favourite Miss Brodie in a cluster that also included Vanessa Redgrave and Anna Massey.
McEwan was born in Old Windsor, where her father, Donald McKeown, was a printers’ compositor who ran the local branch of the Labour party in a Tory stronghold; her mother, Nora (nee Burns), was working-class Irish. Geraldine was always a shy and private girl who found her voice, she said, when she stood up in school and read a poem.
She had won a scholarship to Windsor county school, but she felt out of place until she found refuge in the Windsor Rep at the Theatre Royal, where she played an attendant fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1946. Leaving school, she joined the Windsor company for two years in 1949, meeting there her life-long companion, Hugh Cruttwell, a former teacher turned stage manager, 14 years her senior, whom she married in 1953, and who became a much-loved and influential principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1965.
Without any formal training, McEwan went straight from Windsor to the West End, making her debut at the Vaudeville theatre in 1951 in Who Goes There? by John Deighton, followed by an 18-month run in For Better, For Worse… at the Comedy in 1952 and with Dirk Bogarde in Summertime, a light comedy by Ugo Betti, at the Apollo in 1955.
Summertime was directed by Peter Hall and had a chaotic pre-West End tour, Bogarde’s fans mobbing the stage door every night and in effect driving him away from the theatre for good; McEwan told Bogarde’s biographer, John Coldstream, how he was both deeply encouraging to her and deeply conflicted over his heartthrob star status.
Within a year she made her Stratford debut as the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost and played opposite Olivier in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, replacing Joan Plowright as Jean Rice when the play moved from the Royal Court to the Palace. Like Ian Holm and Diana Rigg, she was a key agent of change in the transition from the summer Stratford festival playing Olivia, Marina and Hero in the 1958 season to Peter Hall’s new Royal Shakespeare Company; at Stratford in 1961, she played Beatrice to Christopher Plummer’s Benedick and Ophelia to Ian Bannen’s Hamlet.
Kittenish and playful, with a wonderful gift for suggesting hurt innocence with an air of enchanted distraction, she was a superb Lady Teazle in a 1962 Haymarket production of The School for Scandal, also starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, that went to Broadway in early 1963, her New York debut.
She returned to tour in the first, disastrous, production of Joe Orton’s Loot, with Kenneth Williams, in 1965, and then joined Olivier’s National at the Old Vic, where parts over the next five years included Raymonde Chandebise in Jacques Charon’s landmark production of Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Alice in Strindberg’s Dance of Death (with Olivier and Robert Stephens), Queen Anne in Brecht’s Edward II, Victoria (“a needle-sharp gold digger” said one reviewer) in Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty, Millamant and Vittoria Corombona in The White Devil.
Back in the West End, she formed a classy quartet, alongside Pat Heywood, Albert Finney and Denholm Elliott, in Peter Nichols’s Chez Nous at the Globe (1974), and gave a delightful impression of a well-trained, coquettish poodle as the leisured whore in Noël Coward’s broken-backed adaptation of Feydeau, Look After Lulu, at Chichester and the Haymarket.
In the 1980s, she made sporadic appearances at the National, now on the South Bank, winning two Evening Standard awards for her fresh and youthful Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals (“Men are all Bavarians,” she exclaimed on exiting, creating a brand new malapropism for “barbarians”) and her hilariously acidulous Lady Wishfort; and was a founder member of Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury theatre.
In the latter part of her stage career, she seemed to cut loose in ever more adventurous directions, perhaps through her friendship with Kenneth Branagh, who had become very close to Cruttwell while studying at Rada. She was a surprise casting as the mother of a lycanthropic psychotic, played by Will Patton, in Sam Shepard’s merciless domestic drama, A Lie of the Mind, at the Royal Court in 1987. And in 1988 she directed As You Like It for Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company, Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian.
She then directed Christopher Hampton’s underrated Treats at the Hampstead theatre and, in 1998, formed a fantastical nonagenarian double act with Richard Briers in a Royal Court revival, directed by Simon McBurney, of Ionesco’s tragic farce, The Chairs, her grey hair bunched on one side like superannuated candy floss.
The following year, she was a brilliant but controversial Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, directed as a piece of Gothic absurdism at the Savoy by Declan Donnellan; McEwan tiptoed through the thunderclaps and lightning like a glinting harridan, a tipsy bacchanalian with a waspish lust and highly cultivated lack of concern (“My husband’s not dead; he’s upstairs.”)
Other television successes included playing Jeanette Winterson’s mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990) and Carrie’s War (2004), while her occasional movie appearances included Tony Richardson’s The Adventures of Tom Jones (1975), two of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations – Henry V (1989) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) – as well as Robin, Prince of Thieves (1991), Peter Mullan’s devastating critique of an Irish Catholic education, The Magdalene Sisters (2002), in which she played cruel, cold-hearted Sister Bridget, and Vanity Fair (2005).
She was rumoured to have turned down both the OBE and a damehood, but never confirmed this.
Date of Birth: 28 May 1959, Newbridge, Caerphilly, Wales
Birth Name: Steven John Harrington
Nicknames: Steve Strange
Steve Strange, was one of the most influential figures in the London club circuit that launched the New Romantic movement of the early 1980s, and a hit-making pop star with his own band, Visage. Although his early success gave way to periods of drug addiction and poverty, Strange had recently been enjoying a revival in his fortunes and had re-formed Visage for live shows and a new album.
Strange will be most vividly remembered as the outrageously flamboyant host of a string of nightclubs that powerfully influenced the London fashion and music scenes in the aftermath of punk. In 1978, he and Rusty Egan (then drummer with the Rich Kids) began holding David Bowie nights on Tuesdays at Billy’s club in Soho, a squalid bunker situated beneath a brothel. “We played Bowie, Roxy [Music] and electro,” said Strange. “It was where our friends could be themselves.” Billy’s could hold only 250 people but swiftly developed an outsize reputation, numbering among its garishly clad clientele such stars-to-be as George O’Dowd (the future Boy George), Siobhan Fahey, later of Bananarama, and Marilyn.
In 1979, Strange and Egan scaled up to the Blitz club in Covent Garden, and “the ball really started rolling”, as Strange put it. As scenesters dressed as ghouls, witches, vamps and Regency libertines battled to get through the doors, and Boy George acted as “the coat-check girl”, Strange (in leather jodhpurs and long overcoat) stood at the door and judged who would be allowed in. He enjoyed a huge publicity splash by denying admission to Mick Jagger. “Mick got annoyed and said, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ before storming off in search of nightlife elsewhere,” Strange wrote in his autobiography, Blitzed! (2002).
As well as being frequented by the filmmaker Derek Jarman, Siouxsie Sioux and Depeche Mode and fashion designers such as Antony Price and Zandra Rhodes, the Blitz was the launchpad for the career of Spandau Ballet, who played there on Thursday nights. “We are making the most contemporary statement in fashion and music,” said the band’s songwriter and guitarist Gary Kemp.
Meanwhile, Strange, who had already played in the bands the Moors Murderers and the Photons, had formed Visage with Egan, Midge Ure and several members of Magazine, and they released the unsuccessful single Tar in 1979. It was the intervention of Bowie that put them on the map. He recruited Strange and some Blitz regulars to appear in his video for Ashes to Ashes, which hugely boosted Strange’s profile when the song went to No 1. Visage signed a new deal with Polydor and in 1980 enjoyed international success with their debut album and their career-defining hit, Fade to Grey.
In 1981, Strange and Egan opened Club for Heroes in Baker Street, then moved to the Camden Palace the following year. The 2,000-capacity Palace became a mecca for international clubgoers, and established Strange as the pre-eminent name among the new clubland elite. Bisexual, he was now in a relationship with Francesca “Chessie” Thyssen (daughter of the German steel tycoon Baron Heini Thyssen) with whom he skied in Gstaad and “played elephant polo in India with Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach”. Prince Andrew and his then girlfriend, Koo Stark, were frequent visitors to Strange’s flat in Chelsea.
He was born Steven Harrington in Newbridge, Monmouthshire, son of John Harrington, who joined the army soon after his son’s birth, and his wife, Gillian (nee Price). The family later moved to Aldershot, Hampshire, where his father was posted, and then, when John left the army, to Rhyl, where his parents ran a guest house and several seafront cafes. His parents divorced, and Steven lived with his mother in a council house in Newbridge, where he attended the local grammar school.
At 13 he began stealing drugs from chemists’ shops, and at 14 was cautioned by police for possessing amphetamines. After seeing the Sex Pistols play in Newport in 1976, he left Wales for London, where he worked briefly for Malcolm McLaren and shared squats with the future stars Billy Idol (William Broad) and Sid Vicious (John Beverley). He worked in clothes shops and as a roadie for rock groups, before joining the Moors Murderers. They released the single Free Hindley before Strange left the band and was briefly a member of the Photons.
Following the huge success of his various clubs and Visage, Strange began to find the pop business awash with cocaine and developed a taste for it. Then, on a trip to Paris in 1982 to model clothes for Jean Paul Gaultier, he was given some heroin and rapidly became addicted to it. “The biggest mistake I ever made was heroin,” he said later. “You don’t ever dabble with it, you stay clear away.”
Friends including Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp and the singer Sade tried unsuccessfully to help Strange get treatment for his addiction. He began spending periods of time in Ibiza, where he became involved in the developing trance music scene, but whenever he returned to London found himself dragged back to the addict’s lifestyle. On one occasion he was convicted of theft and fined for stealing a chequebook, intending to buy drugs.
Then he spent nearly five years living in Ibiza, where he hosted the Double Bass club, before returning to London in the 90s. He began hosting club nights again, but then hit a low after the deaths of his close friends Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence. His house in east London was destroyed by fire and Strange found himself back in Wales, living with his sister Tanya and two lodgers in the house in Porthcawl he had bought for his mother a few years previously. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was prescribed Prozac, Valium and temazepam.
In 2000, he was arrested in Bridgend for shoplifting. He was given a three-month suspended prison sentence, and attended treatment to wean himself off Prozac. There were signs that he was making positive progress when he re-formed Visage in 2004, and recorded the song Diaries of a Madman.
In 2006, he co-wrote and performed on the track In the Dark for the electronic duo Punx Soundcheck, and in 2013 a new Visage album, Hearts and Knives, was released (their first collection of new material for 29 years). The band played dates in the UK and Europe, and last year recorded a new version of Fade to Grey.
Date of Birth: 15 June 1946, Alexandria, Egypt
Birth Name: Artemios Ventouris Roussos
Nicknames: Demis Roussos
Demis Roussos, the Greek singer who has died aged 68, became an unlikely heart throb in the 1970s when his album sales earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
He scored his biggest success in Britain in 1975 when he had five albums in the top 10 simultaneously and in 1976 when his annoyingly unforgettable romantic ballad Forever and Ever was No 1 in the single charts. Worldwide he sold more than 60 million albums. “My music came right on time,” Roussos told an interviewer in 2002. “It was romantic Mediterranean music addressed to all the people who wanted to go on holiday. My music was liked by the people ... other artists of the same era, Mediterranean, like Julio Iglesias and Nana Mouskouri, followed me.”
His publicity people described Roussos’s songs as a mixture of “Byzantine psalms and muezzin prayer calls”, and there was something otherworldly about his tremulous, near-falsetto delivery. But there was much that was strange about Roussos. Even if his voice had not compelled attention, his Falstaffian 23-stone girth, beard, long hair and penchant for billowing kaftans would have marked him out.
Incredibly to some, Roussos, who became known as “The Phenomenon”, became seen as a sex symbol. In Britain the mostly middle-aged female audiences at his sell-out concerts became every bit as hysterical about his wobbling chins and zithery ballads as their teenage counterparts had been for the Beatles. In later life he recalled that women in the front row would sometimes try to grab his kaftans to see if he was wearing anything underneath (the answer, he claimed, was no).
Critics, though, were less easily smitten. The Sun called him “The Big Squeak” and likened him to a cross between Mickey Mouse and Moby Dick. Others called him the “The Love Walrus” or “The Singing Tent”, while The Sunday Times said he sounded like a spaniel that had been kicked. And after two years of British hits, Roussos faded from view. The coup de grace, according to some, was administered by Mike Leigh in the scene in his Play For Today, Abigail’s Party (1977), in which the monstrous Bev (Alison Steadman) sways gormlessly to Forever and Ever, consigning Roussos to the ranks of the irredeemably unhip. His next two singles struggled to gain entry into the Top 40.
Roussos, however, felt that his inadvertent role in the film was proof that he had left an enduring impression on the 20th century: “Nobody can deny that my name left a mark into the century’s music,” he told The Guardian in 1999. “Even if I die tomorrow, Demis Roussos left a card, a trademark, something that cannot be forgotten.”
Artemios Ventouris Roussos was born to Greek parents on June 15 1946 in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father was working as an architect.
The family was forced to flee Egypt for Greece during the Suez crisis of 1956, leaving all of their possessions behind, and as soon as he was old enough young Demis, who sung in a Greek Byzantine church choir as a child and learned guitar, trumpet and piano in school, began work as a cabaret musician to to help his family make ends meet. His teenage years coincided with a boom in the Greek tourism industry and he began singing in tourist bars. By the mid-1960s he was performing covers of British and American pop hits, such as House of the Rising Sun and When a Man Loves a Woman, with a band called The Idols.
Towards the end of the decade he hooked up with the future film music composer Vangelis, with whom he formed Aphrodite’s Child, a prog-pop combo who fled to France after the Greek military coup of 1967 made them unwelcome in their homeland. In 1968 they released the song Rain And Tears (derived from Pachelbel’s Canon) during the student riots in Paris. Referring to the tear gas used on demonstrators, it sold more than a million copies in France and managed to scrape into the Top 40 in Britain.
After half a dozen albums in three years, Aphrodite’s Child broke up in 1971 and Roussos went solo, cutting his first album, On the Greek Side of My Mind, the same year. He was already well known on the continent but little known in Britain until 1974 when a BBC documentary, entitled The Roussos Phenomenon, turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
His first UK single to make the charts, Happy to be on an Island in the Sun, reached No 5 in 1975. Other hits included My Friend The Wind; Goodbye My Love, Goodbye; Quand je t’aime, Someday Somewhere and Lovely Lady Of Arcadia.
By the time his star began to wane in Britain Roussos was a wealthy man with a mansion outside Paris, a private jet, an estate in the south of France and all the other trappings of success. But he did not remain idle. In the early 1980s, while living in California, he went on a diet, shed more than six stone, then published A Question of Weight, which sold a million copies. He remained constantly popular in Europe, where he continued to tour, through his fluency in Spanish, French, Italian, German and Arabic, as well as Greek and English. In later years he found new fans in the Middle East, Russia and central Asia, developing what one critic described as “a new-age, ethnic kind of sound, influenced by Africa and the Balkans”.
In 1985 he made an unwitting comeback into the British national consciousness when he was held captive for a few days in Beirut after his flight from Athens to Rome was hijacked by Hizbollah militants. The press reported that he had sung to his captors (not true, said Roussos) and had a bit of fun at his expense, one correspondent rejoicing that his captors “did not go unpunished”. In 2002 he enjoyed a mini-comeback when his “Best Of” collection, Forever And Ever, reached number 20 in the album charts and he undertook a tour of Britain.
Demis Roussos was married and divorced three times.
Date of Birth: 11 September 1924, Topolcany, Czechoslovakia
Birth Name: Walter Rosenberg
Nicknames: Rudolf Vrba
Rudolf Vrba escaped from Auschwitz in 1944 and was one of the first people to give first-hand evidence of the gas chambers, mass murder and plans to exterminate a million Jews. So horrific was the testimony from Rudolf Vrba, that the members of the Jewish Council in Hungary couldn't quite believe what they were hearing.
Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who escaped with him in April 1944, drew up a detailed plan of Auschwtiz and its gas chambers, providing compelling evidence of what had previously been considered embellishment. It has since emerged that reports from inside Auschwitz, compiled by the Polish Underground State and the Polish Government in Exile and written by Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki among others, had in fact reached some Western allies before 1944, but action had not been taken.
Vrba and Wetzler's detailed, first-hand report about how Nazis were systematically killing Jews was compiled into the Wetzler-Vrba report and sent shockwaves around the world when it was circulated and picked up by international media in 1944.
It still took some weeks before the report was accepted and credited after it was written something that Vrba said had contributed to the deaths of an estimated 50,000 Hungarian Jews. Just weeks before their escape, German forces had invaded Hungary, and Jews there were already being shipped to Auschwitz. It wasn't until the report made the headlines in international media that Hungary stopped the deportation in July of 1944.
Rudolf Vrba, survived two years in Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland before escaping to warn the world of Nazi plans to exterminate one million Hungarian Jews in 1944.
But when he and his fellow escaper Alfred Wetzler made contact with the Jewish Council at Zilina in Slovakia, offering one of the first detailed eye-witness accounts of what had previously been unconfirmed rumour, they were treated with caution.
First they were asked to dictate their personal accounts separately and then rigorously cross-examined about their revelations.
The results then formed the 32-page report known as The Auschwitz Protocols.
Although Winston Churchill was to declare that Auschwitz was "probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world", their evidence met a tardy response.
The Hungarian Ministry of Justice, awaiting take-over by the Germans, actively participated in the deportations. The Allies, hard-pressed in the battle of Normandy, refused to divert aircraft to the difficult task of of bombing the railway line from Hungary to Poland.
Sharp criticism was to be levelled against some leaders of Hungary's Jewish community, who failed to warn their people what being "resettled" in Poland meant.
Vrba was disgusted by the excuse that these leaders were negotiating with Adolf Eichmann for the one million Hungarian Jews to be spared in exchange for cash and rail trucks which the Germans could use on the eastern front.
He said that there was no chance of the talks succeeding, and the resulting delay caused some 50,000 Hungarian deaths.
The son of a Jewish sawmill owner, Rudolf Vrba was born Walter Rosenberg on September 11 1924 at Topolcany, Czechoslovakia. He was expelled from school when anti-Jewish laws were enforced, but continued to study at home.
His mother regarded his decision to learn English as eccentric, and was so alarmed when he took up Russian that she took him to a doctor.
At 17 he left home to join the Czechoslovak Army in Britain, tearing the yellow Star of David off his shoulder and entering Hungary. However, he was soon arrested. He escaped and was then recaptured by a policeman on a bicycle who had become suspicious of the young man who was wearing two pairs of socks.
After being introduced to concentration camp life at Maidanek, near Lublin, where he met one of his brothers, whom he was never to see again, Vrba volunteered to do farm work. Passing under the brass sign over the gate, Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Brings Freedom), he entered Auschwitz on June 30 1942.
There he saw how new arrivals were divided between those consigned straight to the gas ovens and others fit for heavy work. His promised agricultural work consisted of helping to dig up the bodies of 107,000 already murdered or allowed to die, for incineration.
Vrba's luck changed when a Viennese prisoner, trusted by the SS, discovered he could speak German and transferred him to a store-room, named Canada, where the clothing and belongings of the dead were sorted.
Since it also contained food for the SS, he found not only enough to eat but plenty of soap and water to ensure there was no risk of disease.
Gradually he recognised the flickers of humanity hidden within some of the guards and trusties, and was inducted into their hierarchy of pilfering.
Although severely beaten after being caught smuggling some goods to friends, Vrba rose to become a camp registrar.
He calculated that some 1,760,000 were killed, a figure now considered probably rather high, and gave succinct descriptions of one of the four ovens at the sub-camp at Birkenau, where the gassings took place: "It holds 2,000 people. When everybody is inside, the heavy doors are closed.
"Then there is a short pause, presumably to allow the room temperature to rise to a certain level, after which the SS men with gas masks climb on the roof, open the traps and shoe down a preparation in powder form out of tin cans, a cyanide mixture of some sort which turns into gas at a certain temperature.
"After three minutes everyone in the chamber is dead… The chamber is then opened, aired and the 'special squad' (of slave labourers) carts the bodies on flat trucks to the furnace rooms where the burning takes place."
Vrba and Wetzel managed to escape after hiding in a building site under a pile of logs, the gaps between which they stuffed with Russian tobacco, dipped in petrol, to put off sniffer dogs. Some soldiers started to lift up the logs, but they had to halt when an air raid warning went off.
Three days later the pair slipped out at night and headed for Slovakia, giving pursuers the slip and sheltering with Polish peasants.
After crossing the border they reached Zilina, helping a swineherd to bring his pigs to market.
Having made their report, Vrba and Wetzel were taken to safety in the Tatras mountains but after some weeks they learned that Hungarians were already being sent to Auschwitz.
They returned to Bratislava, where they made four more copies of the report, which was hidden behind a statue of the Virgin Mary.
They gave one to a representative of the papal nuncio, who sent it on to the Vatican.
In September 1944, Vrba joined a Czechoslovak partisan unit, with which he fought for the rest of the war, winning the Czechoslovak Medal of Bravery.
On the return of peace, he changed his name officially to Rudolf Vrba, and read Chemistry and Biology at Charles University at Prague; he then produced a thesis on the metabolism of butryic acid.
After being invited to attend an international conference in Israel, he defected. But although he found work with the Weizmann Institute, Vrba felt that many who had let down the Hungarian Jews were in positions of influence in the new state.
He moved on to Britain, where he worked at the Neuropsychiatric Research Unit at Carshalton, Surrey, and then for the Medical Research Council.
It was as Eichmann's trial was about to start in 1960 that he wrote a series of articles for the Daily Herald, which led to his vivid memoir, I Cannot Forgive, written with the Irish journalist Alan Bestic.
It was to be translated into several languages, though not into Hebrew until 1998. Later he gave evidence at the trials of several Auschwitz guards.
In 1967 Vrba moved to the University of British Columbia, where, after a two year sabbatical at Harvard Medical School, he became professor of pharmacology.
He went on to produce 50 research papers on the chemistry of the brain, diabetes and cancer. Over the years Vrba was also asked to lecture on the Holocaust and to take part in several television documentaries.
Date of Birth: 16 June 1929 St Helens, Lancashire, Merseyside, UK
Birth Name: Pauline Lettice Yates
Nicknames: Pauline Yates
The gentle good nature of the BBC’s anarchic 1970s comedy The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin that made it such a hit owed much to the innocent yet tacitly conspiratorial support of Reggie Perrin’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Pauline Yates, who has died aged 85. She was a spirit of domestic calm in the mayhem created by David Nobbs’s other characters, led by Leonard Rossiter as the erratic Reggie Perrin, whose bizarre behaviour she treated as normal and in need of no explanation.
The show ran for three series between 1976 and 1979, in the course of which Elizabeth became almost as serenely batty as Reggie. Although she was practically teetotal, Yates needed a large gin and tonic at the end of each recording.
Yates’s career path was almost like a route map through British television comedy in the 70s and 80s. She was a consummate comic foil, appearing in The Ronnie Barker Playhouse on ITV in 1968, but also taking on central roles as the Tory MP in the BBC’s My Honourable Mrs (1975), opposite Derek Nimmo, and the divorcee finding a new life after marriage in Thames TV’s Harriet’s Back in Town (1972).
She was born into a working-class household in St Helens, Lancashire (now in Merseyside), the eldest of three daughters of Thomas Yates, a commercial traveller, and Marjorie (nee Blackie), who ran a corner shop. Raised in Liverpool, Elizabeth was determined to be an actor, much against her parents’ wishes. When she left Childwall Valley high school at 17, her mother gave her an ultimatum: get a job within a year or train as a teacher.
In two weeks she had found work as an assistant stage manager at Chorley theatre, before moving on to rep companies throughout the north and in London, where she shared digs with the actor Peggy Mount. She met the actor and writer Donald Churchill when both were working in Liverpool in 1960, and they were married later that year.
Yates’s looks and ability to learn lines quickly, a trick perfected during her years in rep, made her a popular choice for TV casting directors. In 1957 she was in the one of the first hospital soap operas, ITV’s Emergency Ward 10, and she appeared in the BBC police series Z Cars and Softly Softly, and, on a number of occasions, in ITV’s Armchair Theatre, for which Churchill wrote several plays.
Later, she was in four series of the Thames Television sitcom Keep It in the Family (1980-83) as the put-upon wife of a cartoonist, Dudley Rush (Robert Gillespie), and in 1985 appeared with Julie Walters in the film She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas as one of a group of middle-aged women at a survival school. Her last TV appearance was in the 2002 pilot for the ITV crime series Rose and Maloney, starring Sarah Lancashire and Phil Davis.
On stage she was Mrs Bennett in a Liverpool Playhouse production of Pride and Prejudice, and toured as Lettice in Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage (1991).
Domestic life in the Churchills’ Primrose Hill, north London, home could have been a sitcom script. They loved to entertain, and the house was often full of actors, writers and directors sitting around a drinks-laden table gossiping and laughing. Yates could sometimes be found in the kitchen pouring wine down the sink to encourage the guests to go.
Date of Birth: 25 September 1939, Cricklewood, North London, UK
Birth Name: Leon Brittan
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, who has died aged 75, overcame a humiliating end to his ministerial career during the Westland crisis to become the longest-serving and most effective of Britain’s European commissioners.
Widely respected for his intellect and capacity for hard work, Leon Brittan made his reputation in the early 1980s as a formidable administrator with an unrivalled grasp of the details of his brief, a talent that had previously made him a successful QC.
Suddenly brought into Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet in 1981 promoted over the head of Nigel Lawson to chief secretary to the Treasury he proved highly effective in imposing detailed control on public spending, an intellectually demanding task that his predecessor, John Biffen, had found too unpleasant (or too difficult).
As home secretary after the 1983 election, Brittan imported a raft of ideas for updating criminal justice, including stiffer sentences, and easing restrictions on using tape-recorded witness statements and on independent prosecutions. He produced many reforming Bills and tried to streamline Home Office bureaucracy; senior officials reckoned him the only post-war home secretary to realise what was wrong with the department and try to remedy it.
Brittan was one of the few Cabinet members who could privately persuade Mrs Thatcher that her initial reaction on a particular issue was wrong, and his willingness to argue with No 10 contradicted the popular caricature of him as a placeman.
Yet though he was one of the most gifted of her ministers, he was short on political judgment and sensitivity. Myopic-looking and unashamedly intellectual, Brittan’s manner was widely interpreted, especially by press commentators, as patronising, even contemptuous. In her memoirs Mrs Thatcher recorded: “Everybody complained about his manner on television, which was aloof and uncomfortable.”
Where the public saw arrogance and coldness, Brittan’s friends noted precisely the opposite: a shy, humorous and exceptionally kind man and, improbable as it might have seemed to outsiders, the object of real affection. Even in a wider circle he was notable for being completely free of malice or spite. Yet the criticism that he was too clever for his own good and short on common sense dogged his career.
These failings came to the fore in 1985 when, in response to rising Tory anger at “Left-wing bias” in the BBC, Brittan tried to pressure the corporation’s governors to prevent the screening of a Real Lives documentary on Northern Ireland, an effort which, since he did not succeed, left him looking simultaneously authoritarian and ineffective. This episode prompted Mrs Thatcher to move him, against his wishes, to the Department of Trade and Industry in September 1985. She was also influenced by backbench Tory complaints that Home Office questions, in which Brittan was pitted against Labour’s Gerald Kaufman, who shared his Baltic Jewish origins, was “like being in a foreign country”.
The DTI should have been an easier billet, well suited to Brittan’s backroom talents, and his speech at the party conference soon after brought him an unexpected standing ovation. But then came Westland.
The Westland company of Yeovil, Britain’s only helicopter manufacturer, was in financial trouble and sought to be bailed out by Sikorsky, its American counterpart. The Sikorsky bid ran into immediate opposition from the defence secretary, Michael Heseltine, who claimed that the Americans would turn Westland into a “metal-bashing operation” and suggested the company look for a European buyer.
When Heseltine convened a meeting of the national armaments directors of France, Italy and Germany, as well as Britain, to agree a policy whereby they would only buy helicopters designed and built in Europe, he put himself at loggerheads not only with the Westland board but with the prime minister and her trade and industry secretary, who felt it was wrong for the government to prevent any particular solution to Westland’s problems.
This disagreement erupted into a political crisis, with the arguments played out in Parliament and the press, mostly to the advantage of Heseltine, lobbying frantically behind the scenes. Then extracts were leaked from a confidential letter in which the solicitor-general, Sir Patrick Mayhew, accused the defence secretary of “material inaccuracies” in the presentation of his case.
Following Heseltine’s dramatic resignation in mid-Cabinet on January 9 1986, it emerged that Brittan had authorised the leak, albeit with what he thought was No 10’s consent. On January 24 he offered his own resignation.
Brittan’s departure at the height of the worst internal crisis of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership was the direct result of his loyalty to a prime minister he regarded as a friend. Inevitably, he was seen as the fall guy, a necessary sacrifice to save Mrs Thatcher herself. “He meekly accepted the role of scapegoat,” Lawson recalled. “Had he made public all he knew, she could not possibly have survived.” Perhaps in acknowledgment of this, Mrs Thatcher broke with tradition in expressing a clear desire in her reply to Brittan’s letter of resignation to have him back in Cabinet as soon as possible. But he was never rehabilitated, and in 1989 left for Brussels.
Leon Brittan was born on September 25 1939, the younger son of Lithuanian Jews who arrived in the country as refugees in 1927 and settled in Cricklewood, where his father was a doctor. Leon’s elder brother, Sam, would become a respected columnist on the Financial Times.
From Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, Leon won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. His ambition to succeed in both law and politics was clear: he gained double Firsts in English and Law and became both president of the Union and chairman of the university Conservative association. After a scholarship year at Yale, he was called to the Bar by Inner Temple in 1962 and became a leading libel lawyer, taking silk in 1978.
Two years before, Brittan secured a change in the law of contempt of court in a case that involved The Daily Telegraph. Its reporter Nicholas Comfort had named a ward of court in the paper, and the Official Solicitor brought prosecutions for contempt against the Telegraph and the Slough Evening Mail, which had repeated the story.
After a three-day trial in the High Court both papers were found guilty. The Telegraph’s counsel advised the paper to accept the conviction, but Brittan, representing the Slough Evening Mail, insisted on appealing and so both papers had to contest it. He won, convincing Lord Denning that it was ridiculous there was no permitted defence against a charge of contempt. In the interval he told Comfort, whom as a young barrister he had taught at Trinity, “I don’t think we got this far in the syllabus, did we?”
After being rejected for 14 safe Conservative seats, Brittan was elected MP for Cleveland and Whitby in February 1974. The seat disappeared in boundary changes and in 1979 he won the far-flung Yorkshire farming constituency of Richmond, representing it until he resigned to join the Commission in 1989; the future Conservative leader William Hague took his place.
Brittan’s initial reluctance to go to Brussels owed much to his affection for his constituency. He may have been an improbable countryman but he became an enthusiastic one, with a passion for cricket. Whatever his defects as a national politician, he was a popular local MP.
Within two years of entering the Commons, Brittan became Opposition spokesman on devolution, then on industrial relations, and played an important part in framing Conservative trade union reforms. In Mrs Thatcher’s first government of 1979, he became minister of state at the Home Office under Willie Whitelaw who, with Sir Geoffrey Howe, became his main political supporter and mentor.
It was Whitelaw who recommended him to Mrs Thatcher as a suitable replacement for Biffen in 1981. His promotion as the youngest member of her Cabinet was announced at a party given by Sir Geoffrey in No 11 Downing Street to mark Brittan’s marriage to Diana Peterson, a divorcee with two teenage daughters. Lady Brittan would go on to chair the National Lottery Charities Board and be appointed DBE.
Although Brittan’s appointment as a commissioner was reckoned by some of his friends a poor and belated consolation for his loyalty to Mrs Thatcher, Brussels gave full rein to his talents. Serving first as competition commissioner, he demonstrated not only a lawyer’s mastery of detail but also a steely determination to force through the principles of fair competition against entrenched national interests.
His ability to plough through and absorb mind-numbing detail won him the admiration of staff at the Commission, and his willingness to learn languages (he became fluent in French and German) earned admiration from colleagues and European politicians; the president of the Commission, Jacques Delors, rated him “one of the most brilliant men I have ever met”.
In 1993 he was appointed vice-president of the Commission and given the crucial trade portfolio, a job that pitched him into the centre of the tortuous Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt). Brittan’s mastery of detail proved crucial in reaching agreement with the Americans later that year, a personal triumph which saw his reputation as a high-powered if aloof intellectual transformed into that of a deal-maker on a grand scale.
Yet Brittan’s successes won him few friends; his unshakeable faith in the power of reason left him little sympathy for emotionally tinged arguments in favour of French farming. The Gatt negotiations were notable for an explosive encounter with the French foreign minister Alain Juppé in which Brittan saw off French attempts to scupper the EC-US Blair House Accord limiting farm export subsidies.
Although this triumph kept the Uruguay round alive, the French never forgave him. “He was good,” a German official at the showdown was quoted as saying, “but maybe he was too good.”
French opposition effectively sank Brittan’s hopes of succeeding Delors, and put paid to his hopes of the crucial eastern Europe portfolio after the installation of Jacques Santer. Santer had assured Brittan the job was his, but at the last moment voted for the Dutchman Hans van den Broek, a volte-face which caused Brittan to consider resignation.
Brittan also paid the price for growing Conservative Euroscepticism under Mrs Thatcher and her successor John Major. He sought to counter this in speeches and articles despite personal attacks in the British press, some of which bordered on the anti-Semitic, and a relationship with Major which was no better than cool. But his support for Britain’s entry into the EMS and the Euro put him increasingly at odds with his own party and with sentiment in the country.
Brittan was among the commissioners who resigned en masse in 1999 following allegations of nepotism against their French colleague Edith Cresson. Within days of clearing his desk at the Berlaymont he was appointed vice-chairman of the merchant bank Warburg.
The last year of his life was overshadowed by rumours, including the allegation that as home secretary he had failed to act on a “dossier” prepared by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens detailing alleged child abusers within the British establishment.
Brittan published two books on Britain’s role in Europe, The Europe We Need (1994) and A Diet of Brussels (2000), arguing for the nation to become more fully engaged.
Leon Brittan was sworn of the Privy Council in 1981, knighted in 1989 and created a life peer in 1999.
Date of Birth: 6 May 1924, Vienna, Austria
Birth Name: Robert Alexander Baron Schutzmann von Schutzmansdorff
Nicknames: Bob Syme, Robert Symes-Shutzmann, Bob Symes-Shutzmann
Bob Symes’s inventive mind and considerable engineering skills made him a natural choice in 1965 to join the small team producing the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, the series about new developments in science and technology. Bob appeared on screen regularly, first of all assisting Raymond Baxter and, in later years, with a regular feature in his own right. He continued to contribute to the programme for more than 30 years.
His special interest was in metal engineering, including developments in plumbing. His Tomorrow’s World colleagues particularly remember his presentations of a device that automatically removed air from central heating systems, an innovative ventilator for bathrooms and a process for relining broken water mains without having to dig up the road.
Alongside this, he developed a parallel broadcasting and film-making career. Bob contributed to BBC Radio 4, the British Forces Broadcasting Service, LBC and numerous local stations in the UK and Europe. His many television credits included The Man Who Started the War (1965) and the 1986 series ‘The Strange Affair of...’ that investigated intriguing mysteries from his central European heritage. His love of railways was reflected in such programmes as Model World (1975), The Line That Refused to Die (1980) and Making Tracks (1993-95). His concern for the environment found an ideal outlet in 1990 in the BBC’s The House That Bob Built, a pioneer project demonstrating the ecological benefit of rethinking how we construct our homes.
When the Waverley Line rail route between Carlisle and Edinburgh closed in 1969, Bob set up and chaired the Border Union Railway, a company established to keep the line operating. Though he was unsuccessful then, he did live long enough to see the rebuilding of the route between Edinburgh and Galashiels, now recognised as a key transport artery in the Scottish Borders.
Bob always had a preference for travelling by train. On one filming expedition for Tomorrow’s World in 1977, he and his small team were welcomed at the railway station in Cologne by a local oompah band organised by admirers from the German broadcaster WDR, with whom he regularly collaborated.
Bob was born into an aristocratic family in Vienna, the son of Herbert and Lolabeth Schutzmann von Schutzmannsdorff, and was educated at the Real Gymnasium in Vienna and later at a school in Switzerland. He developed his interest in railways by operating the private line that hauled timber around the family estate, and helping to keep it in good repair. Bob’s father died in 1937 and, as the influence of the Nazis took hold in his homeland, he left for a new life in Britain; his mother and younger sister, Eva, settled in the US.
During the second world war, Bob served in the Mediterranean with the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander, and took part in the landings that led to the liberation of Crete. In 1947 he visited the BBC to seek out Monica Chapman, who was responsible for producing the request programme Forces Prom. He wanted to thank her in person for playing the choices that he had submitted. The story goes that Monica’s mother gave up her ticket that evening to a Beethoven concert so that her daughter could invite this naval officer to join her. The two were married six weeks later, and they adopted the surname Symes, one of Monica’s family names.
Bob quickly realised that his languages, French as well as German, English and Arabic, could be valuable to the BBC. Following his wartime naval career, he joined the corporation’s Overseas Service in 1953, focusing in particular on the German service. His London-based work was interrupted in 1956 by a two-year assignment as district officer in the Eastern Region Colonial Office in Nigeria, where he was in charge of broadcasting.
Bob’s many other responsibilities and commitments included chairing the Institute of Patentees and Inventors, and he stood twice for parliament in 1974 as the Liberal candidate for Mid Sussex. He was made a companion of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1959 but perhaps the recognition of which he was most proud was being awarded the Knight’s Cross (first class) by the country of his birth, in recognition of his tireless work in promoting Anglo-Austrian relations.
At his home in Surrey, he built both a gauge 1 and a larger, 10.25in-gauge garden layout and regularly hosted steaming afternoons attended by admiring railway enthusiasts from all over the UK and northern Europe. At his 90th birthday party, he drove his pride and joy, his newest locomotive, a scale model of a Great Western tank engine, the Lady Melrose.
Monica died in 1998. While visiting the Ffestiniog Railway in north Wales in 2006, Bob met Sheila, a plant physiologist, who was works manager at the line’s locomotive depot at Boston Lodge. They were married within two months.
Date of Birth: 21 June 1954, Oldham, Lancashire, UK
Birth Name: Anne Kirkbride
Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre, the bespectacled, careworn femme fatale in ITV’s record-breaking soap opera Coronation Street for more than 40 years, and became renowned for her cracked, throaty voice, caused by chain-smoking in real life, and straining neck cords that were even more alarming than her enormous glasses.
In 1998, during a bitter ratings war with the BBC’s EastEnders, when Deirdre was wrongfully imprisoned after a relationship with a con-man called Jon Lindsay, the nation reacted with the “Free the Weatherfield One” campaign. In Parliament, even Tony Blair passed comment on her sentencing. It was not, commentators agreed, the prime minister’s finest hour. Producers at Granada Television decided to free Deirdre after three weeks.
Anne Kirkbride first came to Granada’s notice in 1972 in the ITV series Another Sunday and Sweet FA and was offered the bit part of the teenage dolly-bird Deirdre Hunt in Coronation Street later that year. When the character’s popularity grew after a few appearances, Anne Kirkbride signed a contract in 1974 and had been in the soap ever since.
With her distinctive owlish spectacles, she played Deirdre with a passion, steering the character through a calamitous tangle of marriages, broken engagements and affairs that produced an on-screen daughter Tracy in 1977, 20 years later the programme’s most notorious wild child and the Street’s spectacularly dull husband, Ken Barlow (William Roache). Dumped, divorced and widowed, Deirdre’s edgiest moment came with her affair with Mike Baldwin (played by Johnny Briggs) only two years after her wedding to Ken in 1981, and which started a feud between the two rivals that ended only with Baldwin’s death 25 years later.
Anne Kirkbride’s Deirdre was nearly written out of the series in 1978, three years after her screen marriage to Ray Langton (Neville Buswell). When Buswell decided to leave the programme, the producers believed there were already enough single women in the fictional Street. After Buswell intervened, however, the writers decided that Deirdre the single mother would be an interesting concept, and Anne Kirkbride was asked to stay.
One of the highlights of her career was her on-screen wedding to Ken Barlow in July 1981, on the day the Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer. But even this was eclipsed by Deirdre’s extra-marital affair with Baldwin in 1983. As Britain held its breath, a bishop in London warned Granada of the dangers of it all seeming too realistic; a woman in Halifax gave birth in an ambulance, having delayed her departure to hospital to witness the lovers’ first illicit kiss; and the Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, one of the Street’s greatest fans, declared that Ken Barlow deserved better.
The fling excited the divided consternation of Fleet Street’s finest, with Jean Rook of the Daily Express advising Deirdre to “stick with Ken” and her Daily Mail rival Lynda Lee Potter urging her to leave boring Ken for exciting Mike.
In the showdown between the two, Anne Kirkbride thought Bill Roache had gone mad when unrehearsed and unscripted he grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the Barlows’ front door as Baldwin stood on the step. “I was literally fighting to get away,” she remembered. Tracked by the cameras, she ran to an adjoining room and burst into tears.
When Deirdre and Barlow were reconciled in the next episode, the Daily Mail hired the electronic scoreboard at Old Trafford and, to the approving roar of 56,000 fans watching Manchester United play Arsenal, flashed up the news: “Deirdre and Ken united again!”
In 1987, when Deirdre by now working as a shop assistant became Councillor Barlow, Anne Kirkbride complained at this improbable turn of events, but soon realised that it got Deirdre out from behind the bacon slicer and into the swim of mainstream Street life. However, she remained upset at the decision to have Deirdre divorce Ken over his affair with his secretary.
Her character received a fresh lease of life in 1994 when Anne Kirkbride returned from a six months’ absence due to illness; at 39, she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but, after chemotherapy, recovered. On screen, however, a planned reconciliation with Ken Barlow had to be scrapped, and instead Deirdre embarked on a holiday romance with a 21-year-old toyboy, a Moroccan waiter, Samir Rachid (Al Nedjari), whom she later married.
“Anne Kirkbride is celebrating her return to health with a crackling storyline, a marvellous performance and a whole new vocabulary,” wrote Margaret Forwood in the Express.
The marriage was short-lived, however, and in 1995 Deirdre’s third husband died on his way to hospital to donate a kidney to Deirdre’s wayward daughter Tracy. She was reunited with Ken in 1999 and married him for a second time in 2005, despite Ken finding out that she had slept with the supersmooth corner shop owner Dev Alahan.
Anne Kirkbride was called as a character witness in Roache’s trial on sex assault charges in 2014 (he was found not guilty): she said her colleague was “always a perfect gentleman”.
As an actress, Anne Kirkbride possessed a photographic memory; she could read through a page of script and almost instantly know it by heart.
Anne Kirkbride was born on June 21 1954 at Oldham, Lancashire, the daughter of Jack Kirkbride, a painter and decorator who became a cartoonist for the Oldham Evening Chronicle. It was her father who encouraged her to go on the stage, having spotted her acting talent when she was only seven.
She developed it at Oldham Rep’s junior theatregoers’ club, and at the age of 11 joined the Saddleworth junior players and then the Oldham youth theatre. On leaving Count Hill grammar school she took a job at Oldham Rep as a student assistant stage manager at £1 a week, combining buying props and helping to build sets with several small acting parts.
When the company’s director, Carl Paulson, took her aside and told her she would be acting full-time on £18 a week, she said she ran through the streets “as if I’d just won the pools”. A Coronation Street talent scout saw her in a Jack Rosenthal play and she was asked to read for a walk-on part.
She hated her gravelly voice but revelled in the nine-to-five routine of a soap star, and never wanted to play Shakespeare or longed for the peripatetic life of a repertory actress. “Sometimes I think I should have made more of an effort to get out and do other stuff,” she admitted in 2001, “but then again I’ve never been terribly ambitious.” In a television confessional, Deirdre and Me (2001), Anne Kirkbride admitted to a compulsion to scrub and clean incessantly (even the lavatories at the Granada studios), and to the depression that in 1998 almost ruined her appearance on This Is Your Life, an ordeal she managed to survive only with the aid of Valium.
She took a leave of absence from Coronation Street in September 2014 and was written out of the script, but had been expected to return.
A lifelong heavy smoker, she also confessed to suicidal feelings and to a compulsion to iron her knickers.
In 1992 Anne Kirkbride married the actor David Beckett, whom she met on the Coronation Street set when he briefly played a handyman in the soap.