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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 22 July 1930, Danbury, Essex, UK
Birth Name: John Jeremy Lloyd
Nicknames: Jeremy Lloyd
Jeremy Lloyd was an actor who became one of Britain’s most successful comedy writers; his sitcoms were the essence of Britishness.
Are You Being Served? (1972-85) presented life in a department store as a hotbed of sexual intrigue, class tension and high camp. ’Allo ’Allo! (1982-92) was set in France during the Second World War, and reflected enduring British comic stereotypes about the rest of the world: the Germans were kinky, the French sex-obsessed, the Italians all talk and no trousers.
All of this would be regarded by some contemporary comedians as conservative and regressive. But Lloyd’s comedy was democratic in its populism. All the world was on display; every character from bitter old maids to merrily gay tailors had dignity and, often, the last laugh. Everybody watching at home could imitate the catchphrases and recycle the gags at work or in the playground the next day: “I’m free!” “Good moaning!”
In 2011, Lloyd wrote: “Friends often tell me how much their grandchildren enjoy Are You Being Served? It doesn’t matter that they were not even born when it was broadcast, or that they belong to a very different world. Laughter crosses boundaries of class and age… Humour is universal.” The fact that ’Allo ’Allo! was eventually broadcast in Germany would seem to prove him right.
As an actor, Jeremy Lloyd tended to be cast as an upper-class twit thanks to his posh accent, blonde hair and aristocratic charm. In fact, he was the son of an Army colonel and a Tiller girl who had danced with Fred Astaire.
John Jeremy Lloyd was born at Danbury in Essex on July 22 1930 and dispatched to live with an elderly grandmother in Manchester at the age of one and a half. Many years later he told an interviewer: “I occasionally saw my father but he used to introduce me to people as the son of bandleader Joe Loss. 'You’ve heard of Joe Loss? Well, this is my son dead loss,’ he’d say… And he put me into a home when I was about 13 and a half. A home for elderly people, which was a wonderful experience.”
Living in the home, surrounded by retired colonels and vicars, “improved” Lloyd’s accent: it went from Mancunian to southern middle-class. He remained estranged from his parents: two sisters came along but he was kept away from them. On his father’s death bed, the old man finally told his son that he was proud of what he had accomplished. Lloyd later claimed to be suspicious of his motives: “I think [he said it] because he wanted me to get him a pack of cigarettes.”
To support his grandmother, Lloyd did everything from digging roads to selling paint. One job that would later be turned into fiction was as a salesman at Simpsons department store in Piccadilly, where he observed post-war British society at its most disciplined and repressed. He was sacked for selling soft drinks from a fitting room during a heatwave.
Eventually he decided that he would like to have a go at writing comedy and turned up at the door of Pinewood Studios with a script in hand. He was told that the American studio chief, Earl St John, never met anyone. Not one to take “no” for an answer, Lloyd went to a telephone box around the corner, found the mogul’s number and called him directly. St John, amused at being so boldly approached, invited him round for tea. To the surprise of everyone on the studio staff, the script turned out to be perfect. The film, What a Whopper, was released as a vehicle for singer Adam Faith in 1961.
Lloyd’s rise through the world of showbusiness is a story of 1960s meritocracy at its most dizzying. At various times he wrote for Jon Pertwee, Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth and Lionel Blair. As an actor he turned up in numerous British comic films of the 1960s, usually as a tall gangly fool. He made his debut in Robert Hamer’s School for Scoundrels (1960) and also appeared in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965), Doctor in Clover (1965) with James Robertson Justice, and The Wrong Box (1966) with John Mills, Michael Caine and Peter Cook. As part of the group that hung around with the Beatles, he made an (uncredited) cameo appearance in A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and in Help! (1965) played a restaurant patron. In 1974 he was a British Army officer in Murder on the Orient Express.
Lloyd was engaged to the actress Charlotte Rampling, flirted with the Avengers star Diana Rigg and claimed to have been invited to Sharon Tate’s house for tea on the night that she was murdered by followers of Charles Manson. Perhaps the pinnacle of his on-screen career was as a performer on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, the fast-paced sketch show that was one of the biggest American television comedy programmes of the late 1960s. It featured Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and even Richard Nixon. For Lloyd the pay was poor but the perks were great. He estimated that he received 5,000 letters from women each week. He invited many to attend the show: “One day the producer came up to me and he said, 'It’s all very well Jeremy, but you’ve brought 42 girls in today and they’re better looking than what our casting agents have sent.’ ” So Lloyd was given the job of casting the dance section, too.
It was when he returned to England, relatively poor and at a loose end, that he decided it was time to write a proper sitcom. The original outline of Are You Being Served?, based in part on his memories of working at Simpsons, was sent to ITV. By chance, Lloyd bumped into David Croft, co-writer of Dad’s Army, who had worked with him on the Billy Cotton Band Show, and told him the plot. Croft begged Lloyd to retrieve the script from ITV and rework it with him, and a brilliant comic pairing was born.
They sold the idea to the BBC, which made a pilot but was not over-impressed. So the show was put into storage. It was only aired in 1972 as a filler when the Munich massacre disrupted programming during the Summer Olympics. The series that followed ran for 13 years, attracting audiences of up to 22 million. Viewers thrilled to Mr Humphries’s cries of “I’m free” and Mrs Slocombe’s epic tails of life with a high maintenance pussy cat.
The actress playing Mrs Slocombe, Mollie Sugden, was given a spin-off part in Lloyd’s space comedy Come Back Mrs Noah. It was a critical failure and was killed off. By contrast, ’Allo ’Allo!, which launched in 1982 and ran for 10 years, was a hit with viewers. Essentially a parody of resistance movies like Casablanca and, principally, the television series Secret Army, it was an exercise in vulgar and puerile, if good-natured, absurdity.
Every character was painted as a stereotype: René Artois, the tubby, cowardly bar owner; Michelle Dubois, the heroic yet pedantic guerrilla (“I shall say zis only once”); Lieutenant Hubert Gruber, the gay German soldier inexplicably in love with René. The English were parodied as strongly as the Continental Europeans, and the sympathy shown towards the occupying Germans was often affecting. All Colonel Kurt Von Strohm and Captain Hans Geering wanted to do was survive the war as rich men, which was why they conspired with René to steal a famous painting by Van Klomp called The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies.
Outside television Lloyd scored a notable success with Captain Beaky & His Band (Not Forgetting Hissing Sid!!!), two albums (1977 and 1980) of poetry by Lloyd, set to music by Jim Parker and recited by various British celebrities. The title track, Captain Beaky, reached No 5 in the charts in 1980 and the LPs generated numerous spinoffs, among them two books of poetry, BBC television shows, a West End musical and a pantomime. The Captain Beaky poems were revived in an all-star tribute show at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011.
Latterly Jeremy Lloyd looked back on his career and acknowledged that he had been very lucky to be writing at a time when humour was saucy but not indecent, aimed at ordinary Britons of all ages, and written by people who knew a thing or two about real life. Towards the end of his own life, Lloyd reflected: “You don’t actually get to make a pilot like when they said to David and I, 'Whatever you want to do, just do it.’ Now, they sit round a table and listen to what you want to do and they tell you if they think it’s funny. The people who do this have probably been to Oxford or Cambridge and they don’t really know what’s funny because they’re not the general audience who are going to watch it.”
Lloyd was appointed OBE in 2012.
He was married, first, to the model Dawn Bailey from 1955 to 1962 and, secondly, to the actress Joanna Lumley in 1970; the marriage was dissolved the following year. “He was witty, tall and charming,” said Joanna Lumley. “We should have just had a raging affair.” After many years of warily avoiding a third marriage, he married Lizzie Moberley in October this year. Of his third wife he said: “She is beautiful, clever and sent from heaven on mission impossible.”
Date of Birth: 26 April 1947, Oldham, Lancashire, UK
Birth Name: Alan Clarke
Nicknames: Warren Clarke
Warren Clarke was one of Britain’s most recognisable and versatile actors, but was best known for his role as the splenetic Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in Dalziel and Pascoe, the BBC television series based on the books by Reginald Hill.
Clarke may have been no casting director’s idea of a dreamboat, but his pugnacious features were perfectly suited to the part of the relentlessly insensitive, politically incorrect Yorkshire copper who made life difficult not only for the criminal fraternity but also for his young sidekick, the liberal, university-educated policeman Peter Pascoe (played by Colin Buchanan).
Dalziel’s abrasiveness and contempt for the pieties of the modern age made him one of the most distinctive fictional detectives on the small screen. Yet after he had played the part for five years during which he became a household name Clarke considered giving up the role, partly because he felt that the BBC was uneasy about the character: “You can’t have a series about policemen without showing them swearing occasionally,” he reflected, “but there was actually some bureaucrat at the BBC who wouldn’t allow me to say 'pillock’, even though I pointed out that Shakespeare used the word in King Lear.”
In the event, he decided to stay on, making a total of 61 episodes between 1996 and 2007.
Clarke’s own views, one suspects, were not that far removed from those of his alter ego: “I remember my parents telling me that the local bobby would give me a clip round the earhole if I didn’t behave. But nobody can smack anybody round the head now. What’s wrong with a quick clip round the earhole? In my day the local bobby was someone to be respected, but not any more.”
He was born Alan Clarke at Oldham, Lancashire, on April 26 1947, the son of a stained-glass maker and a secretary. His parents were keen filmgoers, and regularly took him to the cinema. “Saturday evenings we’d go and see a double feature,” he recalled. “I remember it being so amazing looking up at the big screen and I was totally seduced by it.”
His early ambition to become an actor did not impress the headmaster of his secondary modern school in Manchester, who told Alan to choose a more sensible career, such as plumbing; Alan, in magnificent anticipation of his role as Dalziel, told his headmaster to “sod off”. With the support of his parents, he left school at 15 and became a runner at the Manchester Evening News, where he was known as Nobby. Meanwhile he gained experience in amateur dramatics, and decided to change his first name to Warren (because a girlfriend had a crush on Warren Beatty).
Late in life he would recall: “I thought about being a star, very briefly, when I was 16, but after about a year of being in weekly rep, I lost interest in the idea of stardom and just got on with being a jobbing actor.”
He got his first break in a radio play for BBC Manchester, and his first significant television roles came in Coronation Street (first as Kenny Pickup, then as Gary Bailey). Then, in 1971, he secured a film part, as the vicious thug Dim, wearing red lipstick and a bowler hat, in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, starring Malcolm McDowell. Some 40 years later Clarke was in a Birmingham pub when he was approached by several young men who had just watched the film: “They tried to get a bit tough with me. I said, 'Look lads, 40 years ago I would have given you a bit of what you’re trying to give me, but at my age I can’t be arsed.’ ”
During the 1970s Clarke honed his skills on the stage, appearing in a multitude of plays including works by Shakespeare, Anthony Shaffer, Molière, Ibsen and Robert Bolt. After a gap of some 30 years, he would return to the boards playing Winston Churchill in Three Days in May (2011), about Britain facing the prospect of a Nazi invasion.
At the same time he was making his reputation on the small screen, in shows such as Softly Softly: Task Force (1973); Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974), a miniseries in which he played the young Winston Churchill; Our Mutual Friend (1976), as Bradley Headstone; The Onedin Line (1978); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979); and Shelley (1980-82). In 1984, in one of television’s most successful ventures, The Jewel in the Crown, Clarke appeared very much against character as the openly gay Corporal “Sophie” Dixon, and played the role superbly.
His television work continued (Bergerac, Blackadder, Wish Me Luck among many others), but in the late 1980s Clarke considered abandoning his profession because he felt he was not making enough money even though he was then filming opposite Haydn Gwynne in the television drama Nice Work. “In those days,” he later explained in an interview, “the BBC didn’t pay you until you had done the first studio recording, so I had been working on the show for two months without any money. I went to the cashpoint, put my card in the machine and it spat it out.”
His bank refused to extend his overdraft, and the BBC advanced him £350; but he was forced to scrounge money from the rest of the cast: “ A few months later, I noticed that my wife wasn’t wearing her engagement ring. I asked her where it was and she explained it was being repaired.” It was only later that he discovered she had sold it to pay bills.
Thereafter, however, Clarke was rarely out of work. His television credits included The Manageress (1989-90); Gone to the Dogs (1991); Sleepers (1991); Gone to Seed (1992); The Secret Agent (1992); The House of Windsor (1994); The Locksmith (1997); Down to Earth (2000-1), with Pauline Quirke, about a couple faced with bankruptcy who decide to move out of London to run a smallholding in Devon; and Bleak House (2005), in which he played Lawrence Boythorn. He made a number of appearances on the big screen; Clint Eastwood cast him as a Russian spy in Firefox (1982).
More recently Clarke had appeared in the BBC drama The Invisibles (2008) and the Channel 4 trilogy Red Riding (2009). The last role he completed before his death was as Charles Poldark in the BBC’s revival of the 1970s television drama Poldark.
Warren Clarke died in his sleep after a short illness.
Date of Birth: 25 August 1939, Brentford, Middlesex, UK
Birth Name: John Michael Jones
Nicknames: John Bardon
When the actor John Bardon, who has died aged 75, took on the role of EastEnders' grumpy grandad Jim Branning, he succeeded in turning the figure of a lazy, selfish and bigoted Londoner into one of the BBC soap's most lovable characters. Jim was a regular in the Queen Vic pub, who had a weakness for gambling but married the fictional Albert Square's gossip and minder of morals, Dot Cotton, until ill-health saw her dispatch him to a care home.
The balding, crumple-faced actor, often seen wearing a cloth cap, first appeared in the serial in 1996, when Jim arrived in Walford for his daughter April's wedding. When she was jilted at the altar, his other daughter, Carol, and her boyfriend, Alan Jackson, got married in their place, but Jim stormed out because he disapproved of her marrying a black man.
Three years later, Bardon returned in the role as a regular. Jim worked in the Queen Vic as a potman and mellowed after meeting the Bible-thumping Dot. He proposed to her on the London Eye and the couple married on Valentine's Day 2002. He nursed Dot when she had kidney cancer, but himself became the patient after suffering a stroke in 2007. The storyline was written into the soap after Bardon himself had a stroke. The actor was unable to walk for six months, but returned to EastEnders for a short run in 2008 and permanently the following year. However, he was written out in 2011 as his health deteriorated.
Bardon was born John Michael Jones in Brentford, Middlesex, a week before the outbreak of the second world war, and brought up in Chelsea. His father became a shipping clerk for an insurance company after his building business went bust. On leaving school, Bardon had various jobs, including working at Austin Reed in Regent Street, London, before becoming an industrial designer. However, his ambition was to act and, after performing in pubs with an amateur group, The Taverners, and touring Germany and Austria with a civil service drama company, he turned professional at the age of 30. He adopted his grandmother's maiden name, Bardon, and his first work was with a repertory company in Exeter.
He progressed to small roles in Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon (1972) before playing Demetrius in its production of Antony and Cleopatra (Stratford, 1972, and Aldwych theatre, 1973). He also acted the spiv Private Walker in the stage version of Dad's Army (1975-76).
After appearing as Sgt Comrie Milbrau in the musical The Good Companions (1974), based on JB Priestley's novel a role played by the music-hall comedian Max Miller in an earlier film version Bardon had the idea of playing the Cheeky Chappie himself in a one-man show. The result was his tour de force, Here's a Funny Thing, written by RW Shakespeare, which Bardon performed at the Liverpool Playhouse and Edinburgh festival, then in the West End of London (1982). The stage show was also broadcast by Channel 4.
Further recognition came when he jointly won (with his fellow cast member Emil Wolk) the Olivier Award for outstanding performance by an actor in a musical for his role as the gangster Max O'Hagan in an RSC production of Kiss Me Kate (1987).
After making his television debut in the play A Man Against His Age (1970), Bardon took one-off character roles in dozens of dramas and comedies. He was a regular as the comedian Jim Davidson's father in the sitcom Up the Elephant and Round the Castle (1983-85) and Bernie Sweet Ray Winstone and Larry Lamb's father in the first series (1992) of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran's recession comedy Get Back. He also appeared four times (1987-92) as the villain Fred Timson in Rumpole of the Bailey.
Bardon's films included One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975), Clockwise (1986), 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), Fierce Creatures (1997) and East Is East (1999).
Following decades of battling to keep in work before joining EastEnders, the actor was modest about his achievements. "I don't regard myself as a soap star there is no such bleedin' thing," he said in 2003. "I'm an actor who is appearing in a soap. They all think they are bleedin' stars, but they ain't when they leave here. More often than not they disappear."
Date of Birth: March 7 1958, Matching Tye, Harlow, Essex, UK
Birth Name: Richard Michael Mayall
Nicknames: Rik Mayall
Rik Mayall, the comedian and actor, was terrible of alternative comedy with an anarchic line in over-the-top scatology; he later broadened his appeal with his portrayal of the egregious politician Alan B’Stard.
His breakthrough came in 1982 when he co-wrote and co-starred in BBC Television’s The Young Ones, a situation comedy featuring a group of revolting students on the breadline, squeezing spots, baring bottoms and sharing a filthy flat.
Arms flailing and eyes bulging, Mayall’s character, the angst-ridden loud-mouthed student Rick, chimed with the programme’s unpredictable “alternative” quality. The show tore up the established rules of comedy; the resulting 35 minutes of rampaging, violent slapstick struck some as having more in common with Warner Bros cartoons than with traditional sitcoms.
Mayall wrote The Young Ones with his then girlfriend Lise Meyer and another emerging alternative comedy star Ben Elton. Although it found a cult audience straight away mostly students, teenagers and twentysomethings others were slow to catch on and it was only when the series was repeated that it began to build a sizeable audience.
In contrast to his outrageous, rebarbative characterisations, Mayall was quietly-spoken and shy, with a reputation as the chameleon comedian: “fluent, funny, polite, informed” noted one of the comparatively few interviewers he spoke to, but “also evasive, slippery, canny, cautious and a tad self-congratulatory”.
“There’s a quality about me,” Mayall himself once confessed, “that you don’t quite trust”.
Although he became a defining part of the television landscape of the 1980s including a memorable turn as the rumbustiously randy Squadron Commander Flashheart in Blackadder Goes Forth (“Always treat your kite like you treat your woman ... get inside her five times a day and take her to heaven and back!”) Mayall always preferred working in the live theatre. His fellow comic actor Simon Fanshawe ascribed to
Mayall “a kind of pure energy as a solo performer on stage that, if you are prepared for the ride, is irresistible”.
In April 1998, when he was 40, a near-fatal accident on a quad bike left Mayall in a coma for five days; severe head injuries caused impaired memory, shaky co-ordination and speech problems. “The accident was over Easter and as you know, Jesus our Lord was nailed to the cross on Good Friday,” recounted Mayall in an interview last year. “The day before that is Crap Thursday, and that’s the day Rik Mayall died. And then he was dead on Good Friday, Saturday, Sunday until Bank Holiday Monday.”
But he appeared to have made a complete recovery, and returned to work in blustering form as Richie Twat (pronounced Thwaite) in Guesthouse Paradiso (1999), a film he co-wrote with his friend and long-time comedy partner Adrian Edmondson.
Although his part as Peeves the poltergeist in the first Harry Potter film failed to make the final cut, Mayall remained philosophical. “I’ve looked over the edge,” he remarked, adding that his brush with death had taught him that ending up on the cutting room floor hardly seemed so bad.
Richard Michael Mayall was born on March 7 1958 at Matching Tye, a village near Harlow, Essex, but brought up in Droitwich, Worcestershire. The third child of two Left-wing drama teachers, he made his stage debut when he was six in a crowd scene in his father’s production of The Good Woman of Setzuan.
Taking the name Rik from the comic strip character Erik the Viking, he passed the 11-plus aged nine as it was being phased out, winning a free place at the fee-paying King’s School, Worcester, the youngest boy there when he arrived a year early.
At Manchester University, studying drama in the late 1970s, his tutor noted that Mayall’s humour was “always pretty puerile”. Nevertheless Mayall undertook a student tour of America as Dromio of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors. Graduating in 1979, he arrived in London to work for a job agency on £29 a week.
With Edmondson, whom he met at university, he formed a comedy duo called Twentieth Century Coyote, and began making appearances at The Comedy Store. The pair went on to make their name at another club, The Comedy Strip, launch-pad for several so-called “alternative” comedians. Television work followed, with Mayall teamed with Alexei Sayle, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders in the Comic Strip films.
Mayall also found work as a straight actor, making what The Daily Telegraph called “a brilliant debut” as the dashingly good-looking dandy Ivan in Gogol’s The Government Inspector at the Olivier Theatre in 1985. In 1988 he starred with Stephen Fry in Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit at the Phoenix, and in 1991 was what one critic considered a “downright nerdish” Vladimir in Waiting for Godot at the Queen’s Theatre.
In Simon Gray’s ill-starred Cell Mates at the Albery in 1995 Stephen Fry famously walked out of the production after three performances and vanished for several days Mayall’s portrayal of the petty Irish criminal Sean Bourke was hailed as “brilliant” by The Sunday Telegraph’s John Gross: “At every stage he exerts a magnetic spell.”
Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Covent Garden during the play’s six-week run, Mayall pulled a toy gun in the street and pointed it at two strangers. Police formally warned him but he was released without charge, Mayall himself conceding that he had been “a total prat”.
He came to national notice on television as the unemployable investigative reporter Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up The Eighties, a sketch show that he co-wrote. Mayall went on to co-write and star in The Young Ones with Elton, Edmondson and Nigel Planer. The show became a cult hit worldwide including in America and was his best-known project. The team’s feeble follow-up Filthy, Rich and Catflap was followed in turn by the critically-panned black comedy Bottom (1991), with Mayall starring as a sex-starved bachelor; a sell-out touring stage version of the programme was resurrected a few years later.
In The New Statesman (1987), Mayall portrayed a ruthless and corrupt Tory MP called Alan B’Stard who would stop at nothing to gain power; as part of Mayall’s character research, the Conservative MP Michael Portillo gave him a tour of the Commons. The scriptwriters Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran explained that they had taken Mayall’s persona from The Young Ones and poured it into a Savile Row suit.
He continued to blossom as a comic actor in a series of hour-long showcases for ITV Rik Mayall Presents (1993), in which, noted the Telegraph’s critic, “Mayall achieves high comedy”.
In addition to his occasional role in the BBC’s Blackadder during the 1990s, Mayall also provided the voice of a malevolent baby in the mini-sitcom How To Be A Little Sod (1995). His other film credits included both a Hollywood flop, Drop Dead Fred (1991), and a British one, Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis (1997), in which he played a music industry manager plotting to kill his fading pop star client.
After his accident, Mayall’s output had been less prolific, but as well as Guesthouse Paradiso he starred in several video versions of Bottom, and as a camp DJ in Day of the Sirens (2002). He also starred in the ITV sitcom Believe Nothing (2002) as an egotistical Nobel Prize-winning Oxford professor named Adonis Cnut, a member of the Council for International Progress, an underground organisation that aspires to control the world. He reprised the role of Alan B’Stard in the stage play The New Statesman 2006: Blair B’Stard Project (Trafalgar Studios), in which B’Stard has left the Conservatives to become a Labour MP. In 2011, Mayall appeared on Let’s Dance For Comic Relief, attacking his old friend Edmondson with a frying pan as he attempted to perform The Dying Swan.
His autobiography Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ was published in 2005.
Date of Birth: 24 June 1934, Clapham, London, UK
Birth Name: Robert Edward John Larbey
Nicknames: Bob Larbey
Bob Larbey was a scriptwriter who mined the comic potential of suburbia in The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles
With a first major television breakthrough in 1968 with Please, Sir!, a series for ITV set in a tough south London secondary modern school; it would generate a feature film and a television sequel, The Fenn Street Gang. Frank Muir, then head of entertainment at LWT, cast John Alderton as the idealistic young teacher Bernard “Privet” Hedges who struggled to keep the unruly pupils of Class 5C in order.
As Larbey celebrated his 40th birthday, he and co writer John Esmonde devised their most popular and successful series, The Good Life. In the first episode, screened in 1975, Tom Good, a draughtsman for a plastics company (played by Richard Briers), himself turned 40, seizing this occasion to drop out of the rat-race by jacking in his job in favour of suburban self-sufficiency with his wife Barbara (Felicity Kendal).
Rather than give up their comfortable, semi-detached home in Surbiton, the Goods turned their garden into a smallholding, with pigs, a goat, chickens and assorted fruit and vegetables.
Although the couple’s lifestyle baffled and often appalled their social-climbing neighbours, Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry Leadbetter (Paul Eddington), the foursome always remained friends, and it was this rapprochement that commended the series to the middle classes, at whom it was poking fun. (Larbey himself confessed that he was too impractical to embrace self-sufficiency, but its general philosophy appealed to him.)
While The Good Life was attracting some 15 million viewers a week on the BBC, Larbey and Esmonde were enjoying further success on ITV with their RAF sitcom Get Some In! (1975-78). Starring Robert Lindsay in his first important television role, and featuring Tony Selby as the drill instructor barking orders at 1950s National Service “erks”, the series drew on the writers’ own experiences (Larbey had been in the Army, and Esmonde in the RAF).
After The Good Life, Larbey and Esmonde wrote three further series for Richard Briers, starting with The Other One (1977-79), in which the central character could not have been more different. Perhaps because Briers was cast as a compulsive and unscrupulous liar, the show failed to generate any of the affection viewers had felt for the wholesome Goods, and it was cancelled after only two series.
Larbey struck out on his own with A Fine Romance (1981-84), starring Judi Dench in her first television sitcom, alongside her real-life husband, Michael Williams. “From first to last,” one critic noted, “Bob Larbey’s scripts were well-written, providing not only laughs but also an underlying intelligence.”
He rejoined Esmonde to create another popular and long-running vehicle for Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89), in which the star returned to suburbia as Martin Bryce, an anally-retentive fusspot and do-gooder, with Penelope Wilton as his long-suffering wife, Ann.
In Larbey and Esmonde’s last series together, Down To Earth (1995), Briers played Tony Fairfax, an expatriate struggling to adapt after returning to Britain from South America; but once again viewers did not warm to his character, and it ran for just seven episodes.
The youngest son of a carpenter, Robert Edward John Larbey was born on June 24 1934 in Lambeth, south London, and educated at the Henry Thornton School in Clapham, where he was captain of tennis and became friends with John Esmonde, two years his junior.
On leaving school Larbey took a job in an insurance office in Soho, then did National Service with the Army, stationed in Germany with the Education Corps.
When he and Esmonde started writing sketches, working together at nights and weekends, they submitted a few to the BBC, which eventually accepted one for a programme starring the comedian Cyril Fletcher, earning them a joint fee of two guineas. Having saved money from their day jobs, they gave themselves three months to make a go of writing full-time.
Their first radio sitcom was Spare a Copper (1965-66), featuring the Carry On film star Kenneth Connor as a bungling policeman. The pair followed this with two further radio series, You’re Only Old Once (1969), with Clive Dunn as a spry pensioner, and Just Perfick (1969-71), adapted from the Larkin family stories of HE Bates.
Meanwhile, Larbey and Esmonde had established a toehold in television, starting with sketches for The Dick Emery Show in 1963. Their first full-scale television sitcom, Room At The Bottom (1967), for the BBC, was about a gang of factory maintenance men . It made little impact, but the following year the success of Please, Sir! (1968-72) propelled them into the front rank of television comedy writers. Turned down by the BBC, the show was snapped up by ITV, attracting a weekly audience of 20 million viewers .
As their careers prospered, the pair worked business hours in an office in the centre of Dorking, midway between their respective homes, often acting out scenes together and noting down spontaneous bursts of dialogue. Distractions were confined to occasional glances at televised cricket.
In the 1980s they created Brush Strokes (1986-91), in which Karl Howman starred as a womanising painter and decorator, with Gary Waldhorn as his boss. They wrote a second sitcom for Howman called Mulberry (1992-93), in which he played the manservant of a cantankerous old spinster Miss Farnaby (Geraldine McEwan).
Although in The Good Life Larbey helped to make Surbiton synonymous with suburbia, he never visited the town he made famous. “To be honest, we were just looking for something that sounded like suburbia in big capital letters,” he explained. “We just picked it at random.” The series was actually filmed in Northwood, north London.
In 2004, 30 years after its original screening, The Good Life was ranked ninth in a BBC poll of viewers’ favourite sitcoms.
Date of Birth: 8 February 1944, Islington, North London, UK
Birth Name: Roger Llyod-Pack
Roger Lloyd-Pack, the actor, who has died aged 69, will forever be associated with the slow-witted Peckham road sweeper Trigger, whom he played in the much-loved television series Only Fools and Horses.
As one of the regulars at the Nag’s Head pub, Trigger provided an immeasurably dim foil to the wit and wisdom of wheeler-dealer Del Boy (David Jason), used-car salesman Boycie (John Challis), landlord Mike (Kenneth MacDonald) and Del Boy’s younger brother, Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst).
The character was involved both in one of the series’ best running jokes, and its greatest slapstick moment. In the latter, he accompanies Del Boy on a mission to pick up a couple of “modern euro-birds”, only for Del Boy to fall through the bar after a waiter, unnoticed, lifts the hatch. In the former, Trigger persistently refers to Rodney as “Dave”. Even on the announcement of Rodney’s engagement, to Cassandra, Trigger raises a glass “to Cassandra and Dave”. When she discloses that she is pregnant, he suggests that the couple call the baby “Rodney, after Dave”.
Born with what he described as “an old man’s face”, Lloyd-Pack had to wait until his 40s to find success as an actor; once he found it with Trigger, however, the role would not leave him be. Such was his identification with the road-sweeper that passers-by, even policemen, would shout out “Wotcher Trig?” at him in the street. In conversation, he said, strangers assumed he was very thick. He described the role as “like an albatross in one way. If something becomes mega, like Fools, you’ve had it. I’ll never escape Trigger, I’ve learnt to live with that.”
But the role (which he nearly abandoned after two series, until his agent told he would be “mad”) provided him with a measure of financial security and also ensured that he did not have to worry about finding work again. Though he never subsequently secured the golden roles of Lear or Shylock, to which he aspired, he was sought after for smaller, plum Shakespearean parts, such as Buckingham (in Richard III) or Sir Andrew Aguecheek (in Twelfth Night).
Not that he was above playing a pantomime dame, or signing on to the Harry Potter franchise. Acting, he said, was “a silly job, in a way, especially when you get older. It’s just dressing up, playing at being someone else. It’s rather lovely, too, but it’s hardly life and death.”
Roger Lloyd-Pack was born on February 8 1944 in north London. His father, Charles Pack, had grown up a working-class lad in the East End before turning to acting and, in the 1930s, adding Lloyd to his surname. Roger’s mother, Ulrike, was an Austrian-Jewish emigrée who had fled the Nazis.
Roger was educated at St David’s (“a snobby little prep school run by a sadistic couple”) and Bedales, where he “coasted”. He did not shine at Geography (securing just nine per cent in his O-level), but did begin acting, eventually auditioning for Rada. After training there, however, he found jobs hard to come by.
In part he put this down to his looks. “It took a while for all my features to fall into place,” he said. “I didn’t come into my own as an actor until I was 40. I was not easy to cast.” He found bit parts in series such as The Avengers, The Protectors and Dixon of Dock Green, but spent much of his time drifting in rep waiting, with increasingly little confidence, for his big break.
In the mid-1970s his career got a boost when the director Bill Gaskill invited him to join the Joint Stock Theatre Company, which pioneered the idea of using collaborative workshops to inspire new material from playwrights such as David Hare and Caryl Churchill. But it was not until 1981, with the advent of Only Fools and Horses, that he secured his future as an actor. He was signed up after being spotted by the series’ producer, Ray Butt, while in a play alongside Billy Murray, who was being considered for the Del Boy role.
The series ran for a decade, with the character of Trigger appearing in nearly every episode and acquiring something approaching cult status, notably for moments of inadvertent wisdom that pierced the fog of idiocy. On one occasion, Trigger prompts a philosophical debate by revealing that he has used the same broom to sweep streets for 20 years. When asked his secret, he reveals that he has lovingly maintained it, replacing the head 17 times and the handle 14 times.
In interviews Lloyd-Pack was frank, sometimes disarmingly so, about the nature of his/Trigger’s rather peculiar brand of celebrity. He was also frank about the travails of his personal life, in particular the mental health difficulties faced by his eldest daughter, Emily.
Emily Lloyd, who was born when Lloyd-Pack was 26, was catapulted to Hollywood stardom while still in her teens after appearing in the film Wish You Were Here (1987). A decade in Hollywood followed, but she was increasingly afflicted by mental health problems. In an interview last year, Lloyd-Pack said that watching his daughter struggle with her condition was “absolutely heart-rending and painful”.
He was also forthright about the possibility that, having left his first marriage, to the actress Sheila Ball, when Emily was only two, he had somehow contributed to his daughter’s later difficulties. “I feel very sad about that,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t have a second chance. Forming good, trusting relationships with your children involves being with them when they’re very small and holding them. You can’t replace it. The thing you most want in your life when you’re little is for both your parents to love each other. If not, it can be the beginning of all your problems.”
Roger Lloyd-Pack, who died of cancer, was also clear-sighted about death, upon which, he said, even before his diagnosis, he reflected every day. A keen cyclist, recycler, and campaigner for Left-wing causes, he revealed he would like to buried in “a cardboard coffin”. As for his obituaries: “I don’t really care what [they] say, so long as they are fair. I know I will be best remembered for Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, but I hope all my other work will be acknowledged, too.”
His television credits included Spyder’s Web; Moving; The Bill; The Old Guys; and The Vicar of Dibley. Film credits included The Naked Civil Servant; 1984; Wilt; Interview with the Vampire; Vanity Fair; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Date of Birth: 26 April 1926, Alderley Edge, Sheshire, UK
Birth Name: David Robert Coleman
Nicknames: David Coleman
The death of David Coleman at the age of 87 signs off an already distant era when television broadcasts of Britain's national sporting events the so-called "crown jewels" were almost the sole and exclusive preserve of the BBC. Coleman was the very embodiment of that pre-eminence. As the corporation's champion sports presenter through much of the second half of the 20th century, he had an enthusiastic, knowing, taut professional style and a crisp, classless delivery that seemed all-pervading. In addition, he was the pathfinding master of ceremonies for such long-running regulars as Grandstand, Sportsnight and A Question of Sport.
In all, Coleman led the BBC's coverage at 16 Olympic games (summer and winter), five World Cup football tournaments and many FA Cup finals and Grand National steeplechases. He realised that the knack of successful television commentary required both passion and brevity, as well as, for the most important passages, bestowing a significantly precise top and tail to frame the occasion for posterity as in: "This then, the start of the 200 metres of the 1976 Olympic games…" to "Oh, what a run, what a run, truly magnificent!"
Following his final Olympiad at Sydney in 2000, and only months from his 75th birthday, at a ceremony at the International Olympic Committee's base in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, pinned to Coleman's lapel the rare Olympic Order medal. The television man was touchingly moved. He was the first broadcaster or journalist ever to be so honoured, joining such lustrous performers on the plinth as Jesse Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen and Emil Zatopek.
Throughout his broadcasting career, he saw himself as the hard-nosed, everyman-journalist. He was no celebrity presenter, and could be scathingly dismissive about more starry, chummy screen performers chosen more for winsome looks and winning smiles.
Rivals were never comfortable with Coleman. In the mid-1960s when ITV hired the popular, amiable Eamonn Andrews to launch its Saturday afternoon World of Sport magazine programme to take on the BBC's Grandstand, Coleman dismissively told Andrews: "I'll blow you out of the water!" To all intents, that was, mercilessly, what he did.
Similarly, at the end of that decade, when ITV attempted to challenge BBC's football monopoly, Coleman would refuse, before cup finals at Wembley, even to shake the hand when proffered with a "good luck for a good commentary" from the commercial channel's comradely Brian Moore. The two remained distanced rivals for almost 30 years. Moore recalled: "All round the world, David offered no real friendship. He was so spiky. If he even said 'hello', it was more with a sneer than a smile. But while his temper was short, his standards were immensely high. His hard edge made him as formidable a journalist as he was an opponent. He knew he was the best and professionally, all said and done, we knew he had set the standard and there was simply nothing we could do but admire and respect his talent."
When the fledgling BBC television service resumed after the second world war, it was still very much the corporation's junior service, available only in parts of the south-east, with its performers recruited occasionally from radio, though more usually, it seemed, from the officers' mess or the old boy network. Certainly, up in Cheshire, young Coleman had never seen television as a boy. His route was to be journalism's traditional one.
He was born in Alderley Edge, into a family that hailed from County Cork, and he went to a local grammar school. An introduction as a trainee on his local Stockport Express gave him an entree, followed by call-up for two years of national service in 1946, into the army's newspaper unit, where he had postings in West Germany and east Africa.
On demobilisation, he joined Kemsley newspapers in Manchester before becoming a youthful editor of the weekly Cheshire County Press. He was a gifted amateur runner and in 1949 won the annual Manchester Mile, at the time, he would insist, the only non-international ever to have done so. After injuries prevented him from entering trials for the 1952 British Olympic team, he wrote to the BBC.
By 1953, Coleman was putting in regular scriptwriting shifts in the BBC northern region's Manchester newsroom, and the following year joined its staff in Birmingham, concentrating on sport in the Midlands. At once came the opportunity of which ambitious juniors dream.
On 6 May 1954 Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. While the BBC's sports department in London, led by Peter Dimmock, was scouring the metropolis desperately for the shy hero (who was lying low in Clement Freud's restaurant at the Royal Court theatre in Sloane Square), they filled in time with an interview by a fresh-faced newcomer from the Midlands of the popular Argentinian golfer Roberto de Vicenzo.
Thus, Coleman was up and running and soon, as BBC Midlands' new sports editor, he was being accepted by London as the likeliest of bright lads. In 1958 Dimmock launched Grandstand on the national network. He introduced the inaugural programmes himself and then handed over to Coleman, "who's 20 times better at it than me". Coleman's marathon had begun.
A professional perfectionist, he could be a hard man to work with. Coleman could reduce insecure minions to tears, and often did. He liked cold-eyed, no-nonsense journalists around him, not television's regular vaudevilleans. He had always – and with good reason a fine conceit of his own value.
A contract wrangle kept him off the screen for almost 12 months in the mid-1970s. It was less about money and more about editorial control and the number of events he would cover.
In the studio or on location, Coleman's unflappability at taking a producer's direction, in spite of the din either all around him or through his earpiece, was legendary and, however many top-dog stars have since tried, his legend has never been outshone. Masterly, too, was his breathless and awesome command of the live teatime-scores teleprinter "Queen of the South one, Airdrie one, means Airdrie move up three places on goal difference, but Queen of the South slip a place because Brechin won today."
His race-reading of successive Olympic 100 metres finals, from Rome in 1960 to Sydney in 2000, was even more an epic and genius party-piece of splendour spot-on identification of eight men tearing headlong at him in a less than 10-second blur. But his most resplendent journalistic hour or rather hours came with his prolonged and distressingly sombre vigil, working from just one, distant, fixed camera, throughout the dreadful day of the murders of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic village in 1972.
"Colemanballs" in Private Eye a fortnightly log of commentators' gaffes and tautologies irritated him to the point of anger, and Coleman denied just about all the entries attributed to him. But the national treasure had mellowed by the time Spitting Image came along in the 1980s, and he could engagingly chortle at himself as a crazed, check-capped puppet, finger in earpeiece, squealing: "Er, reallyquiteremarkable and, er, I'vegonetooearlyand Ithinkit'simpossdibletokeep upthislevelofexcitement withoutmyheadexploding…"
Coleman, who was appointed OBE in 1992, resented retirement in 2000 as a slight, but he had set the standards. When, for all those decades, BBC television ruled the waves, for most of the time he was master-commander and buccaneering captain on the quarterdeck.
After he had fronted Grandstand for a decade, he moved to a midweek slot with Sportsnight (1968-73), though later returned to the Saturday programme. From the early 1970s he was the BBC's senior football commentator, and from the early 80s concentrated on athletics. He brought a businesslike geniality to chairing A Question of Sport (1979-97); the programme's only other two presenters have been David Vine from its start in 1970, and Sue Barker till the present. He was also a co-host of the BBC Sports Review of the Year (1961-83).
Date of Birth: 23 November 1927, Belfast, Northern Island
Birth Name: John Morrison Cole
Nicknames: John Cole
John Cole, the BBC’s former political editor, who has died aged 85, set the political agenda during the Thatcher years, when his mangled Ulster accent, square glasses and unfashionable herringbone coat made him an instantly recognisable figure on the nation’s television screens.
The sight of Cole outside No 10 or on College Green outside the Houses of Parliament was a guarantee of compelling and incisive political analysis. Honourable, hard-working and well-informed, he aimed to provide “politics for grown-ups”, and he had an enviable knack of exuding authority without being pompous or obscure.
He refused to get caught up in gossipy personality politics and had to be prodded into reporting the sex scandals which rocked Mrs Thatcher’s administration. Yet he always kept ahead of the game, because he was trusted to be fair and because his analysis was always rooted in an understanding of the fundamental political issues.
Cole’s idiosyncratic style and Ulster brogue won him his own unintelligible puppet on Spitting Image, and he was guyed in Private Eye’s “Hondootedly” column. He was irritated by the satire, confessing that he regarded himself as “a pretty serious journalist. I didn’t want to turn into a buffoon.” Nor was he amused when, after a report in which he had used the phrase “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, his colleague David Dimbleby turned to the viewers and said: “That last bit was in French.”
But this slightly prickly, humourless quality was also the key to Cole’s success as a journalist. Entirely free of cynicism himself, and detesting the quality in others, he subscribed to the unfashionable theory that politicians enter politics for honourable and idealistic reasons, and he approached them and their performance in those terms.
As a consequence, he was trusted by politicians right across the spectrum. Mrs Thatcher singled him out for her first interview after the Brighton bomb and in 1990 he was the first to break the news of her imminent downfall; the first to predict that John Major would be Prime Minister; and the first to predict (again correctly) that Major’s challenger, Michael Heseltine, would be appointed Environment Secretary in the new administration.
Cole’s performance during the crisis won him the Royal Television Society’s journalist of the year award. At one point he jokingly remarked that he was thinking of going ex-directory so that he did not have to take calls from cabinet ministers asking him what was going on.
Even delegates to the Tory Party Conference had a soft spot for Cole. Yet ironically, had they known his true political views, they would have had all their prejudices about the Corporation confirmed. For behind his rigorous impartiality there beat an “Old” Labour heart one colleague described him as the “last of the Stalinists”. He was a man who would, as he once confessed, have closed down Oxford and Cambridge and abolished the House of Lords.
Cole was a model of politeness when he interviewed Mrs Thatcher, but as he confessed after his retirement he found it hard to remain impartial, as he detested everything she stood for: what he saw as her lack of concern for the poor, her “enamelled certitude” and “immanent sense of being right”. In one interview conducted after he had retired from the BBC, he named her as the worst Prime Minister Britain had ever had. That he was able to separate the personal from the professional indicated a modesty and intellectual integrity of a kind which few political pundits have achieved before or since.
When Cole retired from the BBC in 1992, it was John Major who gave perhaps the most perceptive assessment of his career: “Politicians like him, they trust him and when he presents policies, there is one thing he does that few others have ever managed to do properly. That is to set out the background to the decision and the constraints that politicians face. I think that’s earned him very high admiration.”
John Morrison Cole was born in Antrim Road, north Belfast, on November 23 1927 into a Protestant Unionist family. His father owned a small electrical business. His upbringing was Presbyterian and colleagues felt that this was the key to his character. David Wilson, a BBC producer who worked with Cole, described him as “a very moral man, upright in a rather old-fashioned way. He isn’t a table-banging Paisleyite, he’s much more like Cromwell: 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”’
Cole never distanced himself from Northern Ireland and would become irritated with English friends who dismissed the Irish as a lot of warring tribes. He himself favoured the union and internment, and disliked the Anglo-Irish treaty, though he rejected narrow sectarianism and despised discrimination. But as with all his political reporting, he was careful to maintain a strict impartiality, giving due weight to both sides of the sectarian divide.
Cole was educated at the Belfast Royal Academy, but left at 17 to become a cub reporter on the Belfast Telegraph, where he cut his journalistic teeth reporting the agriculture estimates at the old assembly at Stormont.
He had his first political scoop aged 21 when he was sent to the border to interview the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, on his way back from holiday in Co Sligo: “There was another young reporter there, but he was just doing a holiday story asking the Attlees what they’d been doing... So [Attlee] was rather taken by surprise when I pulled out a cutting from a London paper which said that he was going to end partition and have a unified Ireland. This was news to Attlee, who denied it. 'Get your notebook out, young man,’ he said to me. There and then he dictated his denial, in perfect paragraphs. I phoned it across, word for word, and it made the front page.”
The scoop convinced Cole that his future lay at Westminster, and in 1956 he took a job as a reporter, then labour correspondent, for The Guardian. In 1960 he won an award for Scoop of the Year after picking up a rumour that Alf Robens, a possible Labour leader, was going to be made chairman of the Coal Board by the Tories. No one in the trade union movement or the Labour Party believed it not even Harold Wilson but it turned out to be true.
Cole worked his way up to deputy editor, then, after being pipped for the editorship, took the same position at The Observer before Lonhro bought the paper in 1981. Cole gave evidence against Tiny Rowland at the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and, when the bid was cleared, Rowland extended an ironic hand of friendship: “He fixed me with those icy blue eyes of his and said slowly 'I shall look forward to working with you.’ I knew I wouldn’t last.”
Cole was saved the indignity of touting round for a new job when, the following morning, the BBC rang to see whether he would be interested in the job of political editor. He took it like a shot.
In political interviews, Cole always played it straight, neither bullying nor sycophantic, a tactic which yielded a number of scoops. When he interviewed Mrs Thatcher after she had called the 1987 election, she was burying him in statistics when he saw “a chink for an old man to ask a woman no longer in the first flush of youth whether this would be her last election. She replied, 'Oh no, I intend to go on and on and on.’” He saw her human side. In The Thatcher Years (1987) he wrote: “I heard of one occasion when she breezed into a meeting, slapped a file on the table and said to the assembling ministers, 'I’m in a dreadful hurry this morning. I’ve only really got time to explode.’”
When Cole formally retired from the BBC in 1992, it was to mournful headlines. In retirement he wrote his memoirs, As it Seemed to Me (1995), in which he chronicled what politicians he knew had said or done over the years and developed the theme that the arrival of Mrs Thatcher marked the point at which pragmatic politics had given way to dogma. Disappointingly, however, he revealed little of himself. He continued to make regular appearances on television and radio, and in 2001 wrote a novel, A Clouded Peace, set in Northern Ireland.
Cole remained untouched by celebrity and lived a modest, frugal life. He avoided showbusiness parties, worked hard and continued to live in the pebble-dash house at Claygate, Surrey, that he had bought in 1956. People in the street would often take him for the weather man Ian McCaskill and, when asked what the weather would be, he would usually reply that it would be “sunny with a slight risk of showers”.
Typically, John Cole refused a CBE when it was offered in 1993.
Date of Birth: 7 April 1939, Tenterden, Kent, UK
Birth Name: David Paradine Frost
Nicknames: David Frost, Sir David Frost
Sir David Frost began his career in television satirising the patrician Establishment and ended it with a knighthood, a duke as a father-in-law and a reputation as the television personality politicians on both sides of the Atlantic most wanted to be interviewed by.
Frost made his name in the 1960s on the BBC’s late night satirical series That Was The Week That Was. With his sardonic manner, slurred diction, nasal voice and alarming surges in volume, he was the first to show that quirkiness and unnaturalness could work better on television than the “natural” but bland presentation that had been the norm.
He was also one of the first television presenters to recognise instinctively the value of a catchphrase as an indispensable prop in fixing a personality and establishing a rapport with television audiences. His tautological “Hello, good evening (or morning) and welcome” was delivered with a conscious air of self-parody long before he himself became a butt of the satirists.
Although Frost was only the link man to performers like Willie Rushton and John Bird, it was Frost, above all, who reaped the benefits of the programme’s notoriety.
From the early days of The Frost Report in the 1960s, and The Frost Programme in the 1970s, to Frost on Sunday in the 1990s, he was rarely off British television screens, appearing in everything from news and documentaries to chat shows, quiz shows and comedy. In total, Frost presented more than 20 television series, produced nine films, wrote 14 books, won numerous awards, and was a co-founder of London Weekend Television and TV-am. In 1969 a poll revealed that he was, after the Queen and the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, the best-known person in the country.
Frost had a genius for access, and he interviewed nearly everyone who was anyone, including six American Presidents, eight British Prime Ministers, several members of the Royal family and a galaxy of celebrities. He had a phenomenal memory and an instinctive understanding of the value of flattery; most of his interviewees considered themselves personal friends.
“The big names answer the phone to him”, observed an envious colleague. “Nobody else can phone the people he can and get through and they’re pleased to talk to him.” “Now at last here’s someone I recognise” announced American President George HW Bush across a crowd of leading British public figures held at No 10 Downing Street. At the Frosts’ annual garden party, held in the second week of the Wimbledon championships, leading politicians would rub shoulders with showbusiness personalities, sports stars and minor royals.
Frost also had a Panglossian ability to look on the bright side. Though he had failures that might have sunk a more introspective personality, he was always able to put them behind him.
Both LWT and TV-am began with hopelessly unrealistic programming ambitions and both hit trouble soon after they were launched. Most of his books earned indifferent reviews and several business ventures failed. An attempt to open a chain of steak houses in Japan collapsed after it was calculated that he would need to fill every table six times a day to make it pay.
But unlike television figures such as Michael Parkinson or Russell Harty, Frost was never held in great affection by the British public, possibly because he always seemed so desperate to be liked. Even friends admitted that away from the cameras there was a strange insubstantiality about the man.
Kitty Muggeridge famously remarked that after That Was The Week That Was, Frost was expected to sink without trace; instead, he “rose without trace”. The phrase seemed to encapsulate both the suddenness of Frost’s rise and the lack of any obvious intellectual anchorage in his career.
For Frost never appeared to have any considered views about life. He was never heard to utter a political opinion and never voted in an election. Interviewers asking direct questions about his personal feelings on an issue would be fobbed off with anecdotes about what someone else had said. They were often left with the impression that Frost was not interested in anything other than his own career.
Not even in the lengthy first volume of his autobiography did Frost provide any insights. He knew the rich and famous, but had nothing interesting or original to say about them. He travelled the world, but his most interesting observations were that Americans eat hamburgers and call pavements “sidewalks”.
Christopher Booker, a Cambridge contemporary, saw him as an embodiment of all that was vacuous about the 1960s: “a hollow man in pursuit of fame for its own sake”. His most obvious quality, Booker observed in a savage profile in 1977, “was ambition of an all consuming and extraordinary kind. He simply wanted to be amazingly famous for being David Frost”.
Yet even Booker found him “impossible to dislike”. Though he had an insatiable appetite for celebrity, he was never arrogant or vain. Wholly devoid of rancour, he was never heard to voice a disparaging word about anyone, despite many attempts by interviewers to get him to do so. People in his estimation were usually “wonderful”, “lovely” “or “super”.
One person on whom Frost’s charm failed to work was the satirist and comedian Peter Cook. At Cook’s memorial service in 1995, Stephen Fry recalled an occasion when Frost rang Cook to invite him to dinner with Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson: “big fans ... be super if you could make it Wednesday the 12th”. “Hang on, I’ll check my diary,” said Cook, riffling through the pages. “Oh dear, I find I’m watching television that night.” Frost, who was in the congregation, laughed with the rest of them. Even for those who turned against him, Frost had only kind words in return.
David Paradine Frost was born on April 7 1939 at Tenterden, Kent, the son of a Methodist minister, the Rev WJ Paradine Frost. As his sisters were 14 and 16 years older, he was raised as an only child. There was no alcohol or swearing in the Frost household, and no Sunday newspapers or television.
The Frost family lived a peripatetic life, moving from Tenterden to Kempston, Bedford, then back to Kent, to Gillingham, then to Raunds, near Wellingborough. David attended Gillingham and Wellingborough grammar schools. His father would have liked him to follow him into the ministry, but David’s talents seemed destined to take him in other directions.
At school he excelled at sports and displayed an early talent for satire, selling his classmates bottles of soapy water labelled “Bill Haley’s Bathwater” and conducting pseudonymous campaigns through the letters column of the local paper, one of which called for all dogs to be shot.
Frost could have been a star striker for Nottingham Forest. A club scout was present when he scored eight goals with eight shots at a school match, and offered to sign him up. But Frost was determined to go to Cambridge, where he arrived in 1958 as an undergraduate at Gonville and Caius.
At Cambridge, Frost got to know Peter Cook, Eleanor Bron, John Bird, Jonathan Miller and other stars of what was to become the Sixties satire industry; but although he edited Granta and became secretary of Footlights, his contemporaries were baffled by his ability to rise above an apparent lack of comic talent and intellectual depth. “What the hell has he got?” Christopher Booker recalled asking.
One thing his contemporaries noticed was Frost’s utter imperviousness to disaster. Peter Cook once recalled seeing him dying on his feet at a club but remaining convinced his performance had been a great success.
Frost’s first screen appearance came during his student days on Anglia Television’s Town And Gown series, on which Frost, according to the local paper, made “unrestrained appearances as an explorer, Professor Nain, Lionel Sope, Goalie Finn and Ron Plindell”. But Frost immediately knew he had found his métier. “The first time I stepped into a television studio,” he recalled later, “it felt like home. It didn’t scare me. Talking to the camera seemed the most natural thing in the world”.
Down from Cambridge, he took job with Associated-Rediffusion, who marked him down as “totally unsuitable” to appear on screen, and supplemented his income by performing in nightclubs. In 1962, Frost was doing an impersonation of the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in a two-month stint at the Blue Angel in Upper Berkeley Street when he was spotted by Ned Sherrin, who was looking for a linkman for his new BBC series That Was The Week That Was, sometimes referred to as TW3. Sherrin decided that Frost was exactly the man to bring satire to the late night mass television audience, and signed him up there and then.
The first TW3 show went out in November 1962, and the series continued for just eight months. Condemned by Mary Whitehouse as “the epitome of what is wrong with the BBC”, by its peak, the show had become a ratings sensation, attracting more than 12 million viewers.
After his early success with TW3, Frost’s career seemed to falter. “David Frost: A short life and a sad decline” announced the Daily Express gleefully in 1964. But he soon demonstrated his extraordinary talent for bouncing back. In 1966, after being sacked from TW3’s lacklustre successor Not So Much A Programme, More A Way of Life, he sent out invitations to a totally pointless but ostentatious champagne breakfast at the Connaught to which he summoned most of the headline figures of the 1960s. Amazingly, many took the bait, among them Harold Wilson, the Bishop of Woolwich, the philosopher AJ Ayer, Lord Longford, and several newspaper proprietors. It was a brilliant publicity stroke which, while it left his guests baffled, catapulted the 26-year-old Frost from a face in the TW3 line-up to a marketable celebrity.
The following year he orchestrated and secured the franchise for LWT, of which The Frost Programme became a cornerstone. In 1968 he signed a £125,000 contract with an American network for a three-nights-a-week show, the biggest salary ever offered to a British broadcaster. So began three years of transatlantic to-ing and fro-ing, invariably on Concorde. Honours were heaped upon him. In one week in 1969 he was appointed OBE in Britain, made a Doctor of Laws in Boston and given a “Faith and Freedom” award for “communicating the relevance of Judaeo-Christian ethics to 20th century America”. In 1968 he set up his own company, David Paradine Productions, and by 1969 his salary was rumoured to be £500,000.
At the height of his fame during the 1960s, Frost enjoyed a reputation for aggressive and fearless interviewing. He eviscerated Rupert Murdoch on the subject of pornography in an interview so hostile that it was said to have contributed to Murdoch’s decision not to live in Britain. He stood his ground against the formidable Enoch Powell in an interview on the subject of racism.
In 1967 Frost conducted what was perhaps his most notorious interview with the disgraced insurance fraudster Emil Savundra. When Savundra’s trial began a week later, the phrase “trial by television” was used by Savundra’s defending counsel to excoriate Frost.
Frost became a symbol of Sixties glamour, dynamism and irreverence. In his survey of the decade, The Pendulum Years (1970), Bernard Levin anointed him “Man of the Sixties”. Frost, he said, “divined by a remarkable instinct what the age demanded and gave it”. Newspaper diarists delighted in documenting his dalliances with actresses and models He was engaged twice but dumped both times, virtually at the altar; all his girlfriends, he always insisted, were “ terrific” and “wonderful” and most remained friends.
During the Seventies his career seemed to falter again. His output remained copious, but in series such as David Frost Presents the Guinness Book of Records (he bought the television rights to the world’s bestselling book in 1973), he began to lose focus.
His appearances on British television became more sporadic. Then, in 1977, he secured perhaps the biggest coup of his career by signing up the disgraced former American President Richard Nixon to an exclusive contract to give a series of four interviews; it was the first time since his resignation that Nixon had agreed to answer questions on the record.
Deceptively easy-going at first, almost at the end Frost moved in for the kill, and Nixon found himself apologising to the American public for the first time for his role in the Watergate affair. Frost packaged and sold the interviews to nearly every country in the world, and the interviews achieved the largest audience for a news interview in the history of television.
Having established himself again at the centre of world affairs, in 1981 Frost married Lynne Frederick, the widow of the actor Peter Sellers, but the marriage ended in failure 18 months later. In 1984 he married Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. It was, by all accounts, a conspicuously happy union.
Frost was one of the “famous five” who launched TV-am during the early 1980s, but the only one to survive the debacle when the other four were axed in March 1983. “He’s competent, he’s professional and he has the best address book in the world” enthused Bruce Gyngell, who took over as managing director. “ He’s always on the up, he’ll greet you positively and say: ‘Hello Sunshine, how are you going? Lovely to see you.’ He’s quite irresistible.”
In the 1990s Frost could be seen in Britain interviewing heads of state on TV-am’s Frost on Sunday, spying on the rich and not quite famous in Through the Keyhole, as well as chronicling the bizarre in The Spectacular World of Guinness Records. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, he could be seen quizzing more heads of state on Talking With Frost.
As Frost became more of an Establishment figure, opinions were divided on whether he offered television viewers anything more than the interviewing equivalent of Hello! magazine. “What is the real thing you want to get across?” and “How would you like to be remembered?” were typical of the sort of questions which politicians could expect to be asked. It was hardly surprising that they queued up to be on his shows.
Yet at the same time some politicians were said to view him as the most dangerous inquisitor of them all, a man who would lull the interviewee into a false sense of security before bowling a googly. In 1986, the Conservative Party chairman was coaxed into dismissing a riot at a boxing match as mere “exuberance”, undermining his government’s “get tough” policy on hooligans.
In 1987 the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, dropped his guard when asked as a unilateralist whether he would be willing to send “our boys” into battle in an army equipped with short range tactical nuclear weapons. Kinnock thought not, on the whole, because Britain could always put up resistance on the home front. The press seized on this as Kinnock calling for a latter- day Dad’s’ Army to see off the nuclear threat.
Frost himself believed he got more out of his subjects by being nice to them and felt that the impact of interviews was more compelling and sometimes chilling done conversationally than as a courtroom confrontation: “There’s little point weighing into the interviewee from the start. Much better to let him damn himself out of his own mouth, then you’ve got the ammunition you need.”
David Frost was knighted in 1993.
Date of Birth: 19 May 1926, Streatham Hill, London, UK
Birth Name: David Lewis Jacobs
Nicknames: David Jacobs
David Jacobs became one of Britain’s best-known and popular broadcasters, mainly through his long-running presence on BBC radio; he also became famous on television in the 1960s as the urbane host of Juke Box Jury.
Immaculately-tailored and groomed, the softly-spoken Jacobs presided over a jury of four often excitable and exotic celebrities, as they pronounced newly-released pop records either a hit (drawing a sforzando “ding” from a bell on Jacobs’s desk) or a miss (prompting a dismissive honk from a klaxon concealed beneath it). Whatever the verdict, Jacobs would invariably manage a wide, reassuring smile. Under his chairmanship Juke Box Jury was a popular weekly fixture from 1959 until 1967.
To this, as to all his broadcasting work, Jacobs brought huge middlebrow appeal, versatility and inexhaustible reserves of enthusiasm, albeit politely contained. His radio credits ranged from the sedate Housewives’ Choice on the old Light Programme, his Sunday morning Melodies for You on Radio 2, Music from the Musicals and, on Radio 4, Any Questions? which, with its younger stablemate Any Answers?, he anchored for 17 years.
On television, as well as Juke Box Jury Jacobs presented What’s My Line? (post-Eamonn Andrews), the Eurovision Song Contest (pre-Terry Wogan), Top of the Pops, a revival of Come Dancing and the Ivor Novello Awards, to name a few. He was a shrewd investor of the proceeds of his success: he owned eight successive houses in 15 years and in 1974 was a member of the consortium, chaired by Sir Richard Attenborough, that won the commercial radio entertainment franchise for London with Capital Radio.
In a notoriously precarious business, Jacobs enjoyed constant employment, thanks to his easy, friendly and fluent presentation style and total professionalism. In his early days as a staff announcer, he got the sack for giggling during a news bulletin, but he was reinstated as a freelance and mistakes were rare.
On radio Jacobs’s unmistakable and distinctive tones would invariably greet listeners with his signature salutation: “Hello there”, followed on his music shows by an invitation to enjoy a selection of “our kind of music”.
David Lewis Jacobs was born on May 19 1926 at Streatham Hill, London, the youngest of three sons of a Jewish fruit broker. The only member of his family who was not connected with Covent Garden and the fruit trade was a great-aunt, Lena Verdi, who was a music-hall artist and an inspiration to her young great-nephew. When his father’s business failed, and Jacobs père was forced to scrape a living as a salesman, David’s mother turned to dressmaking.
Educated at Belmont College and Strand School, David got his first job as a groom in a riding stables, but later developed his business acumen as a pawnbroker’s assistant, a salesman in a men’s outfitter and as an office boy, before embarking on a stint as a tobacconist, buying cigarettes from American GIs and selling them to select customers. In 1944, aged 18, he joined the Royal Navy, a move that signalled the start of his professional broadcasting career.
He made his first broadcast that year as an impressionist in Navy Mixture, and after working as an announcer in the Forces’ Broadcasting Service joined the staff of Lord Louis Mountbatten as chief announcer on Radio SEAC in what was then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), eventually becoming assistant station director. Although he had no formal training, he possessed a natural talent and grasped a wartime opportunity to gain experience which might have proved more elusive in a more competitive peacetime environment.
On leaving the Navy in 1947 Jacobs joined the BBC as a newsreader and announcer in the General Overseas Service, but soon left the staff to try his luck as a freelance. As well as in his radio work, his voice became familiar to cinema audiences as the commentator on British Movietone News.
He also acted in radio plays, including in 150 episodes of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and played 23 parts in the 1950s serial Journey Into Space.
But music was Jacobs’s first love, and his knowledge, enthusiasm and genuine love of musical theatre was central to his appeal. Listeners came to trust his judgment, and his programmes became required listening for followers of both the British and American musical traditions. His radio shows also brought him into contact with many of the world’s leading performers whom he admired, among them Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza; he rated introducing Judy Garland at a Variety Club lunch as his most exciting professional moment.
Although ignored by the purveyors of official honours until he was appointed CBE in 1996, when he was 70 Jacobs earned many important industry awards, and was voted Variety Club television personality of 1960, and radio personality of 1975. He appeared in six Royal Command performances; was named top radio disc jockey six times; and in 1984 took the Sony gold award for his outstanding contribution to radio over the years.
But with professional triumphs came personal grief. His 19-year-old son by his first marriage, Jeremy, was killed in a car accident in Israel in 1972, and his second wife, Caroline (pregnant with their unborn child), died in another car crash while on holiday with him in Spain in 1975.
Jacobs was a compassionate man and somehow his personal misfortune (as much, perhaps, as his good fortune) stimulated his desire to help others. He did much good work for the Stars’ Organisation for Spastics, becoming chairman and later vice-president. He also served in various offices with the RSPCA, St John Ambulance in London, the National Children’s Orchestra and the Wimbledon Girls’ Choir.
He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 1983 and became president of the Kingston-upon-Thames Royal British Legion the following year. He published an autobiography, Jacobs’ Ladder, in 1963 and a memoir of his second wife, Caroline, in 1978. He co-authored (with Michael Bowen) Any Questions? in 1981.
During the 1980s Jacobs flourished on his lunchtime show on Radio 2, and this was perhaps the programme for which he was best known. It had originally been scheduled for two hours, but it was cut back by an hour and finally dropped altogether at the end of 1991 mistakenly, in the view of his legions of listeners, who had thrived on the Jacobs mix of stars of the calibre of Sinatra, Astaire and Garland and music from the golden age of stage and film by composers such as Kern, Gershwin, Porter and Berlin. He also presented a similar bill of musical fare on a Saturday morning show.
Jacobs unashamedly plugged the shows he himself really enjoyed, such as Mr Cinders, La Cage Aux Folles and the ill-fated Mack and Mabel. He devoted his penultimate Saturday show to the music of Jerry Herman, and his last to his favourite, nostalgic, songs. Jacobs ended by quoting what his mother had taught him to say when leaving a children’s party: “Thank you very much for having me. Please may I come again?”
Latterly he represented Radio 2’s “old guard” and, like many of his era, was shunted off to Sundays, where he presented a late evening easy-listening show called The David Jacobs Collection. Last year, while he was recovering from two major operations, the station broadcast repeats of the show before he returned to his regular Sunday night slot in July. In July this year it was announced that he was leaving his show for health reasons.
Date of Birth: 15 November 1926, Islington, North London, UK
Birth Name: Michael Weinstein
Nicknames: Michael Winters, Mike Winters
Mike Winters was the straight man to his goofy-toothed brother Bernie in the comedy double act Mike & Bernie Winters.
The brothers were pioneers of television comedy, first appearing on Britain’s screens in 1955 on the BBC show Variety Parade, before becoming regulars on programmes such as Big Night Out and Sunday Night At The London Palladium. In 1965 they won their own comedy show on ITV.
Mike was the suave, pipe-smoking member of the duo, referred to as “Choochie-Face” by his brother Bernie, a lovable buffoon with a gormless grin and the cheery catchphrase: “I’ll smash yer face in”. Known for his sophisticated wordplay, Bernie would confuse “vowels” with “bowels” or say “You’ve heard of Frank Sinatra? Well, here’s Stank Tomato!”, while Mike would interrupt with an exasperated “Stop! I’m not interested.”
It is somewhat difficult in hindsight to see what people found so funny; even in their heyday critical opinion was mixed. An oft-quoted story told of Bernie following his brother on stage at the notorious Glasgow Empire, to be greeted by a voice from the stalls: “Good God, there’s two of them!”. Meanwhile, when Morecambe and Wise were asked what they would have done had they flopped in show business, they replied: “We’d have been Mike and Bernie Winters.”
Yet they were immensely popular. Their ITV show ran for eight years, regularly reaching the top three in the ratings and attracting guest stars such as Tom Jones and The Beatles, who appeared on the programme three times.
The brothers continued to work together, but in 1978 they fell out, allegedly over Bernie’s long-running affair with a dancer 20 years his junior. While Bernie dreamed up a new act starring a new partner, his St Bernard dog Schnorbitz, and became a regular on television shows such as Punchlines and Give Us A Clue, Mike abandoned showbusiness and emigrated to Florida to become a businessman.
Michael Winters was born Michael Weinstein on November 15 1926 in Islington, North London, into an Orthodox Jewish family. His brother Bernie was born in 1929.
Michael attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys and won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where he studied the clarinet. During the war he served in the Merchant Navy despite being underage. Discharged on medical grounds, he subsequently enlisted in the Canadian Legion as a musician.
He had a facility for jazz and after the war, with brother Bernie on drums, he began getting gigs at the Stage Door Canteen, an ex-servicemen’s club in Piccadilly. To keep the audience entertained they began interrupting their solos with short comedy impressions, and soon found work entertaining the troops abroad, appearing in the Occupied Zone in Vienna.
From 1955 to 1958 Mike and Bernie Winters were regulars on the BBC’s Variety Parade, after which they moved to ITV’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium, supporting Shirley Bassey. They did pantomimes in Cardiff, cabarets in Sheffield and summer seasons in Yarmouth where, in 1967, despite the resort also boasting Rolf Harris, Morecambe and Wise and Val Doonican, each in their own their rival shows, Mike and Bernie broke all box-office records for the season — an achievement that still stands. In 1962 the brothers starred at a Royal Variety Performance and the following year they starred with Frankie Howerd and Tommy Cooper in Michael Winner’s film The Cool Mikado.
After the brothers’ act broke up, Mike emigrated to Florida, where he became a successful Miami nightclub owner, did much work for charity and wrote several books including a memoir, The Sunny Side Of Winters (2010). He eventually retired to Gloucestershire.
Although he and his brother never worked together again, they made their peace before Bernie’s death in 1991.
Date of Birth: 3 December 1952, Chiswick, Middlesex, UK
Birth Name: Melvin Kenneth Smith
Nicknames: Mel Smith
Mel Smith was part of one of television's best-known comedy double acts as well as a successful actor and director in his own right.
His comedy sketches on Alas Smith and Jones and Not the Nine O'Clock News turned him into a household name.
Often he played the role of world-weary know-it-all, but also thrived as a loveable rogue.
He enjoyed long and varied career, which saw Smith appear in and direct Hollywood films, introduce Queen at Live Aid and score a top-five chart hit.
Born in Chiswick, west London, it was perhaps inevitable Smith the son of a bookmaker would enter the world of entertainment as even at the age of six he was directing plays with his friends.
He went up to New College, Oxford, to study experimental psychology, having chosen the university especially for its dramatic society.
Smith's involvement in the society led to him becoming its president, and he directed productions at the Oxford Playhouse and performed at the Edinburgh fringe festival during his university days.
His directing career saw him first working at the Royal Court in London, before moving on to the Bristol Old Vic and the Sheffield Crucible.
It was after being invited by producer John Lloyd to join the Not the Nine O'Clock News that Smith met Griff Rhys Jones, who would go on to become his comedy sidekick for decades to come.
When the programme, which also featured Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson, came to an end, Smith and Jones decided to continue their comedy partnership with their own sketch show, its name being taken from American Western series Alias Smith and Jones.
Its trademark became the pair's head-to-head chats, which have been compared to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Dagenham Dialogues.
The conversations saw Smith play a know-it-all, while Jones took on a dim-witted persona, and they would engage in discussions on every topic under the sun. Over the next 16 years, there were a total of 10 series of the show.
In addition, Smith and Jones made films and radio shows together, and performed in plays, clip shows and Christmas specials. The comedians' many charity appearances included taking to the stage at Wembley to introduce Queen at 1985's Live Aid.
They founded production firm Talkback in 1981, which was responsible for comedy hits including Da Ali G Show and Knowing Me Knowing You. The firm was sold in 2000.
The last Smith and Jones series aired in 1998, but the pair stayed in touch and in 2005 collaborated on The Alas Smith and Jones Sketchbook, a showcase of their past shows.
Smith directed films including Bean The Ultimate Disaster Movie, which starred fellow Not the Nine O'Clock News comic Atkinson, and Richard Curtis romantic comedy The Tall Guy. His acting credits included Babylon in 1980, the 1987 hit The Princess Bride and Sir Toby Belch in Trevor Nunn's 1996 production of Twelfth Night.
The comic also took the title role in Raymond Briggs' animated Father Christmas in 1991, in which he sung the song Another Bloomin' Christmas.
He had previously demonstrated his vocal talents in 1981, releasing the single Mel Smith's Greatest Hits, and in 1987 when he teamed up with Kim Wilde for the Comic Relief song Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree which reached the top five.
Smith worked with Jones again on a sketch show for BBC One only last year.
Date of Birth: 25 June 1935, East London, UK
Birth Name: Raymond William Butt
Nicknames: Ray Butt
Ray Butt, was the original producer of Only Fools And Horses, BBC Television’s award-winning comedy series which was regularly voted the nation’s favourite sitcom.
Its motley cast of eccentric, droll and low-life oddballs was headed by Del and Rodney Trotter, two south London brothers, played by David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, who sold “dodgy gear” from a clapped-out yellow three-wheeler van (“Trotter’s Independent Trading Company, New York, Paris, Peckham”), in a perpetual quest for illusory fortune (“This time next year, Rodders, we’ll be millionaires!”).
The show had its origins in a conversation in a BBC bar between Butt, then directing the sitcom Citizen Smith (1977-1980), and John Sullivan, a former BBC scene-shifter turned scriptwriter whose latest idea for a new sitcom called Readies, set in modern multicultural London, was already causing jitters within the BBC hierarchy.
Over a drink, Butt and Sullivan compared their working-class backgrounds. Butt’s parents had run a stall on Roman Road market, and Sullivan had worked on street markets as a boy. They agreed that the most interesting market characters were the unlicensed fly-pitchers, always helped by a younger lookout, who sold useless goods like fake perfume or bogus designer clothes out of suitcases.
Butt and Sullivan started meeting regularly at Butt’s local pub, the Three Kings on the corner of North End and Talgarth Roads in Fulham, hatching the scenario that would become Only Fools And Horses. When Butt received Sullivan’s initial script, he fell about laughing. “It was marvellous, simple as that.”
Where Readies had rung alarm bells within the BBC, the new script was so enthusiastically received by comedy bosses that a six-part series was commissioned on the spot, without the usual pilot episode to test audience reaction.
But when it came to casting the main part of Del Boy, Butt only settled on David Jason after catching a repeat of Open All Hours in which Jason played the dozy Yorkshire shop assistant Granville to Ronnie Barker’s miserly Arkwright.
Sullivan, however, was not convinced that Jason could create the brash, fast-talking south Londoner he had in mind. Butt stuck to his guns, and invited Jason in to read for the part with Nicholas Lyndhurst, already cast as Del’s gauche younger brother, Rodney, finally persuading Sullivan that Jason would be ideal. He also convinced BBC bosses that even though Jason and Lyndhurst looked nothing like brothers, “that’s the fun of it!”
For all Butt and Sullivan’s high hopes, the first series in 1981 met with a muted response. They felt that the BBC, embarrassed by some of the more “colourful” aspects of the show, had buried it in the schedules. A second series also failed to make an impact, but when the episodes were repeated, they shot straight into the Top 10 ratings. By the end of series three, Only Fools And Horses was drawing 15 million viewers a week.
Eventually it broke all viewing records. Although it ended in 1991, a final three-parter in 1996, in which Del and Rodney discovered a watch worth £6 million, attracted more than 24 million viewers, the highest-ever audience for a British sitcom episode.
Butt found that working with the famously insecure Sullivan could lead to some narrow squeaks. Sullivan always delivered his scripts at the last minute, and by the time Only Fools And Horses was topping the ratings in 1989 he was so pressured that he was sending Butt a scene at a time. Only Fools And Horses won three Baftas and several other television industry awards.
With Sullivan, Butt had further success with the witty but bittersweet romantic comedy Just Good Friends (1983–86), starring Paul Nicholas and Jan Francis; and Dear John (1986-88), about a man whose wife has left him for his best friend.
Raymond William Butt was born on June 25 1935, the son of an east London street trader who had a stall selling sweets and cigarettes on Roman Road market in Bow, the oldest known trade route in Britain . Ray’s father also ran a sweets and tobacconists wholesalers elsewhere in the East End. The story of how his father and business partner cycled to Ascot to sell sweets at the races loomed large in Butt family lore.
As his parents moved around the East End, Ray moved from school to school, finishing at the William Ellis School in Highgate. As a teenager he worked for Tommy Cooper, the future comedian who long before he made a success in show business practised his patter selling ice cream in the Roman Road market.
Butt did two years of National Service in the RAF as an electrician, some of it stationed in Norfolk. His entree into television was accidental: when a relative spotted an advertisement for electricians at the BBC, he applied and was accepted.
Like John Sullivan, Butt was a protégé of the veteran comedy producer Dennis Main Wilson, who had previously presided over such classics as The Goon Show, Hancock’s Half Hour and Till Death Us Do Part. After working his way up from electrician to cameraman, by 1969 Butt was a full-blown director, his first major series being The Liver Birds.
He went on to direct many other BBC shows including Are You Being Served? (1972); Last Of The Summer Wine (1973); It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (1974); Citizen Smith (1977); and Hilary (1984).
After leaving the BBC in the mid-1980s, he directed two sitcoms for the ITV contractor Central in 1989, Sob Sisters and Young, Gifted and Broke, but they made little impact, and he retired at the age of 54.
Date of Birth: 2 August 1925, Cairo, Egypt
Birth Name: Alan Donald Whicker
Nicknames: Alan Whicker
Alan was best known as a Broadcaster and journalist, best known for his long-running TV series Whicker's World
In a 1969 television documentary about Haiti, Alan Whicker, asked the notorious dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier, in kindly, innocently interested and rather baffled tones: "But Papa Doc, they say you torture people?" It was a succinct example of the former Fleet Street journalist's ability to ask the most piercing questions while giving those being questioned no personal provocation or excuse to break off the interview an ability that, if not unique, was certainly less common among other interviewers in a world often dominated by inflated egos.
As long ago as the early 1970s, some of the young turks of TV were writing Whicker off as out of date. Instead, the thick spectacles, immaculate blue blazer, neat military moustache, and persistently unjudgmental and blandly phrased questions, plus a commentary in alliterative tabloidese, gave him a career that outlasted those of many of his rivals. He kept travelling the world for 60 years in search of exotic and humanly interesting material, often about the rich.
He flew 100,000 miles a year for British audiences of up to 15 million and his programmes also sold well abroad. In 1978, he flew the 7,000 miles back to London from Singapore to receive a Bafta Richard Dimbleby award and immediately flew back again. He won many other awards, including the Screenwriters' Guild best documentary script in 1963.
The secret of Whicker's ability to appear unthreatening in the most fraught and unpromising interviews was long debated in media watering holes. Was it his short stature and modest looks, at a time when the age of appearances usually dictated great height and good looks as a necessity for interviewers and presenters? Did he truly have the mind of the average viewer? Did one or all of these aspects of Whicker explain why, when he interviewed the American oil billionaire J Paul Getty in 1963, he was able to suggest that Getty's success in business was matched by his failure as a human being without being thrown out?
Whicker was usually civil about the younger hands who tried his sort of game, but could be catty when attacked or compared unfavourably with younger professionals. He declined to make Around the World in 80 Days, the series that brought the actor Michael Palin a new career as a TV traveller. Afterwards, Palin asked him on camera why he had turned it down. Whicker replied that he wanted to see who the makers would go to when they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. "That will hit the cutting-room floor," laughed Whicker. He stated that Clive James "can't interview to save his life".
Whicker always maintained that the best view the cameras had of him was the back of his neck. He created the series Whicker's World in 1959; and its title was a good definition of what all his programmes were about. There were many variations of the essential Whicker trademark Whicker's South Seas, Whicker Way Out West, Whicker Down Mexico Way, Whicker's Orient, Whicker's Miss World and so on but he made sure that he did not appear too much in them, letting the interviewees be the stars.
Californian recipients of multiple breast implants or owners of pink-dyed poodles were treated with the same merciless deference as pot-bellied and cigar-smoking billionaires on world cruises. It worked better than hectoring would have done. Whicker regarded himself as a professional's professional, one who continued to look for "human interest" stories while the attention span of many around him in his later years narrowed more to sleaze.
Whicker's background had certainly not made it easy for him to be warmly human. His father, Charles, a captain in the Hussars, was serving in Cairo at the time of Alan's birth, and died three years later. Alan returned to Britain with his mother, Anne, and sister, and they settled in London, where Alan attended Haberdashers' Aske's school. His sister died shortly afterwards.
He became, in effect, an only child who found himself at ease nowhere or equally at ease everywhere. His relationship with his mother grew more intense. "We adored one another," he would claim, explaining that this was what made him appreciate women, one of the "great pleasures" of his life. During the blitz, the only things his mother took down to the air-raid shelter were Alan's letters home. He was devastated by her death.
One of his satisfactions as a schoolboy had been going on a school camp at Teignmouth, Devon. While there, he would set off on a bus along the coast road to see how far he could get to that mecca, Torquay. It was the beginning of his love of travel. As a captain in the Devonshire Regiment during the second world war, he was seconded to the Army Film and Photographic Unit, then became a war correspondent in Korea.
After the war, he worked as a reporter for the Exchange Telegraph news agency but never (although he was often described as such) as a reporter for the cult magazine Picture Post. This often repeated mistake was an irritation both to him and to old Picture Post hands who thought he was trespassing. He was doing odd jobs for BBC radio when Alasdair Milne, then working for its flagship current affairs programme Tonight, spotted his ability to ask "impertinent" questions without giving offence.
Whicker had found his metier. In 1957 he joined Tonight and from then on insisted on seeing the footage first, then writing his own commentary. The technique served him well as he looked all over the world for kinks in human character and behaviour for Whicker's World.
One of his younger colleagues, Peter Salmon, commissioned Whicker's World programmes on Hong Kong and Spain for the BBC in the 1990s, despite feeling that Whicker's manner and interests were not those of a new generation: he simply felt that, as an interviewer, Whicker was without peer, able to get more than anyone else out of a one-to-one interview.
In 1993 Whicker was the first to be named in the Royal Television Society's Hall of Fame for an outstanding creative contribution to British TV. A fanclub was formed, consisting of members who dressed up as Whicker and discussed their hero once a month. His singular style also gave rise in 1972 to Monty Python's celebrated Whicker Island sketch, with all of the team doing impressions.
Whicker remained active into old age, continuing to make TV and radio series until recently, and publishing volumes of memoirs. He had become wealthy, with a Nash flat in Regent's Park and a handsome home in Jersey. In 2005 he was appointed CBE.
After ending a four-year engagement to the heiress Olga Deterding, in 1969 he began a lasting relationship with Valerie Kleeman, a neighbour in Regent's Park. They travelled the world together, she as his research assistant offering her observations and advice, which he usually took.
Date of Birth: 30 October 1914, Hackney, East London, UK
Birth Name: Anna Eva Lydia Catherine Wing
Nicknames: Anna Wing
Anna Wing became a household name in her 70s as Albert Square's indomitable matriarch.
When Anna Wing took on her most famous role, in EastEnders in 1985, the Sun ran the headline: "Enter the dragon ... Lou Beale!" As hard as nails and as brittle as pressed flowers, Lou was one of a declining breed, a widowed East End mother whose power indoors was absolute, but whose attitude towards the outside world was one of mounting fear and alienation. She played Albert Square's indomitable matriarch for only four years but Wing became synonymous for many with her character.
The original character outline by Julia Smith and Tony Holland, creators of EastEnders, described Lou Beale thus: " the changing face of the area (especially the immigrants) is a constant source of fear to her, but then she doesn't go out much. She prefers to be at home, or on a trip down memory lane."
Wing recognised this stereotypical character since she had grown up among just such women. Born in Hackney, east London, she took along her birth certificate to the audition to prove she was the daughter of a greengrocer which was fitting since Lou and her late husband Albert had built up the Beales' business running a fruit and veg stall on Walford Market.
At the time of her audition, Wing was 71 and the show's producers worried about whether she was up to EastEnders' tough filming schedules. "All my life I've been an actress, now I want to be a household name," she told them.
She worked 70 hours a week for four years to achieve that aim, playing Lou largely from an armchair, dispensing reminiscences to the family faithful. "I can recall when there was 25 of us round this table for Sunday winkles, and separate tables out in the yard for the kiddies," she said once. She could even reflect on the menopause with her trademark combination of denial and sentiment: "I never had all that trouble. I just got on with it. In my day, we fetched ourselves by the bootstraps and carried on no matter what."
By 1988, Wing had had enough. She asked to be written out. "We had 31 million viewers and it was shown all over the world, and I suddenly thought 'Should I be in this?'... I had a crisis of conscience." So the scriptwriters obligingly killed Lou off. She returned from an outing to Leigh on Sea feeling ill and retreated to bed. After giving putative wisdom to her descendants, she said her last words: "That's you lot sorted. I can go now." At the Queen Vic after her funeral, her son Pete proposed a toast to that "bloody old bag".
Wing deserves disentangling from the legend of Lou Beale. She was several things unimaginable to her soap character, including a Quaker and CND supporter. She decided, aged 11, that she wanted to be an actor after seeing John Gielgud on stage at the Old Vic (in 1977, she appeared with her idol in Alan Resnais' film Providence).
After attending the Croydon School of Acting in south London, Wing worked extensively in repertory theatre. She also worked as a teacher and an artist's model, at tenpence an hour. "I had a very attractive body, a Renoir, and they were mad about it."
A lifelong pacifist, when war broke out in 1939 she took a nursing course and volunteered with the Red Cross. After the war, she worked both as a nursery school teacher and as a stalwart of repertory theatre, where she met her first husband, the merchant navy lieutenant and actor Peter Davey. The pair had a son, Mark, and were divorced in 1947.
In 2007, she reckoned to have appeared in at least 50 plays in 68 years, among them Early Morning in 1969 and A Man for All Seasons in 1971. During the 70s, she worked with her eldest son Mark Wing-Davey, the actor and director, in Sheffeld Crucible's production of Free for All. She also had small parts in films such as Billy Liar (1963) and an adaptation of Ibsen's A Doll's House (1973).
Between 1953 and 1960, she was the partner of the surrealist poet Philip O'Connor, whom she encouraged to write his first book, the extraordinary Memoirs of a Public Baby (1958). She once lamented that she had nothing to remember O'Connor by but a scribbled farewell note reading: "I love you, the gist of it is, I've been unfaithful. Have packed and gone." She said: "I pined for him for 15 years." She had a second son, John, with O'Connor.
Wing appeared in the ATV soap Market in Honey Lane between 1967 and 1969. The drama was set in a Cockney market, and made at Elstree studios where, 20 years later, she would film EastEnders. During this era, she also had roles in Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and Play for Today. But EastEnders was to be her big, if belated, break.
After EastEnders, she had parts in Casualty, Doctors, French and Saunders, The Bill, Silent Witness and Doctor Who. In the cinema, in 2004, she appeared opposite Orlando Bloom in The Calcium Kid and as an ancient fairy in Tooth. That year, she was made an MBE for her services to drama and charity. Perhaps her strangest incarnation was in 2012 as a nonagenerian East End gangster in a music video for the band Quarrel. She played an indomitable woman bent on purging her manor of funk music.
Date of Birth: 1926, Wood Green, London, UK
Birth Name: Pat Ashton
Pat Ashton was an actor for over four decades. Probably her most important TV role was that of Annie, wife of a burglar (Bob Hoskins) who comes out of prison to find that his old friend (John Thaw) has moved in, in Thick As Thieves (1974). When Yorkshire TV declined a second series, the writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais took the idea to the BBC, where it was developed into the much-loved series Porridge.
Pat was born and raised in Wood Green, north London. During her early years, the piano was the focus of entertainment at home, with her brother Richard playing all the popular songs of the day. Her grandmother had been a trapeze artist, performing in front of the tsar in Russia, and Pat quickly became fascinated with music hall, learned to tap-dance from an early age and went on to study singing with Manlio Di Veroli.After the second world war she ran "concert parties", essentially variety shows, some of which, at the Gaumont cinema in Wood Green, featured the young Barry Took. After finding an agent, Pat performed at seaside resorts around England in summer season shows.In the early 60s, trading on her singing and dancing, she toured Europe with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in Oh! What a Lovely War.
Her early West End shows included Half a Sixpence and The Match Girls, and later she appeared in Stepping Out.
She also performed regularly at the Players' theatre in London.One of her first TV breaks was taking the role of Fanny Cornforth opposite Oliver Reed in Ken Russell's Dante's Inferno (1967), a film in the Omnibus series on the life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, this later led to a small role in Russell's 1971 film The Devils.By the 1970s other TV producers had picked up on her popular blonde, cockney persona. In fact, in 1970 she understudied Barbara Windsor in the Ned Sherrin-produced musical Sing a Rude Song, based on the life of music hall singer Marie Lloyd, and successfully took the lead role when Windsor was struck down with laryngitis.
Pat took TV roles in On the Buses (1971, and appeared in two spinoff films), Both Ends Meet (1972, with Dora Bryan), Yus My Dear (1976, with Arthur Mullard), Rooms (1977), The Benny Hill Show (1972-80), The Gaffer (1981-83, with Bill Maynard) and Tripper's Day (1984, with Leonard Rossiter).
Date of Birth: 21July 1926, Amersham, UK
Birth Name: William Desmond Anthony Pertwee
Nicknames: Bill Pertwee
Bill Pertwee made his name as the irascible ARP Warden Hodges in the 1970s BBC sitcom Dad’s Army; he also successfully featured in Round The Horne.
As chief tormentor of the local Home Guard commander, Capt Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe), Warden Hodges proved far more of an irritant than the armed hordes of Nazi Germany which (almost) invariably left the citizens of Walmington-on-Sea in peace.
Dressed in the brief authority of wartime office, Hodges pulled rank at every opportunity to act as a one-man counterweight to the military might represented by Capt Mainwaring’s platoon. With the perfect put-down Hodges riled Mainwaring by twitting him as “Napoleon” Pertwee played the town’s tinpot dictator with total aplomb.
The show’s creators, David Croft and Jimmy Perry, were apt to use the same coterie of actors in all their television series, and so Pertwee followed his long-running part in Dad's Army with a regular part of the policeman, PC Wilson, in You Rang M’Lord?, which ran for 26 episodes between 1988 and 1992.
Yet it was as Warden Hodges that Pertwee found his place in the public imagination. For away from the Home Guard parades and manoeuvres, the character was a humble high street greengrocer, as in thrall to (and in fact in awe of) the pompous bank manager Mainwaring as Cpl Jones (the butcher) and even Pte Fraser (the undertaker). And it was upon such satirical appreciation of the essentially English nuances of class that the huge success of Dad’s Army was built.
William Desmond Anthony Pertwee was born on July 21 1926 at Amersham, Buckinghamshire, the youngest of three brothers. His father, who was of Huguenot descent (the family name originally having been Pertuis), had not followed his own father into farming, but made his living as an engineer working for a firm selling tarmacadam to councils. His mother had herself been born in Brazil.
In the early 1930s the family moved to Glasbury-on-Wye in Radnorshire, and then, as their fortunes faltered, to Colnbrook, near Windsor, Newbury, and finally Erith in Kent. There, Bill’s eldest brother joined the Atlas Preservative Company as export manager, the managing director being a 20-year-old Denis Thatcher, whose father owned the firm.
Bill was educated at a local convent and, following his father’s death, moved with his mother and brothers to Blackheath, south London. Evacuated at the outbreak of the Second World War to Sussex, he attended a local private school run by an eccentric called Felix Eames.
Another move, to Wilmington in Kent, landed him at Dartford Technical College, and in 1941 his eldest brother, who had joined the RAF, was killed when his aircraft crashed in Yorkshire while returning from a bombing mission over Germany.
After the family’s final move, to Westcliff-on-Sea, Bill found a place at Southend College and took a job at the Southend Motor and Aero Club, which before the war had repaired funfair rides and dodgem cars, but was then making parts for Spitfire cannons.
When the war ended, Pertwee was offered a job with Oxley Knox, a firm of City stockbrokers, but was sacked when he answered the office telephone with a facetious impression of the broadcaster Raymond Glendinning, only to find Mr Knox of Oxley Knox on the other end. An advertisement in The Daily Telegraph for salesmen vacancies at Burberry’s new sports department led to another job, but a family friend soon offered him a better one in his window and office cleaning business.
Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s Pertwee developed his interest in showbusiness, becoming a regular at opening nights in the West End. In 1954 he became an assistant to his second cousin, the actor Jon Pertwee, and the following year he turned professional, joining a variety bill at Gorleston near Great Yarmouth on £6 a week.
As a performer his first big radio break came in the early 1960s as a regular in the comedy series Beyond Our Ken, starring Kenneth Horne, followed by Round The Horne. The latter achieved cult status, but after eight years Pertwee was abruptly dropped. He wrote to various television producers asking for work, and was used as a warm-up man on such shows as Hancock and Up Pompeii, before in 1968 David Croft offered him a few episodes as the Warden in Dad’s Army. The booking eventually lasted for nine years.
As well as the stage version of Dad’s Army (Shaftesbury, 1975) Pertwee also starred in the Ray Cooney farce There Goes The Bride, his first West End role, at the Piccadilly Theatre. In 1975 he was part of the Dad’s Army ensemble that took part in the Royal Variety Performance. In the 1980s he appeared in the Ray Cooney farces See How They Run and Run For Your Wife, which successfully toured in Canada.
Pertwee was the author of several books, the first of which, Promenades and Pierrots (1979) traced the history of seaside entertainment in Britain. A follow-up, By Royal Command (1981), looked at the links between the Royal family and showbusiness. His autobiography, A Funny Way To Make A Living, appeared in 1996.
Date of Birth: 15 January 192, Dulwich, London, UK
Birth Name: Frank Thornton Ball
Nicknames: Frank Thornton
Best known as the haughty department store supervisor Captain Peacock in the TV comedy Are You Being Served?
The actor Frank Thornton, who has died aged 92, had a flair for comedy derived from the subtle craftsmanship of classical stage work. However, he will be best remembered for his longstanding characters in two popular BBC television comedy series the sniffily priggish Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served? and the pompous retired policeman Herbert "Truly" Truelove, in Roy Clarke's Last of the Summer Wine.
Robertson Hare, the great Whitehall farceur, told him: "You'll never do any good until you're 40." And, said Thornton, "he was quite right." In the event, he was 51 when David Croft, producer of another long-running British staple, Dad's Army, remembered the tall, long-faced actor from another engagement and decided to cast him as the dapper floor-walker in charge of shop assistants played by Mollie Sugden, Wendy Richard, Trevor Bannister and John Inman in the Grace Brothers department store of Are You Being Served? (1973‑85). Thornton's latter-day Malvolio, all pinstripes and impassive disdain, proved a perfect antithesis to the general air of jobsworthy incompetence and smutty innuendo.
Captain Peacock was ideal casting for Thornton, who went on to appear in all 10 series. For when it came to a sense of the punctilious, the right way to do things, Thornton was your man.
In later life, he came to lament his own typecasting, feeling it had limited his chance to play more heavyweight roles. But his deadpan manner and ability to play the straight man gave him a career that extended for more than seven decades from a debut in 1940.It was Thornton's understated but exquisite sense of timing that marked him out and gave him his durability, something that the writer-director Ray Cooney put down to his early years in weekly repertory, where over a period of three years "you'd get through 150 plays. It steeped you in character work."
He recalled Thornton's ability to hold his ground in the most trying circumstances, citing an instance in the 1993 run of his West End farce It Runs in the Family. With the rest of the cast "corpsing" around him, Thornton, solid as a rock, and the foil for the surrounding mayhem, resisted by a desperate working of his eyebrows before finally succumbing "with tears pouring down his face". He was, says Cooney, the epitome of professionalism.
Born Frank Thornton Ball in Dulwich, south-east London, he was educated at Alleyn's school. He knew he wanted to be an actor from about the age of five, but first became an insurance clerk, taking drama classes at night at the London School of Dramatic Art. As a child, he described himself as "a bit of a loner, not one of the lads. I think I was probably a bit of a prig because I seem to have been stuck with this supercilious persona for as long as I can remember."
From his first professional appearance, in Terence Rattigan's French Without Tears in Co Tipperary, he swiftly graduated to companies led by the actor-managers Donald Wolfit where he met his future wife, Beryl Evans – and John Gielgud. After reaching the West End and appearing in the first production of Rattigan's Flare Path in 1942, Thornton then spent four years in the real RAF.
After demob, he divided his time between repertory and the West End before his television comedy career took off in 1960 with Michael Bentine's frenetic It's a Square World. Regular appearances followed alongside such comic greats as Tony Hancock (including the celebrated Hancock's Half Hour episode, The Blood Donor), Benny Hill, Eric Sykes, Ronnie Corbett and even Kenny Everett, on whose show he memorably appeared attired as a punk rocker.
But he also continued to work in the theatre. His air of lugubriousness served him well as a "grey-faced, bug-eyed" Eeyore (as one review put it), in an adaptation of Winnie the Pooh at the Phoenix theatre, London, in the early 1970s.
In 1980, he and Gwen Nelson were the old couple in Eugène Ionesco's absurdist drama The Chairs for the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and played Gremio in Jonathan Miller's TV version of The Taming of the Shrew. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he could be seen in the West End and elsewhere in classic revivals: Cooney farces, and musicals such as Me and My Girl (1984), Spread a Little Happiness (1992) and three of the Barbican's Lost Musicals series, Music in the Air (1993), the Gershwins' Strike Up the Band (1994) and Take Me Along (1995).
The reality TV court show got its comeuppance with the spoof version All Rise for Julian Clary (1996-97) in which Thornton supplied the necessary token gravitas. When his turn came for This Is Your Life in 1998, Clary responded with a glowing compliment: "I'm here, Frank, to tell the world what we all know, what a funny, amusing and very handsome man you are." By then Thornton had succeeded Michael Bates, Brian Wilde and Michael Aldridge in leading the exploits of the trio at the heart of Last of the Summer Wine: his tenure lasted from 1997 till the series came to a close in 2010.
Thornton had more than 60 film credits, including Victim (1961), The Dock Brief (1962), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (with Zero Mostel, 1966), A Flea in Her Ear (with Rex Harrison, 1968), The Bed Sitting Room (1969), The Old Curiosity Shop (1995) and Gosford Park (2001), as well as the Disney TV adaptation of Great Expectations (1991). His last appearance came in the 2012 film version of Run for Your Wife.
Date of Birth: 19 June 1940, Thrybergh, South Yorkshire, UK
Birth Name: George Frederick Speight
Nicknames: Paul Shane
Paul Shane made the leap from provincial stand-up club comedian to television stardom when he played the lowbrow holiday camp compère Ted Bovis in the popular 1980s BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi!
Jimmy Perry, who co-wrote the series with David Croft, was watching Coronation Street in 1979 when he spotted Shane playing a minor character called Frank Roper, a Post Office official. The scene lasted only two minutes, but Perry immediately realised that the bull-necked Shane would be perfect as Bovis, the resident comic at Maplin’s holiday camp.
In an ensemble cast typical of the Croft-Perry canon (Dad’s Army; It Ain’t Half Hot Mum), Shane was perhaps the character with the greatest individual heft, a wily, vulgar, end-of-the-pier throwback concerned to raise a belly-laugh at every turn and, in so doing (as one commentator has observed), elevate low comedy to the status of a high art.
Amid the shabby splendour of Maplin’s Hawaiian Ballroom, Ted Bovis unceasingly strove to fashion his latest “belter” by way of a gag or comedy routine. Moreover, Shane as Bovis squat, pie-faced, garishly dressed, with a ragged moustache and heavily-greased slicked back hair was the ideal foil for his sidekick, the lanky, gormless novice comedian, Spike Dixon (Jeffrey Holland).
Shane’s path to fame had started in the late 1960s when he was invalided out of his job as a coalminer and determined to make a career as a singer, borrowing from the repertoires of stars ranging from Matt Monro to Elvis Presley. His bookings took him from venues like the Cemetery Road Social Club, Scunthorpe, where he played to an audience of steelworkers impatient for the glamorous grandmother competition final, to cabaret dates at leading nightspots across Yorkshire and Lancashire.
As an unreconstructed provincial entertainer, it was Shane’s good fortune to emerge into the national consciousness before television sitcoms became neutered by the dictates of political correctness, relying instead certainly in the case of Hi-de-Hi! (1980-88) on the saucy humour of the seaside postcard. This was given full rein in the portrayal of Maplin’s Yellowcoats, the cadre of young women led by the man-eating Gladys Pugh (Ruth Madoc), charged with keeping up the campers’ flagging esprit de corps.
Although the series became the programme Butlins loved to hate for perpetuating the stereotypical image of holiday camps as chilly, regimented and down-at-heel, in 1985 the company hired Shane to appear as Ted Bovis in a publicity stunt assisted by a leggy Redcoat.
The son of working-class parents, Paul Shane was born George Frederick Speight on June 19 1940 at Thrybergh, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Leaving Spurley Hey school, Rotherham, he took a job as a miner, so impressing his workmates at Silverwood Colliery with his singing at the coalface that they urged him to turn professional. When, in 1967, he injured his back slipping on soap in the pithead baths, he was pensioned off at the age of 27.
With his compensation he bought the equipment he needed to launch himself as a singer in the clubs and pubs of South Yorkshire, encouraged by his mother, who herself occasionally sang at weddings. Initially calling himself Paul Stephens, he made his debut as a vocalist at a local pub, followed by his first club booking at St Ann’s Club, Rotherham, for which he was paid 30 shillings (£1.50).
Making the transformation from singer to comedian, Paul Stephens began with a “straight” rendition of Green Green Grass of Home, but eventually made it a comic send-up of the Tom Jones hit. Warned by Equity that there was another entertainer called Paul Stephens, he decided to change his name to Paul Shane after seeing the Alan Ladd Western Shane (1953) on television.
As his career as a club entertainer around the pit villages flourished, Shane started to pick up small parts on television. In 1977 he appeared for the first time in Coronation Street as a disc-jockey called Dave-the-Rave, and in May 1979 he was cast as Frank Roper, the appearance noticed by Jimmy Perry, who offered him the part of Ted Bovis in Hi-de-Hi!
When the series ended in 1988, Perry and Croft offered Shane the part of the butler Alf Stokes in their next sitcom You Rang, M’Lord? A comic parody of dramas like Upstairs, Downstairs, which ran until 1993. Although in 1991 ITV had given Shane his own series, Very Big Very Soon, in which he starred as a northern variety agent, it fared badly in the ratings and was pulled after one series.
In Oh, Doctor Beeching! (1995-97), Shane played the acting stationmaster Jack Skinner. Other television roles included appearances in Holby City, Muck And Brass, Kavanagh QC and Emmerdale. In 1981 he was the subject of an edition of This Is Your Life.
Shane’s stage work included roles in Run For Your Wife at the Whitehall Theatre, as Mr Bumble in a revival of Oliver! at the London Palladium, and in tours of Fur Coat And No Knickers and Ray Cooney’s Out Of Order. His numerous pantomime appearances included Dame Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk in 2008. His last film role was as a retired bank robber in The Grey Mile (2012).
Date of Birth: 21 November 1923, Bargoed, Wales, UK
Birth Name: Henry Howard Greenhouse
Nicknames: Harry Greene
Harry Greene became in the 1950s British television’s first do-it-yourself handyman, and created the formats for some of the home makeover shows that flourished on the small screen some 40 years later.
In 1955, with his wife, the actress Marjie Lawrence, Greene had starred in an early ITV soap opera, Round at the Redways, about a couple who run a DIY store, with Greene playing an inept repair man. When the producers were casting round for cheap new programme ideas, his wife suggested that Greene should film a DIY show about him renovating their flat in Primrose Hill, north London.
The result was Handy Round the Home, a programme launched in January 1957 in which Greene gave practical demonstrations that viewers at home could copy, always emphasising “Safety first DIY second”, which became his catchphrase.
Greene’s background lay in the theatre. In 1950 he had joined Joan Littlewood’s touring Theatre Workshop company, throwing up his job as a drama teacher for an itinerant life as an actor, scene-builder and stagehand on £3 a week. His transition to television in 1955 subsequently led to his appearing in some 35 feature films, alongside such stars as Sean Connery, Sir John Gielgud, Melina Mercouri, Lana Turner and Jean Seberg. Between acting jobs, Greene developed his own building company, learning individual trades by hiring subcontractors and working as, for example, an apprentice plasterer or bricklayer .
In the 1980s he devised, wrote and produced a TV-am series called Dream Home, in which he renovated a small tumbledown house in Hampshire which was later given away in a competition. In On The House he undertook a similar project for the BBC , building and completing a house from scratch. Greene contributed to the rash of home improvement shows that proliferated on daytime television from the 1990s. His concept proposal for a show called Room for a Change became the popular BBC strand Changing Rooms, which ran for eight years from 1996. For 10 years he was the DIY presenter on the QVC shopping channel.
He was born Henry Howard Greenhouse on November 21 1923 at Bargoed, south Wales, and brought up in the small mining town of Rhymney . From Rhymney Grammar School, he went to Newport Technical College, but on the outbreak of war joined the REME, from which he was seconded to classified work on tank design. Post-war he studied at Cardiff College of Art and trained as a draughtsman’s assistant, but at weekends he worked as a stagehand at the New Theatre, Cardiff. This led to amateur acting roles with the Unity Theatre company, and as a volunteer assistant on the weekly radio shows on BBC Wales starring the Welsh actor Eynon Evans.
In 1950, while teaching art and drama at Tredegar Grammar School, Greene took a class to see a performance of Ewan MacColl’s Uranium 235 by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. Littlewood was looking for a young Welshman to play Shakespeare’s Owen Glendower, and Taffy in MacColl’s Paradise Street. She also wanted someone who could build theatre sets . Greene resigned his teaching job the following day, joined the company, and realising that Harry Greenhouse would be a tight fit on theatre posters shortened his name to Harry Greene.
When the Theatre Workshop settled at a permanent base in Stratford, east London, Greene married an actress with the company, Marjie Lawrence, with whom he starred in commercial television’s first soap opera, the twice-weekly drama Round at the Redways.
He was the author of more than 20 books on DIY and home improvements, including The Harry Greene Complete DIY Problem Solver (2003).
Date of Birth: 23 September 1943, Manchester, UK
Birth Name: David Anthony Gubba
Nicknames: Tony Gubba
Tony Gubba was one of BBC Television’s sports presenters and was regarded as an industrious all-rounder.
In a career spanning nearly 40 years, he presented Sportsnight, Match of the Day and Grandstand, and commentated on a wide range of sports for the BBC, including hockey, table-tennis, golf, tennis, bobsleigh, ski-jumping and darts.
As a football commentator, however, he tended to be passed over for the big, glamorous games. As the Belfast Telegraph noted in 2009, “lurking in the background behind Motty and Barry Davies, he never really got the big gig, always destined to cover Romanian matches at the World Cup, the archery at the Olympics, or the snowman fondling at the Winter Olympiad”. Yet Gubba, whom the sports writer Giles Smith described as “the legendary BBC football reporter and fabled Saturday afternoon 'bits and pieces’ man”, was nothing if not versatile.
When he turned his talents to ice-skating in the 1980s, he fell out with the British stars Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean shortly after they had won a third consecutive World Championship in Helsinki. Their innovative style led Gubba to press the couple over whether they had broken the rules, a gambit that so upset the pair that Gubba’s place at the microphone was subsequently taken by Barry Davies.
The skating stars later worked closely with Gubba, however, when he enjoyed his most recent role in the commentary box. In 2006 he was rediscovered by a new generation of television viewers as the voice of pro-celebrity ice dance on ITV’s Dancing On Ice.
In this capacity he earned something of a cult following for his surreal flights of fancy, such as when he witnessed the routine of the EastEnders actor Matt Lapinskas : “This is the slam dunk cartwheel followed by some back crossovers, then the towering inferno and the bouncing aeroplane.”
It was not as though this was a one-off on Gubba’s part. “That,” he observed on another occasion, “was a racing gazelle followed by the forward assisted teapot, then a roll-up into a camel ride and there were some cool butterflies into a fish lift.” But as one tabloid television critic noted, at least Gubba “makes Dancing On Ice almost watchable”.
David Anthony Gubba was born on September 23 1943 in south Manchester and educated at Blackpool Grammar School. He began in journalism on the Sale and Stretford Guardian, and having completed his training landed a reporter’s job on the Daily Mirror in Manchester. In the late 1960s he moved into television with Southern TV, based in Southampton, and from there returned to Manchester as a general news reporter with the BBC regional news magazine Look North.
Moving into sport in 1972, he transferred to BBC Television in London, joining the football commentary team headed by David Coleman and Barry Davies. From 1974 until 2006 he covered every World Cup and was a member of the BBC’s commentary team at every Olympic Games, both Summer and Winter, between 1972 and 2012.
In 2006 Gubba’s neighbours opposed his plan to build a five-bedroom house on his property at the riverside village of Sonning, Berkshire. Gubba complained that the objectors were stuck in the past and had launched personal attacks against him. “There seems to be an attitude in Sonning that everything should stay the same as it was in 1643,” he added.
He was a sports all-rounder who particularly enjoyed playing football, salmon fishing, golf and skiing.
Date of Birth: May 1928, Lambeth, London, UK
Birth Name: Raymond Patrick Cusick
Nicknames: Raymond Cusick
The iconic shape of the Daleks, the most enduring villains from the BBC's long-running television science-fiction series Doctor Who came from the imagination of the designer Raymond Cusick. The famous domed silhouette, with three protuberances eyestalk, sucker arm and gun and distinctive spherical skirt decorations, has retained its shape even into the current incarnation of the show.
Cusick's involvement with the second Doctor Who adventure, The Daleks, in 1963, came by chance. The original designer was due to be Ridley Scott, but his schedule ended up clashing with the proposed filming dates. Cusick took the job instead, which required him to come up with such creations as a petrified jungle, a gleaming alien city and some robotic-looking creatures. The Dalek was revealed to be not a machine but a protective shell in which a mutant creature the result of the genetically disastrous consequences of nuclear war was housed.
According to Cusick, Terry Nation, the Doctor Who writer who created the Daleks, suggested they should make a gliding movement "like the Georgian state dancers", but there was little other visual description in the script. There was a general consensus among the production team that the cliched "man in a suit" look be avoided in favour of something more otherworldly. Cusick demonstrated the creature's style of movement by grabbing a pepperpot and sliding it across the table to the model maker Bill Roberts (whose company Shawcraft built the Daleks). An initial design involved the Dalek operator propelling the machine with a tricycle housed inside it but eventually the actors moved the squat, castor-mounted props along by shuffling their feet.
Over the next two years, Cusick had to contend with a number of Doctor Who adventures that required new sets each week. The Keys of Marinus (1964), for example, featured hideous brains in jars one week, a lethal jungle the next and a snowy vista after that. Cusick felt that the show's low budget was stretched particularly thinly on stories of this kind, but was assisted by the low-resolution television picture, which, he admitted, covered a multitude of sins. Planet of Giants (1964) was a humdrum story made remarkable by Cusick's impressive renderings of an oversized science laboratory, dead insects and a moving giant fly.
Cusick left Doctor Who after the 12‑part epic The Daleks' Master Plan (1965-66), on which he shared the intensive workload with a fellow designer, Barry Newbery, and was occasionally somewhat rueful about his involvement with the show. He recalled appearing on the TV discussion show Late Night Line-Up with Nation and asking him afterwards about potential involvement with the forthcoming Dalek feature films (made in colour by Aaru productions and starring Peter Cushing in 1965 and 1966). Nation was enthusiastic and reassuring about the projects but, Cusick said: "Then I never heard from him again." From these films and many other commercial exploitations of the Daleks, Nation, a freelancer with a canny agent, became a rich man. Cusick, on the other hand, was a BBC staff member, and only after a lengthy and hard-fought battle by his head of department, got a special merit payment that amounted to no more than a few hundred pounds. He was, however, the proud recipient of a gold Blue Peter badge for his work.
Born in Lambeth, central London, Cusick nurtured a desire to be a sculptor and attended evening classes at art school, but his father felt he should pursue a more practical path. He studied science and maths at Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University) but did not enjoy it, then enlisted in the army and served in Palestine. Returning to the UK, he worked in repertory theatre and joined the BBC staff as a design assistant in 1960. Graduating to designer proper in 1962, he was as was the norm expected to turn his hand to a variety of programmes with diverse requirements and from different genres.
After Doctor Who, he worked on productions as wide-ranging as The Pallisers (1974), The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-77), Rentaghost (1978), When the Boat Comes In (1981) and Miss Marple (1985-87). A history enthusiast, he most enjoyed productions that required fastidious research. He had a particular interest in the Napoleonic wars and contributed military campaign articles to the journal of the Waterloo Association.
He provided a vast number of photographs and design sketches for J Jeremy Bentham's 1986 book Doctor Who: The Early Years, and contributed to several Doctor Who DVDs. He was largely self-deprecating about his work, highlighting the ad hoc nature of 1960s television production.
After retiring from the BBC in 1988, he ran a small hotel in south London with his wife Phyllis, whom he had married in 1964 ("Monster man marries" said the local paper). She predeceased him. He is survived by two daughters and seven grandchildren.
Date of Birth: 14 January 1934, Merton, Surrey, England, UK
Birth Name: Richard Briers
Richard Briers, played the engaging free spirit who strove for a self-sufficient lifestyle in Surbiton in BBC Television’s classic 1970s comedy series The Good Life.
Although acclaimed on television for a style of dithering comedy which reminded an earlier generation of the Aldwych farceur Ralph Lynn, Briers also proved adept in serious roles in the classics. In Kenneth Branagh’s 1997 film of Hamlet, his Polonius was praised by one critic for its “conspiratorial edge”.
In The Good Life Briers played the hapless Tom Good, a draughtsman who decided to abandon the office rat race and live off the land. Instead of moving to the country, however, he and his wife Barbara (Felicity Kendal) eviscerated the lawn at their suburban home, planted vegetables and kept livestock all to the horror of their relentlessly middle-class next door neighbours Margo and Jerry Leadbetter (Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington).
With his omnipresent grin and boyish mannerisms, Briers proved perfect for the role. The Goods’ attempts to be truly self-sufficient were constantly thwarted by the machinations of the snobbish Margo, who feared that they were lowering the tone of the neighbourhood beyond repair; but Tom and Barbara always laughed in the face of adversity, and never lost their affection for their tormentor.
Written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey and screened in 30 episodes between 1975 and 1978, The Good Life was probably Briers’s most famous vehicle on television. It was “a happy and somewhat rare combination of intelligent writing and superb playing”, judged the television critic of The Daily Telegraph.
From 1984 to 1987 Briers starred in another popular sitcom, Ever Decreasing Circles. Also written by Esmonde and Larbey, it featured an obsessive, middle-aged fusspot whose settled routine is unexpectedly threatened by a flashy rival for his wife’s affections. Penelope Wilton played his long-suffering wife and Peter Egan the too-smooth neighbour.
It all seemed a far cry from Briers’s earnest portrayal of the Dane in a student production at Rada of Hamlet, when his naturally rapid delivery led WA Darlington of The Daily Telegraph to liken him to “a demented typewriter”. Yet with his sense of timing, air of hapless innocence and his ability to keep the straightest of faces amid the mayhem typical of his brand of embarrassed humour, it was no great surprise that Briers went on to become one of Britain’s leading practitioners of farce and light comedy.
Briers continued to be offered television work, and starred as the Rev Philip Lambe in All In Good Faith (1985-88). Lambe, the former vicar of an affluent rural parish, had to knuckle down to life in a tough Midlands city and meet its challenging problems. But after Briers’s conspicuous success at the BBC, this series his first for ITV was reckoned a disappointment.
Richard David Briers was born on January 14th 1934 at Merton, Surrey. His father, Joe Briers, was, among other things, a bookmaker, but found it hard to hold down a job and frittered away money in pubs. “[He was] a smashing man,” his son recalled, “but he was never settled in one job, and he was not as ambitious or acquisitive as I am. We were always on the edge, so I grew up in a slightly tense atmosphere.”
The family lived at Raynes Park, south-west London, and occasionally received handouts from a wealthy relation. Richard was educated at Ridgeway School in Wimbledon, where he failed to shine scholastically “I never even got a Z-level” but showed an interest in acting. The family’s flat overlooked a Rialto cinema, and he could hear the sound of the films playing below. His screen idols as a boy were James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.
His first job, at 16, was as a filing clerk in the Strand, and after two years he endured “a further two years’ hard grind” doing similar work for the RAF during his National Service. He relieved the boredom by taking part in amateur dramatics and was encouraged in this by the actor Terry-Thomas, his father’s cousin.
Briers was offered a place at Rada, where he was a contemporary of Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole. For the first time in his young life he found himself excelling, and he won Rada’s silver medal for his portrayal of Hamlet. “Until then, I could just see failure staring me in the face,” he recalled. “Now there was a glimmer of hope.”
He made his professional debut at the Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool, where he met his wife, Ann Davies, herself an actress. “My first professional part,” Briers recalled, “was as a botanist who was mad about getting rare plants from America, and I’ve played fanatics on and off ever since.”
After touring in a farce, Something About A Sailor, and spells in rep at Leatherhead and Coventry, Briers made his first London appearance opposite one of the West End’s most famous theatrical couples, John Clements and Kay Hammond, in Lionel Hale’s comedy Gilt And Gingerbread (Duke of York’s, 1959). Other early West End work included Double Yoke (St Martin’s), It’s In The Bag (Duke of York’s) and Noël Coward’s Present Laughter (Queen’s).
Unlike some actors, Briers was not content with the notion of “resting” between jobs. His childhood poverty made him yearn for financial security; he seized every opportunity that came his way, and was careful with his money.
His break into television came in 1962, as a troubled pupil barrister in Henry Cecil’s Brothers In Law in a 13-part adaptation by Frank Muir and Denis Norden. Although he was a success in the first series, he declined to take part in a second, despite being offered double the money. “I wanted to be an actor rather than a TV personality,” he explained, although in the event it was television that drove his career forward.
Created specially for him, Marriage Lines (1963-66) was the series that established him in the public eye. Briers starred as a young man adjusting to married life with his former secretary in a small flat in Earl’s Court, south-west London. The series ran for 45 episodes and helped Briers to establish the amiably enthusiastic comic persona that became his signature.
His stage career continued in parallel, his most notable parts being Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace (Vaudeville, 1966); Moon in The Real Inspector Hound (Criterion, 1968); and two of his favourite roles as Butley in the play of the same name in 1972, and Sidney Hopcroft in Absurd Person Singular at the Criterion in 1973.
In 1972 Briers returned to Shakespeare in the title role of Richard III on a provincial tour for Toby Robertson’s Prospect Productions. A decade or so later he earned further critical respect, particularly as Hjalmar Ekdal, the naive father in Ibsen’s grim masterpiece The Wild Duck (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1980), and as Uncle Vanya, for Kenneth Branagh’s touring Renaissance Theatre Company.
Briers’s television career continued to flourish with parts in The Other One (1977-79); One-Upmanship (1976-78); and the Alan Ayckbourn trilogy The Norman Conquests (ITV, 1977). When he befriended Kenneth Branagh, the young actor cast Briers in stage productions of Twelfth Night (1987), King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (both 1990) and Coriolanus (1992), and in his film versions of Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Frankenstein (1994) and In The Bleak Midwinter (1995). Hitherto Briers’s film career had been comparatively low-key, with appearances in A Matter Of Who (1961), All The Way Up (1970) and Rentadick (1972).
Between 2000 and 2005 Briers played the engagingly dotty laird Hector MacDonald in the BBC Television series Monarch of the Glen, alongside Susan Hampshire, Alastair Mackenzie and Julian Fellowes.
Off camera, Briers’s pursuits were essentially suburban: gardening or drinking in the garden, golf, entertaining friends and reading. He took a particular interest in theatre history, and was a member of the Garrick. He published four books, Natter Natter (1981); Coward and Company (1987); A Little Light Weeding (1993); and A Taste of the Good Life (1995).
For many years Briers and his wife divided their time between a house in Bedford Park, west London, designed by Norman Shaw, and a country cottage to which he escaped as often as he could.
He was appointed OBE in 1989 and CBE in 2003.
Diagnosed with emphysema in 2008, he estimated that he had smoked half a million cigarettes before giving up the habit in 2003.
Date of Birth: 21 May 1924, Kennington, London, England, UK
Birth Name: John Ammonds
John Ammonds was one of British television's finest producer/directors specialising in the field of light entertainment. He shaped countless peak-time shows during the so-called "golden age" of TV; and helped Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise and many other major stars reach the summit of their small-screen careers, setting a standard of quality in terms both of content and form that continues to command respect.
Among his distinctive contributions to the success of the Morecambe and Wise show was the droll little dance with which Eric and Ernie ended each performance (Ammonds got the idea from seeing Groucho Marx do something similar in the 1932 film comedy Horse Feathers), the deployment of star guests as unlikely comic stooges, and Eric's use of the close-up to make conspiratorial remarks to the viewers (a conceit that has inspired many imitations). He also ensured, as the writer Eddie Braben's amiably relentless taskmaster ("If you sent him a Christmas card, you'd expect him to send it back for a rewrite"), that the standard of the scripts remained remarkably high.
Ammonds was a calmly efficient organiser and encourager of diverse talents, temperaments and techniques; he could be creative and flexible as well as disciplined and managerial; he possessed an exceptionally sharp eye and ear for detail; and he always acted as though he was the servant of the public rather than of his profession. The most polished of populists, he epitomised the BBC's traditional dictum about "giving viewers what they want but better than they expected it".
He was born in Kennington, London, to working-class parents. His mother, Jessie, one of 16 children, had married his father, John, a watchmaker, in what John junior described as a "shotgun wedding" and he would say later that he remembered only the arguments between this "quite unsuited" couple during his formative years.
It was his father who introduced him to the world of entertainment. As a frustrated actor with a passion for the work of Charles Dickens, Ammonds senior sometimes co-opted his son into the amateur dramatic troupe he had formed, the Dickensian Tabard Players, to tour the workhouses and prisons in and around Southwark. One of the most vivid memories John would retain of these juvenile performances was of the occasion when, aged about 13, he appeared as Oliver Twist in a production staged inside Holloway prison before an audience of "extremely interested" women prisoners: "They were good and started shouting and screaming only after Bill Sikes had killed Nancy."
Although John won a scholarship to a grammar school at Sutton in Surrey, he found much of his education uninspiring, preferring to amuse himself at home by constructing a variety of crystal and cat's whisker radio sets in his father's garden shed. Rather than stay on to complete his Higher School Certificate, he left at the age of 15 and instead sat the entrance examination to become a civil servant at the London county council (mainly because it seemed to promise a job for life and a pension at the end of it). After sampling the job on a part-time basis, however, he decided to try something else.
His career in broadcasting began in 1941, after he sent a speculative letter to the BBC asking if there were any openings for a junior engineer and was invited to apply to become a sound effects operator in the corporation's engineering division. He spent the next 13 years in the BBC's variety department at London, Bristol and Bangor, before moving to Manchester to be a producer. By the mid-1950s, he was responsible for several popular radio shows, working with such popular northern performers as Jimmy Clitheroe, Dave Morris and, in their debut series, Morecambe and Wise.
Moving into television at the end of the decade, John soon won a reputation not only for the competence of his productions but also for his knack of embellishing the image of his stars. It was his idea, for example, to begin Harry Worth's shows with a much-mimicked optical illusion, involving his "levitated" reflection in a shop window, and his idea again to get Val Doonican to croon one song each week sitting in the rocking chair that ended up being his trademark.
It was after he was reunited with Morecambe and Wise in 1968, however, that John achieved his greatest success, proving himself, not only as producer/director but also as an all-purpose creative sounding board, as invaluable to the pair as George Martin had been to the Beatles. He taught them how best to use their talents for television, turning their show into the most admired entertainment of the time.
He left the show in 1974, after eight series, in order to devote more time to his wife, Wyn, whom he had married in 1952 and had then recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. However, he continued to oversee numerous other productions for both the BBC and ITV, including shows featuring Mike Yarwood, Dick Emery and Les Dawson. He was also reunited once again with Morecambe and Wise when they asked him to supervise their final few shows for Thames.
Ammonds was appointed MBE in 1975 for his services to entertainment who retired from broadcasting in 1988. Living in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, he continued to help care for his wife until her death in 2009, and acted as a wise and generous adviser to many writers and documentary makers keen to chronicle the era of television he had graced.
Date of Birth: 31 October 1919, Barnet, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford
Nicknames: Daphne Oxenford
Daphne Oxenford, was for 20 years one of the best known voices of Listen With Mother on BBC Radio, captivating children with the words: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”
The phrase has now been enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. “The time is a quarter to two,” the announcer would intone. “This is the BBC Light Programme for mothers and children at home. Are you ready for the music? When it stops, Daphne Oxenford will be here to speak to you.”
“The music” the Berceuse from Faure’s Dolly Suite was the signal for an audience of pre-school children across the country to settle down. Then, as a regular storyteller on the show from 1950 until 1971 (others were Julia Lang and Dorothy Smith), Daphne Oxenford would read the story of the day. “Few radio memories come as misty-eyed as this,” noted the radio historian Paul Donovan.
But Daphne Oxenford also appeared on television notably in early episodes of Coronation Street. Between 1960 and 1963 she played Esther Hayes, making her debut in episode two. Although the character was a spinster with a criminal brother, she thought the role dull and left after a couple of years, finally returning for guest appearances in 1971 and 1972, when she was last seen at the wedding of Ernest Bishop to Emily Nugent.
For 26 years Daphne Oxenford was also a regular voice on What the Papers Say, Granada Television’s irreverent weekly survey of the British Press, in which she was required to articulate excerpts from publications ranging from the tabloids to The Daily Telegraph, often in assumed voices.
The daughter of an accountant, Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford was born on October 31 1919 at Barnet, north London. From school she trained at the Embassy School of Acting in Swiss Cottage, later the Central School of Speech and Drama, under Sybil Thorndike’s sister Eileen.
During the war she worked briefly in a bank and later as a censor, but hated having to read people’s private correspondence and was relieved to join ENSA entertaining troops and, after VE-Day, spending time in Germany broadcasting for radio. Later in 1945 she appeared with Sonnie Hale and Nellie Wallace in the revue That’ll Be The Day.
Her first radio engagement was in Let’s Join In! For schools radio in 1947, followed in 1949 by her television debut in Oranges and Lemons, a show in which she had worked at the Lyric (Hammersmith) and Globe Theatres. She also appeared in a television adaptation of Tuppence Coloured, the stage revue in which she had worked with Joyce Grenfell and Max Adrian at the Lyric and Globe in 1947.
Although her regular radio work with Listen With Mother occupied her from 1950, Daphne Oxenford continued to develop her stage career. She had roles in productions at the Library Theatre, Manchester, of The Happiest Days Of Your Life, in which she was Miss Gossage, the games mistress played in the later film version by Joyce Grenfell, and Candida (both 1955). In 1969 she appeared in Spring And Port Wine and Relatively Speaking at the same venue.
In 1979 she played Violet in a revival of TS Eliot’s The Family Reunion, starring Edward Fox, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and at the Vaudeville when it transferred to the West End the following year.
She appeared as Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Nottingham Playhouse in October 1990, and returned to Manchester to play Emmy in The Doctors’ Dilemma at the Royal Exchange in 1991. The following year, at the Library Theatre, she was Ethel Thayler in a stage version of the film On Golden Pond.
From 1956 Daphne Oxenford made regular television appearances with her friend Joyce Grenfell in the comedienne’s sketch show Joyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure. She was the mother in John Mortimer’s autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father (1969), and throughout the 1970s and 1980s appeared in numerous comedy series with Jimmy Tarbuck, Les Dawson and Dick Emery, dramas in the Play For Today slot and popular sitcoms including Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, Rising Damp and Man About The House. She played Mrs Patterson, the village grocer, in To The Manor Born (1979-81).
She continued to make cameo appearances throughout the 1980s and 1990s in television series such as The Bill, Brookside and Casualty. In 2002 she played the Queen Mother in an American television biopic about the life of Prince William. Although she looked the part, she was dismayed by some of the lines, protesting that the Queen Mother would never have said “when the chips are down”. However she was told that American audiences needed to comprehend the dialogue.
Daphne Oxenford’s feature film credits included parts in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), That’ll Be The Day (1973), and as Mrs Pumphrey in All Creatures Great And Small (1974).
She married, in 1951, David Marshall. They lived in Altrincham, Cheshire, until 2001 when they moved to Essex. After her husband’s death in 2003 she moved to the actors’ retirement home at Denville Hall, Northwood, from where she continued to do occasional television jobs, taking roles in The Royal (2003), Midsomer Murders (2004), Heartbeat (2004-05), and Doctor Who (2008).
Date of Birth: 7 August 1924, India
Birth Name: Kenneth Kendall
Kendall’s long association with the BBC began in 1948, when he became an announcer on the Home Service. He transferred to Television News in 1954, presenting with Richard Baker.
At first the newsreader did not appear in vision, for fear that facial expressions would suggest that he had opinions of his own (and indeed Kendall once stood as a Tory councillor). Instead briefings were read over a series of still images and maps. Only in 1955, with the imminent launch of ITN promising a less formal news service, did the BBC decide to take a risk; Kendall became the first “in-vision” newsreader, broadcasting from Alexandra Palace on September 4.
He stayed with BBC News on and off for three decades, gaining a reputation for his immaculate appearance, clear diction and unflappability. About the only time he caused a stir was when a false tooth popped out one night when he was on camera.
In the end, however, his firm adherence to Reithian values led to clashes with his producers, and in 1981 he left the BBC, three years before he was due to retire, complaining about the “sloppily written and ungrammatical” stories he was expected to broadcast.
He soon resurfaced as the studio presenter of Channel 4s Treasure Hunt, which featured Anneka Rice, clad in a jump suit, leaping in and out of helicopters while Kendall played host to contestants in the studio, helping them to solve clues that would guide her to the “treasure”.
Kenneth Kendall was born on August 7 1924 in southern India, but moved to England aged 10 and spent his teenage years in Cornwall. He was educated at Felsted School, Essex, and at Oxford University, where he read Modern Languages. Towards the end of the war he served in the Coldstream Guards, and was wounded during the Normandy landings before being demobilised in 1946 in the rank of captain.
He began his career as a teacher in a Sussex prep school until a friend, thinking he had a clear voice, suggested he might apply to the BBC. He auditioned as an announcer on the Home Service and was successful, joining the corporation in 1948. In 1959 he stood as a Conservative candidate for his local council in north Kensington.
By 1961 he had decided that he did not want to read the news for the rest of his life and transferred to the BBC’s programme planning department. But he hated it so much that he went freelance and presented, among other things, the quiz show Pit Your Wits. Towards the end of the decade work began to dwindle, and by 1969 he was back at the BBC as one of the “big three” newsreaders, alongside Richard Baker and Robert Dougall.
During his career with the BBC, Kendall did short stints on programmes such as Songs of Praise and Fascinating Facts and took part in an adult education series on physiology. He also made a number of unlikely appearances in series such as Dr Who and Adam Adamant Lives.
After his final news bulletin in 1981, he freelanced for many television companies but became best known as the host of Treasure Hunt. Something of an unknown quantity when it began, the programme established itself as a firm favourite with the public and consistently topped the Channel 4 ratings chart.
Like other newsreaders, Kendall acquired an army of female fans, who deluged him with letters and even proposals of marriage – one woman wrote to him for 25 years, and he was even stalked for a couple of years. Richard Baker recalled that at Christmas, while he generally received knitwear and Robert Dougall would get bottles of whisky, Kendall got “rather distinguished things in leather”.
Kendall was immune to such blandishments, however, and returned to Cornwall, where he opened an art gallery exhibiting the work of local painters. Later he moved to the Isle of Wight, where he and his partner opened a restaurant, called Kendalls. They disliked running the business, however, so opened an art gallery in the same premises, where Kendall worked until his death.
Meanwhile, he devoted much time to charitable work and in 1992 took part in a seaborne outing during Cowes Week on behalf of an Aids charity, handing out free condoms and T-shirts to sailors. He was signed up for the trip after winning a Safe Sex quiz at a local hospital.
Two years ago he took part in the BBC series The Young Ones, in which well-known figures discuss the problems of ageing. Kendall lamented the fact that he “fell over too much”, and above all that he was no longer able to keep a dog.
Kenneth entered a civil partnership in 2006 with his partner of 23 years, Mark Fear.
Date of Birth: 9 January 1920 , Brixton, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn
Nicknames: Clive Dunn
Though he was master of all sorts of old-man parts, he will be remembered with most affection as Lance Corporal Jones in the BBC television send-up of life in the wartime Home Guard, Dad's Army (1968-77).
His dithery butcher, slipping a few favoured lady customers some choice cuts from under the counter and then, in his spare time, trying his ineffectual best to keep order for the officious Captain Mainwaring, became such a popular figure that his catchphrase, "Don't panic!", delivered in the agitated tones of a running chicken hanging on with difficulty to the last shreds of its dignity, was repeated with guffaws in homes throughout the land.
The air of good nature with which he imbued the role removed any offence from some of Jones's other catchphrases, such as his constantly reiterated explanation, derived possibly from service in Africa, of why the enemy disliked the bayonet: "They don't like it up 'em, sir!" When in the late 1970s, British sausage manufacturers wanted their first competition, staged at Alexandra Palace, north London, to be opened by someone who suggested both the spirit of Britain and the no-nonsense appeal of the sausage, their choice was Dunn. He also toured for the Egg Marketing Board.
For broad comedy, he was a natural. His father and grandfather had been comics and wanted him to follow the same route, but the young Clive had other ideas. Born in Brixton, London, and educated at Sevenoaks school, Kent, he set his heart on becoming a film cameraman, something which appealed to his visual imagination, he later became an accomplished amateur painter and his sense of security.
In the event, after the Italia Conti acting school, he lined up a job as a teaboy and general dogsbody with British Movietone News just before that company went out of business. His chosen course no longer seemed quite so secure. At the Italia Conti he had drifted towards comedy when he was sent up the road to play a dragon on a high wire and a frog at the Holborn Empire.
Richard Todd, later to become a cinema heart-throb, was in the same acting class. They both appeared before the then queen, the eventual Queen Mother, in a school ballet. This also signalled that Dunn's future might lie in making people laugh. Partnering an especially well-built girl and trying to pick her up, he slipped and dropped her. Despite or perhaps because of this, Dunn was quickly snapped up by talent scouts. He had walk-on parts in Goodbye Mr Chips (1939) and, with Will Hay, in Boys Will Be Boys (1935). When he was still only 17, he toured with British cinema's "bad girl”.
Jean Kent, in a revue called Everybody Cheer. Smitten by her charms, he wrote a song for her, which she sang in Gateshead without being getting booed and in Luton, where she was not so lucky. The infatuation did not prevail, either.
As the patriotic if uncertain lance corporal might well have done, Dunn made several attempts to enlist when the second world war broke out. He eventually joined the 4th Hussars, was captured in Yugoslavia and spent four years as a prisoner of war, held in a room above a barber's shop in Vienna and allowed out at night to do dirty jobs that no one else wanted. It gave him an eye for the oddities of military life.
The television series Bootsie and Snudge (1960-63) first earned him fame as an old-man impersonator. He played Old Johnson, the faithful waiter struggling to preserve order and decorum among those ministering to the gentlemen of the Imperial Club. After the success of this show and Dad's Army, Dunn often sank from public view, though he continued to work in clubs, doing a song and dance routine, he was a trained dancer and ascribed his bandy legs, two of his assets as a comic, to doing too much athletics at school.
Playing elderly men remained his forte. He even made a recording of his song Grandad, which sold 690,000 copies and was in the charts for 28 weeks in 1970-71, three of them at No 1. Using his oldie reputation, Dunn visited many pensioners' clubs and homes to cheer up the occupants, and once spoke at Trafalgar Square in favour of a campaign for better pensions.
However, he was immensely pleased to be chosen, for a change, to play Frosch, the slurred and tipsy but not necessarily aged jailer in a 1978 English National Opera production of Johann Strauss's opera Die Fledermaus. This, he insisted wryly, was at least one step up from his only other experience of being in opera, a quarter of a century previously in a BBC radio performance of a modern work in which he played someone unable to hear or speak, uttering only grunts and groans synchronised with the dissonant music.
Dunn was appointed OBE in 1975, the year he appeared in a Dad's Army sketch at a Royal Variety Performance. A television series took up his Grandad character (1979-84), and he bowed out of the medium as Verges in Much Ado About Nothing (1984).