Date of Birth: 16 May 1937, Tayorville, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Yvonne Joyce Craig
Nicknames: Yvonne Craig
Dancer turned actress who brought a spirited grace to the high-kicking antics of the superheroine Batgirl
Yvonne Craig trained as a dancer and became the youngest-ever member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; but it was on television that her athletic grace won legions of fans, as Batgirl to Adam West’s Batman.
Now fondly remembered as an example of 1960s camp, Batman, made by the ABC television network, was steeped in the Pop Art sensibility of the era. The storylines were comic, the sets garish, and colourful bubble words like KAPOW!, BAM! and ZOK! livened up the fight sequences. When audience figures started to pall towards the end of the decade, the writers decided to freshen up the show by bringing in the character of Barbara Gordon, a good-looking librarian who pursues a second career as the crime-fighting Batgirl.
The producer, Howie Horwitz, was anxious to preserve the character’s femininity, so Batgirl was forbidden to punch her various on-screen nemeses, relying instead on high kicks and handily placed objects. While Adam West had his black Batcycle (with a detachable self-propelled sidecar for Robin), Yvonne Craig drove a purple version with a large yellow bow. She did most of her own stunts, which were made all the more uncomfortable by the bat wings that had replaced the motorcycle’s shock absorbers “like jumping off a table stiff-legged”, as she put it.
Such dedication could not halt the show’s decline, however, and after one more series it was cancelled in 1968. Looking back, Yvonne Craig expressed disappointment in the way the character was handled after her initial test screening. “When we did the pilot, Batgirl was supposed to be not only as good as the guys but better,” she recalled. “She ended up being this cute little bland character, when she could have been more in the style of Katharine Hepburn.”
None the less, her performance was eagerly taken up by feminist critics as a spirited example of the hard-working career girl an ally to the hero, rather than his dependant. In 1972 Yvonne Craig stepped into the role once more, this time on behalf of the US Department of Labor. A 30-second skit had Batgirl swinging to the rescue of a captive Batman and Robin but not before demanding equal pay.
Yvonne Joyce Craig was born on May 16 1937 in Taylorville, Illinois, and aspired to a career in dance from an early age. While attending the Edith James School of Ballet she was spotted by the Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova, who helped her win a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York. Aged 16 she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but left three years later and eventually fell into acting after a chance meeting with John Ford’s son Patrick. Her first starring role was as the beautiful yet spoiled Elena in The Young Land (1959), which the younger Ford produced.
By the mid-1960s she had moved away from temptress roles to play more traditional leading ladies, appearing alongside Elvis Presley in It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963) and Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The two of them hit it off and Yvonne Craig spent time with Presley at his home in Bel Air though, coming from the insulated life of the professional dancer, she had little idea of his rock-and-roll credentials. The reality was finally brought home to her when, trying to find the light-switch in his bedroom late one night, she accidentally hit a panic button and was greeted by several carloads of policemen at the front door.
On television she made a foray into the spy arena with a guest part in the original series of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1965), gave a passionate performance as the creatively named Ecstasy La Joie in The Wild Wild West (1966) and was painted green for a memorable turn as a psychotic alien in Star Trek (1969). In later life she swapped acting for a career in property, but continued to make regular appearances at comic and fantasy conventions in America.
Date of Birth: 17 December 1926, Poplar, London, UK
Birth Name: Stephen Lewis
Nicknames: Stephen Lewis, Stephen Cato
In 1960, he wrote Sparrers Can’t Sing, a play about life in the East End that relied heavily on actors’ improvisations. It was a success and was released as a film (Sparrows Can’t Sing) in 1963, with a cast that included Barbara Windsor and Roy Kinnear – although even their talents could not sell the social realist dialogue to a global audience.
The New York Times sniffed: “This isn’t a picture for anyone with a logical mind or an ear for language. The gabble of Cockney spoken here is as incomprehensible as the reasoning of those who speak it.” It was the first English-language film to be released in the US with subtitles.
As Lewis’s career illustrates, a great number of the comedy stars of the 1960s and 1970s came from serious theatre with proudly socialist roots, while television and film started to tap into a growing appetite for working-class drama and comedy. Throughout the 1960s, Lewis took a series of small roles culminating in a large part in the 1969 television play, Mrs Wilson’s Diary, alongside another Theatre Workshop regular called Bob Grant.
That same year, he landed a role in a new series called On the Buses, which also featured Grant as a lascivious bus ticket-collector teamed up with Reg Varney, his equally Dionysian mate.
Although the show was undoubtedly rude, crude and occasionally prejudiced, it offered genuinely witty reflections on the nature of 1970s class conflict. In the world of On the Buses, workers were constantly on strike and after more money; managerial characters such as Lewis’s Blakey were exploitative snobs who thought they had authority just because they wore a badge.
It was plain where the audience's sympathies were supposed to lie: many was the time that a bus “hilariously” ran over poor Blakey’s foot or a bucket of water was tipped over his head. The cry: “I ’ate you Butler” was born of impotent rage. Although Varney the actor was Lewis’s senior, it was still Varney’s character, Reg, that got all the “crumpet”. Lewis was only in his early forties when he took the role of Blakey, but playing ageing authority figures became his stock in trade. In the 1970s, he appeared in the television sequel to On The Buses, Don’t Drink the Water, three big-screen outings of On The Buses and two cinematic sex comedies (Adventures of a Taxi Driver, Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate). He later had parts in the films Personal Services (1987) and The Krays (1990).
In 1988, he played a new character in the long-running BBC series Last of the Summer Wine as the character Clem “Smiler” Hemmingway which he thoroughly enjoyed. “It’s got so much charm,” he said of the show. “I don’t think any other country in the world has comedy like that.” From 1995 to 1997, he appeared in the equally gentle sitcom Oh, Doctor Beeching! In 2007, he stepped down from Last of the Summer Wine because of ill health.
Stephen Lewis remained a committed socialist. In a stroke of irony, however, in 1981 he was hired to promote CH coaches, in the character of Blakey; it was the first private bus company to break the public transport monopoly of Cardiff city council. This was exactly the kind of Thatcherite revolution of which Blakey would probably have approved.
In his diaries, Tony Benn recalled campaigning with Lewis in 1984, describing him as “very direct” and “extremely amusing”.
Date of Birth: 22 April 1925, Tooting, London, UK
Birth Name: George Edward Cole
Nicknames: George Cole
George Cole, the actor, who has died aged 90, was best-known as the devious and conniving Arthur Daley in the popular ITV series Minder and as Alastair Sim’s crooked accomplice Flash Harry in the St Trinian’s films of the 1950s.
One of the most endearing and enduring popular players of rueful light comedy, and once described as looking like “an amiable pall bearer”, Cole played numerous untrustworthy characters in a career spanning 70 years. He believed that his “crafty but sad” appearance was responsible for his repeated casting in what he described as “spiv” roles.
Apart from a weakness for strong-smelling cigars and a passion for horse racing, Cole had little in common with the roguish Arthur Daley. An inveterate punter, he confessed that “the ITV Seven was my downfall. I got it the very first time, about £1,100. After that I couldn’t leave it alone.” It was perhaps just as well that Cole’s portrayal of Arthur Daley had made him one of the highest-paid actors on British television.
Unlike his screen persona, Cole considered himself primarily a family man. After his unofficial adoption at the age of 16 by Alastair Sim and his wife, Naomi, Cole moved in with the couple. When he later married, he built a house on a five-acre plot of land next to the Sims’ home at Nettlebed in Oxfordshire and lived there with his own family.
Despite his long career Cole claimed that he had never been ambitious as an actor, insisting that he preferred “an afternoon pottering in the garden to almost anything”. He distinguished himself from later generations of artists by taking up acting at the age of 14 to avoid starting work as a butcher’s boy. Cole claimed that his success was based on a sense of timing and a talent for droll facial expressions, skills he had learned from Alastair Sim whom he described as “one of the most talented actors in the business”.
George Edward Cole was born on April 22 1925 in Tooting, south London, and adopted when he was 10 days old after being abandoned by his mother. Educated locally, he won a scholarship to the Surrey county council school at Morden, but his educational hopes were dashed when his father had to give up work because of illness. “My father was gassed in the First World War and was an epileptic,” Cole recalled. “He couldn’t hold down a job, and when we couldn’t pay the rent the council gave him a job pulling a road roller. That did for him in the end.”
Cole – who described his upbringing as “the poorest you could get” – left school at 14 to help support his family. He worked as a newspaper delivery boy before gaining an apprenticeship with the local butcher. Due to start at the butcher’s on Monday morning, he answered an advertisement in The Star on Friday night that read “Boy wanted for West End show”. He auditioned on the Saturday, declaring that he could recite a poem by Julius Caesar called Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Cole was offered a part and joined the touring company performing The White Horse Inn in 1939.
When the tour ended after six months, Cole returned home and made his London debut as a Cockney evacuee in Cottage to Let (Wyndham’s, 1940). Hailed in The Daily Telegraph as “a very youthful actor with spirit and a grand sense of the occasion”, Cole reprised the same role in the film version two years later, appearing for the first time opposite Alastair Sim. Sim and his wife were responsible for all Cole’s theatrical training, including the thankless task of eradicating Cole’s Cockney accent.
With Sim’s help he appeared in his second film, Those Kids from Town (1942) before joining the RAF the following year. Cole ended his service career running an officers’ mess bar in occupied Germany.
After the war Cole returned to acting, appearing in a variety of mediocre films including My Brother’s Keeper (1948), The Spider and the Fly (1949) and Gone to Earth (1950). He had greater success with Alastair Sim in the classic comedies Laughter in Paradise (1951) and Scrooge (1952).
Over the next decade, Cole and Sim repeated their screen partnership in a string of films, the most successful of which were the St Trinian’s series, directed by Frank Launder. In the first, The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954), Cole (as the spiv Flash Harry) received third billing after Sim and Joyce Grenfell. The film was extremely successful and was followed by five more, including Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1958) and Cole’s only films in the series without Sim, The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1961) and The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966).
Between films, Cole starred as the bumbling bachelor David Bliss in the long-running radio series A Life of Bliss (1952-67). The show was broadcast on Sunday afternoons. Cole recalled it as “wholesome to the point of nausea”, and insisted that the best part of the show had been Percy Edwards’s performance as Psyche the dog.
By the mid-1960s, along with the rest of the British film industry, Cole’s film career had stalled. Parts dried up and Cole turned to the stage to revive his flagging fortunes. He worked consistently throughout the 1960s and 1970s in productions such as Banana Ridge, The Philanthropist and Too Good to be True. He also appeared in several musical hits such as Front Page (1981), The Pirates of Penzance (1982) and as Captain Hook in Peter Pan (1987).
But his greatest success came on his move into television, in series like The Bounder (1976) and Minder (1979). Cole was offered the part of Arthur Daley in Minder while making Dennis Potter’s banned play, Brimstone and Treacle.
Minder was not an instant success, and the first two series flopped. But by 1984, the show had become a hit, with Cole becoming inseparably linked with the shifty second-hand car dealer Arthur Daley. He was not the first choice for the role, and recalled that the writer and most of the production team were unhappy about the casting. “Verity Lambert [the producer] was the only one who thought I’d do,” he remembered, “and she was right.”
Playing the part with droll understatement, he helped to revive Cockney rhyming slang and deployed many a fine malapropism “The world is your lobster, my son” being one of the most memorable.
He was unable to account for his enormous success in the part or the longevity of the series, which ran until 1991. “It’s a bit worrying really,” he said. “After all, Arthur is a crook. He nearly always lets [his boneheaded bodyguard] Terry down and yet he’s one of the most popular characters on television.” Cole appeared in each series of Minder, seamlessly adapting to a new sidekick when Dennis Waterman left the programme.
Cole became so identified in the public’s mind to the Arthur Daley character that even when he appeared away from the series as in television commercials for the Leeds Building Society – Arthur’s pork pie hat and sheepskin coat were in evidence. The series sold all over the world, making it (as Arthur himself would have noted) “a nice little earner” for ITV.
In 1991 Cole followed the final series of Minder with an appearance as Henry Root in the film dramatisation of The Henry Root Letters. Asked if he minded being typecast as a string of unscrupulous characters he replied: “I think it’s just marvellous to be in work. Before Minder I never really knew where my next job was coming from. Now I’m booked up for the next two years.” His later television work included appearances in staples such as Agatha Christie’s Marple, Midsomer Murders and Heartbeat. In the mid to late-1990s he played in two short-lived sitcoms, first as a lonely pensioner in My Good Friend and then as a cantankerous father in Dad.
He was appointed OBE in 1992.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK
Birth Name: Priscilla Maria Veronica White
Nicknames: Cilla Black
Cilla Black, broke through in the 1960s as a buck-toothed pop singer in the Merseybeat boom and went on to become one of the enduring stars of television light entertainment, hosting the brassy Saturday night favourites Surprise, Surprise and Blind Date.
In August 1963 she was a 20-year-old typist in a Liverpool office. A month later, having left the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein smitten, she recorded her first hit, Love of the Loved, a Paul McCartney number. By 1965 she had become the female symbol of British youth with two No 1 hits and a season at the London Palladium, and by 1968 she was a millionaire at 25. A quarter of a century later she was the highest-paid female entertainer on British television.
She made a career out of what one critic described as “the phenomenon of ordinariness”. Indeed she would scarcely demur at the description “dead common”. “Class, I haven’t,” she conceded, “but style I’ve got.” As the Liverpool docker’s daughter and ingenue pop star trailing in the Beatles’ wake, Cilla Black resolutely adhered to type: lacquered mane of flame-red hair (the consequence of a sixpenny rinse at the age of 13) short skirts, long legs and a strong Scouse accent.
After starring in her own BBC series Cilla in the late 1960s, she moved to ITV to star in a live Saturday night variety show, popping up “somewhere in Britain” with a camera crew to knock at someone’s front door. She once famously disturbed a man who skulked blinking on to his balcony followed by someone else’s wife wrapped in a sheet; another “Come on, luv, it’s Cilla 'ere” intrusion took her into a room where rows of embarrassed men on chairs who muttered one-word answers to her increasingly querulous questions turned out to be the clientele of the local brothel.
It was her ability to combine mischievous curiosity with deadpan humour that sealed her success with Surprise, Surprise (1984) on ITV, the strangely gripping show for which she was paid £15,000 a week. As well as emotional reunions of long-lost relatives, the show featured “Cillagrams”, in which she again turned up at a location unannounced but this time marking some special occasion with a song. Invited to the run-down port of Holyhead by the local Mayor, she sang Hooray for Holyhead in the main street, the watching crowds swelled by the staff of Woolworths who trooped out to hear her while looters trooped in through the back door and plundered the shop.
Unashamedly working-class, the show was panned by the critics as rubbish, but Cilla was unflinching. “I didn’t choose television. Television chose me,” she said. “I was a bit of fun and a bit of Scouse rough and everybody liked me, I was normal. I could have been the kid next door. And then I turned into the auntie next door. And now I’m the granny next door.”
But accusations of bad taste followed when, at Christmas 1987, the show took her to a hospital at Zeebrugge where victims of the ferry disaster were being treated, and she led medical staff and survivors through the streets of Bruges singing Little Drummer Boy.
“She really is a battler,” noted The Daily Telegraph critic, “and has honed to a fine edge her skills of cajolery, intimacy and self-deprecation .”
Her second television hit, Blind Date, launched in 1985, was a game of flirtatious lucky-dip between the sexes featuring participants separated by a screen who paired off without seeing each other amid laboured, scripted repartee. She had seen the show while touring in Australia, thought it hysterical and urged LWT to make a British version. The programme was compulsive viewing for many, although it came to be criticised for its increasingly explicit sexual innuendo.
The success rate for many of the couples was low, and most viewers tuned in to watch Cilla’s brilliantly scathing put-downs delivered (usually to the men) with robust Scouse grit. Three of the paired-up couples did, however, get as far as the altar after meeting on the show, and Cilla was guest of honour at all three weddings. In January 2003 she announced during a live broadcast that she was leaving Blind Date after 18 years. Paul O’Grady and Dale Winton were both lined up to replace her, but the show was cancelled after she left.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born in Liverpool on May 27 1943, the only daughter of a Mersey docker. Her mother ran a market stall selling stockings and trinkets. The family lived in a four-roomed council flat above a barber’s shop on Scotland Road, the rough and ready “Scottie Road” of Liverpool folklore and an Irish-Catholic stronghold; until she was nine, they had no indoor lavatory and bathed in a tin tub in front of the kitchen stove.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK and educated at St Anthony’s Catholic secondary modern school nearby, she left at 15 to learn office skills at Anfield Commercial College. Within a year, she had taken a job at £4 a week as a filing clerk at British Insulated Callenders Cables, where she typed and deployed her 80wpm shorthand, supplementing her wages during her lunch hour by checking the coats at the Cavern Club, the up-and-coming music venue in Mathew Street in Liverpool city centre. At night she sang with some of the emergent Merseybeat groups such as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and the Big Three.
At the nearby Iron Door club, she also sang with the still-unknown Beatles, courtesy of John Lennon who called her “Cyril”. In early 1962 Lennon introduced her to the Beatles’ new manager, Brian Epstein, who rejected her after she underwent an impromptu audition in the middle of a Beatles show at the Majestic ballroom in Birkenhead; she sang Gershwin’s Summertime but it was not in her key.
Her luck changed when, accompanied by John Rubin’s modern jazz group, she sang a few standards at the Blue Angel club, not knowing that, again, Epstein was in the audience. By now the Beatles were on their way to stardom, and Epstein’s talent stable was expanding. “Why didn’t you sing like that before?” Epstein asked. He was convinced that Cilla would become a huge star. Having changed her name to Cilla Black (the local Mersey Beat newspaper had mistakenly called her by the wrong colour) she made her first proper appearance with the Beatles at the Odeon, Southport, on August 30 1963, watched by Epstein’s father, Harry, who predicted she would be “the next Gracie Fields”.
A week later, over Sunday tea, Cilla and her father signed a contract with Brian Epstein. She was to be his first designer pop star and so was born Cilla black.
Cilla’s first single, Love of the Loved, written by Paul McCartney, charted disappointingly at number 35. But in February 1964 she had her first number one with Burt Bacharach’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. The American singer Dionne Warwick, who had already released her own recording of the song in the US, was miffed; while her version sounded effortless it was apparent that, as one critic put it, “Cilla was straining her garters”. Cilla Black herself recalled 30 years later: “Dionne was dead choked and she’s never forgiven me to this day.”
Epstein had heard Warwick’s record in the USA and had returned to Britain with a copy which he played to the producer George Martin. He immediately declared it would be perfect for Shirley Bassey. When Epstein insisted he had earmarked it for Cilla, Martin doubted that the Liverpool singer had the vocal ability to pull off such a powerful number. In the event Cilla’s recording sold a million copies.
When in May she followed up with a second No 1, You’re My World, Cilla became the first British female singer to have two successive No 1 hits. She appeared in that year’s Royal Variety Performance, where she met Gracie Fields, who did not take to her. Nor did Noël Coward, watching in the stalls, who thought her “ghastly beyond belief”.
In November 1966 she appeared with the comedian Frankie Howerd in Way Out in Piccadilly (Prince of Wales), the start of a long-standing friendship between them. The following year she signed a £63,000 contract to present her own series, Cilla, on BBC Television. Paul McCartney wrote the signature tune, Step Inside Love, and the critics loved her. “She’s ordinary and unassuming,” noted Philip Purser in The Sunday Telegraph, “and still tickled to death at being plucked out of the typing pool by the great god Pop.”
Cilla Black married her long-time boyfriend and manager, Bobby Willis, in 1969 who later died in 1999.
An appearance on Terry Wogan’s television chat show in 1983 was followed by a similar date with Jimmy Tarbuck on ITV; this was seen by John Birt, then director of programmes for LWT, who was struck by her fresh, unaffected, and “delicious, naturally funny” style. Realising her potential as a game show host, he booked her for Surprise, Surprise. She became a regular guest at Birt’s lunches for fellow celebrity Scousers when, with the likes of Anne Robinson, Roger McGough and Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, she tucked in to chip butties, scouse stew with pickled beetroot and jelly and evaporated milk.
Cilla Black never refused an interview request, the River Room at the Savoy being her venue of choice, and the presence of her beloved husband being a pre-condition a relic of her being invited, by one journalist in the 1960s, to stroke his war wound.
Politically, she swung from supporting Harold Wilson in the 1960s to backing John Major in the 1990s. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Thatcher . In August 2014, she was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to the Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September’s referendum.
Cilla Black was named ITV Personality of the Year for Blind Date in 1987 and Variety Club Showbusiness Personality of 1991. She won a Bafta in 1995, but disliked being labelled a television presenter. “I always think of myself as a singer. That’s what I want on my gravestone: Here lies Cilla Black, singer. Not TV presenter.”
Appointed OBE in 1997, the proudest moment of her career, she once declared, was “absolutely rubbing shoulders with and meeting the Royal family”. At her own palatial 10-bedroomed house in Denham, Buckinghamshire, once owned by Sir Malcolm Sargent and bought in 1965 for £40,000, she enjoyed her 17-acre garden and, in keeping with her lifelong frugality, vacuumed it herself every Sunday (the housekeeper’s day off) “in case the Queen drops in”.
She published her memoirs, Step Inside, in 1985. In 1994 she turned down an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University (formerly Polytechnic) when some of the students complained it would “devalue” their degrees.
In 2014 the actress Sheridan Smith gave a highly acclaimed performance in Cilla, a three-part television drama about Cilla Black’s rise to fame, acted, noted The Daily Telegraph, with a “killer combination of warmth, mischievousness and vulnerability”. Cilla herself described the portrayal as “terrific”, adding, “but God knows how she sang so well with those false teeth in.”
“I didn’t want to be Doris Day,” Cilla Black once reflected, “but I wanted what went with it. She’d talk about her backyard and it was three acres of lawn; our backyard was where we kept the coal. I wanted her backyard, the fame and fortune. If there had been Blind Date then, I would have been first in the queue.”
Date of Birth: 3 February 1927, Waterford, Ireland
Birth Name: Michael Valentine Doonican
Nicknames: Val Doonican
Val Doonican's gentle style made him a popular feature on Saturday night television for more than two decades.
He became famous for his sweaters and the rocking chair in which he invariably sat to sing the final number of his show.
At a time when the 60s pop explosion was stalling the careers of so many crooners, Doonican bucked the trend with eight Top-20 hits.
And songs like Delaney's Donkey and Paddy McGinty's Goat allowed record-buyers to indulge themselves in a touch of Irish-flavoured whimsy.
Michael Valentine Doonican was born in the Irish city of Waterford on 3 February 1927, the youngest of eight children.
His father died of cancer when he was 14 and he was forced to leave school and work in a packaging factory to supplement the family income.
He wrote music from a very young age, and formed a singing group with his friends when he was just 10.
With his guitar, he later took part in the town's first ever television broadcast and, after his first paid engagement at the Waterford fete, left his factory job to tour the country in a caravan.
In 1951, Doonican was invited to join a group called the Four Ramblers.
The band toured England where Doonican was introduced to the joys of golf, and also to his future wife, the cabaret star Lynnette Rae.
Doonican later moved to London, where he continued his entertainment apprenticeship in radio, television, cabaret and music hall.
He recalled that "it took 17 years to become an overnight success", when his appearance on Sunday Night at the Palladium prompted the BBC to offer him his own series in 1964.
He was given an initial series of six half-hour programmes which were broadcast live from a BBC studio in an old chapel in Manchester.
The Val Doonican Music show saw him become a mainstay of Saturday night television.
But he was always grateful that his career gave him the opportunity to meet his idols such as Bing Crosby and Howard Keel.
"You can't imagine," he later recalled, "that you're going along in your young life, buying records of people that you think are fantastic and, in my case, I ended up singing duets with them on my show."
The comedian Dave Allen also got his big break by appearing on the show.
In the 1970s, his fame spread when the programme was transmitted overseas.
Two of Doonican's most enduring props were his collection of multi-coloured sweaters - which became known as "Val Doonican jumpers" and his ever-present rocking chair.
In fact, the star swapped his sweaters for jackets back in 1970, so remained bemused when people everywhere continued to ask him where his jumper was.
Doonican went on to record more than 50 albums, and he appeared several times on Top of the Pops.
At a time when the charts were dominated by pop groups he had a string of hits including Special Years, Walk Tall and What Would I Be?
The television shows came to an end after 24 years, but Doonican continued to tour, choosing mostly intimate regional theatres, in the UK and abroad.
He eschewed television appearances, preferring to share his time between Buckinghamshire and Spain, and to spend his semi-retirement playing golf.
"Golf is like an 18-year-old girl with big boobs," he once said. "You know it's wrong but you can't keep away from her."
His other great hobby was painting, and his work was exhibited around the country.
A lot of his art was inspired by his Irish homeland, where he remained revered for his modest charm and embrace of original Gaelic values.
Date of Birth: 6 February 1922, Paddington, London, UK
Birth Name: Daniel Patrick Macnee
Nicknames: Patrick Macnee
Patrick Macnee was cast to perfection as the imperturbable secret agent John Steed in the 1960s television series The Avengers, he brought etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity to the part.
The programme began as unremarkable detective fare, with the raincoated Macnee playing second fiddle to Ian Hendry’s forensic surgeon. When Hendry left after the first season, Steed was pushed to the fore and Macnee threatened with the sack unless he breathed life into the character. Steed re-emerged as a lethal dandy, sporting boutonnière, sword-cane and curly-brimmed bowler. He was indubitably a gentleman and Macnee imbued the part with plenty of his own Etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity.The Avengers became an unlikely farrago of Aleister Crowley and P G Wodehouse, a mix of the surreal and the camp set in an England of village greens and stately homes that concealed murderous marriage bureaus, sinister vicars and scientists over-boiling the white heat of technology. Produced with considerable visual flair, it became synonymous with the “Swinging Sixties” and was one of the first British programmes to do well in America.
Much of its success and enduring appeal lay in its ironic subversion of the conventions of the spy genre. Steed was not averse to fisticuffs, but he had none of Bond’s sadism and he eschewed guns Macnee had experienced too much real violence during the Second World War. The programme was also novel in the status given to Steed’s female partners notably Honor Blackman as the steely Cathy Gale and Diana Rigg as the coolly kittenish Emma Peel. Brought up by women, Macnee was willing to let Steed’s leather-clad partners demonstrate their mental and physical equality. He also thrived on the playful sexual tension between the characters.
The Avengers ran between 1960 and 1969; a lame sequel made in the mid-1970s, The New Avengers, also featured Macnee, but only served to show how charming and how definitive had been his performance the first time round.
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born in London on February 6 1922. His mother, a niece of the 13th Earl of Huntingdon and a rather giddy socialite, went into labour at a party and Macnee never discovered from her whether she reached hospital or if he was born in a carriage half-way down the Bayswater Road.
The rest of his childhood was no less confused. His father was a racehorse trainer, a diminutive man known as “Shrimp” Macnee whose dapper wardrobe his son later recreated for Steed. He had a taste for gin and enlivened his dinner parties by levelling a shotgun at those guests he suspected of pacifist tendencies.
Macnee’s mother took refuge in a circle of friends that included Tallulah Bankhead and the madam Mrs Meyrick, before absconding with a wealthy lesbian, Evelyn. Young Patrick was brought up by the pair and was instructed to call Evelyn “Uncle”. He managed to resist their efforts to dress him as a girl, wearing a kilt as a compromise. His father fled to India, from where he was later expelled for urinating off a balcony on to the heads of the Raj’s elite, gathered below for a race-meeting.
Evelyn financed Macnee’s education, at Summer Fields where he first acted, playing opposite Christopher Lee and then Eton. His corruption began when he was introduced to whisky by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, who had escaped into the garden with a bottle when brought in to consecrate Evelyn’s private chapel. Macnee was then expelled from Eton for running a pornography and bookmaking empire.
He trained as an actor at the Webber-Douglas school and began to get some repertory work. Cast more for his looks than talent, he was due to play his first West End lead opposite Vivien Leigh when he received his call-up papers in 1942. He served in Motor Torpedo Boats until 1946, rising to lieutenant. He caught bronchitis shortly before D-Day; while in hospital his boat and crew were destroyed in action.
Macnee made his film debut in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in 1943, and after the war landed several other small parts, appearing as a courtier in Olivier’s Hamlet and The Elusive Pimpernel. The latter starred David Niven, whom he mistakenly claimed as a cousin and who consequently found him work. Yet by now he had a family to support, and when promised better roles by the embryonic Canadian Broadcasting Corporation moved to Toronto, while his wife and children remained behind. It was a decision he later bitterly regretted.
For the next eight years Macnee drifted across North America. His breezily crisp accent brought him regular stage and television work, though he also played a sheriff in the Western series Rawhide. He continued to attract the bizarre. Once he rescued some chimpanzees from a fire at an animal trainer’s ranch; while driving them to safety, one monkey clamped its hands over his eyes, almost causing his car to plunge into a ravine. In Toronto itself for The Importance of Being Earnest, he was forced by Dame Edith Evans to strap her to a stretcher and drag her through snow 10 feet deep to her hotel.
In 1960 he returned to England, his marriage over. He decided he was too old not to have a proper job, a conclusion reached when he came home to find he had been replaced in the affections of a much younger girlfriend by a French thief and his team of huskies.
He was producing a television documentary series based on Churchill’s history of the war, The Valiant Years, when he was cast in The Avengers, having literally bumped into the producer in Piccadilly. Although he was a more competent actor than he gave himself credit for, he was content in later years to stroll through a series of unmemorable roles. He believed he might have been offered better parts had he not rejected the lead in Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth when offered it in 1970. He later played the part on Broadway.
Among his less forgettable film appearances were as a record producer in the seminal rock spoof This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and as Bond’s chauffeur in A View To A Kill (1985). He retired to Palm Springs, California, and cheerfully took well-paid cameo roles in American television series, among them the sublimely dreadful Thunder In Paradise, a vehicle for the wrestler Hulk Hogan. In 1996 he appeared in a video for the rock group Oasis.
Macnee made considerable efforts to escape the constraints of his own character and Establishment image. He felt strongly that he had been socially and sexually confused by his upbringing and schooling and found America a less repressed environment; he became an active member of a nudist colony in the mid-1970s.
Although he remained outwardly chirpy and chivalrous, he was prone to depression and guilt, particularly over his infidelities and the severe asthmatic illness of his daughter, which he saw as a punishment for deserting his family for Canada. He also fought lengthy, and ultimately successful, battles against alcohol and mounting weight.
He published a candid autobiography, Blind In One Ear, in 1988.
Date of Birth: 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: 26 July 1926, Powderly, Kentucky, US
Birth Name: Jewel Franklin Guy
Nicknames: James Best
James Best was best known for his performance as Rosco P Coltrane, the childishly inept sheriff in the American television series The Dukes of Hazzard, which was a fixture of Saturday afternoons on the BBC during the early 1980s.
The role of Sheriff Coltrane probably did not do justice to Best’s talents as a serious actor, but the character with his rustic accent, high-pitched cackle and pet basset hound, Flash was well-loved by fans of the show. The highly formulaic plots typically featured Coltrane as the accomplice and comic foil of the show’s pantomime villain, the fat and avaricious county commissioner Boss Hogg.
Hogg’s criminal schemes brought him into conflict with the Duke family of good-natured country bumpkins Bo and Luke, their attractive cousin Daisy (known for her “short shorts” and played by Catherine Bach) and uncle Jesse giving a pretext for interminable car chases filmed in rural locations in Georgia and latterly in California.
The son of a Kentucky coal miner, James Best was born Jewel Franklin Guy in humble circumstances at Powderly, a settlement south of Nashville, on July 26 1926. He was the youngest of nine siblings, and the Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, were cousins. His mother died in 1929 and when his father struggled to support the family he spent time in an orphanage before being adopted, and renamed, by Esse and Armen Best, who brought him up at Corydon, Indiana.
Best began acting while stationed with the military police in Wiesbaden after the war, taking his first role, as a drunk, in My Sister Eileen, a play directed by Arthur Penn, later a leading Hollywood figure.
On his return to the US Best joined touring stock companies before being put under contract by Universal in 1949. Through the 1950s and 1960s he turned up in supporting roles in television series such as The Virginian, Wagon Train, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and The Andy Griffith Show. He also appeared in a number of films, including three notable westerns starring James Stewart, Winchester ’73 (1950), Shenandoah (1965), set during the Civil War, and Firecreek (1968). In The Left Handed Gun (1958), with Paul Newman, Best was reunited with the director Arthur Penn, making his debut as a feature film director.
In early 1979 Best appeared in the pilot episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, “One-Armed Bandits”. He enjoyed working on the show and formed a close bond with Sorrell Booke, the actor who played Boss Hogg; many of their scenes were improvised. The series ran until 1985, gaining large audiences in both Britain and America, with a film spinoff in 2005 and regular jamborees reuniting the cast members. However, Best fell out with the producers Time Warner reaching an undisclosed settlement over what he felt was his inadequate share of the multi-million dollar profits.
Best developed a sideline in teaching the technique of film acting; he had posts at the University of Mississippi in the 1970s and, some years later, at the University of Central Florida.
He continued working into old age. In Return of the Killer Shrews (2012) a remake of The Killer Shrews, a 1959 B-movie in which he had starred he played a ship’s captain hired by a reality television show to deliver passengers to an island populated by giant mutant shrews.
He wrote a play, Hell Bent for Good Times, a comedy about a family living through the Depression, and published a memoir, Best in Hollywood: The God, the Bad and the Beautiful (2009). James Best retired to Hickory, North Carolina, where he spent happy hours fishing on the lake.
Date of Birth: 26 March 1931, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Birth Name: Leonard Simon Nimoy
Nicknames: Leonard Nimoy
Few actors outside soap opera become defined by a single role to the exclusion of all else in their career. But that was the case for Leonard Nimoy, who has died aged 83. He did not simply play Mr Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek he was synonymous with him, even after taking on other parts and branching out into directing and photography.
Star Trek began life on television, running for three series between 1966 and 1969, and later spawned numerous spin-offs, including a run of films of varying quality, two of which (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from 1984, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from 1986) Nimoy directed. “I’m very proud of having been connected with the show,” he wrote in 1975. “I felt that it dealt with morality and philosophical questions in a way that many of us would wish were part of the reality of our lives.”
In front of the camera, as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock, he captured with delicious wit the tensions in the character. Spock’s logical, detached perspective could be infuriating to his more demonstrative colleagues; it also caused him to be amused or bewildered by the workings of humans. This could play out humorously or poignantly. He was uniquely placed, for example, to analyse coolly our emotional shortcomings: “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want,” he mused in the first series. His dry rapport with the more passionate, full-blooded Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) was a pleasure that endured long after the Star Trek brand itself showed signs of having been around the galaxy a few too many times.
Once seen, Spock was never forgotten. The hair, boot-polish black, was snipped short with a severe, straight fringe; it looked more like headgear than a haircut, more painted on than grown. An inch of forehead separated that fringe from a pair of sabre-like eyebrows that arched extravagantly upwards. These came in handy for conveying what the reserved Spock could not always express verbally. “The first thing I learned was that a raised eyebrow can be very effective,” said Nimoy.
Spock’s defining physical feature, though, was his pointed ears. The actor’s first reaction upon seeing them was: “If this doesn’t work, it could be a bad joke.” Sharply tapered but in no way pixieish, the ears somehow never undermined his gravitas. Or rather, Nimoy’s sober disposition precluded laughter. Besides, in a show suffused with messages of inclusivity and tolerance, it would never do for audiences to laugh at someone just because he came from Vulcan.
Nimoy contributed key details to the character, including the traditional Vulcan greeting: a hand held up and the four fingers parted to create a V. This was inspired by prayer gestures witnessed by the young Nimoy at synagogue.
He would later title his 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock. “I was trying to illuminate the actor’s process in creating a character. I talked about the fact that I grew up in Boston and Spock did not. My parents were Russian immigrants; Spock’s were not. I’m an actor who portrays this character.” He conceded, though, that the title had been a mistake and had given the erroneous impression that he was trying to shrug off his best-known role. He made amends by calling the 1995 follow-up I Am Spock.
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Max, a barber, and Dora, and showed an interest in acting from a young age (though his father tried to persuade him to take up the accordion instead). He studied drama at Boston College and began to get small parts in theatre, film and television. At 20 he was cast in the lead role of a young boxer in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni, and discovered a kind of sanctuary in the prosthetics he was required to wear. “I found a home behind that makeup,” he wrote in I Am Not Spock. “I was much more confident and comfortable than I would have been, had I been told I was to play ‘a handsome young man’.”
Nimoy did military service from 1953 to 1955, during which time one of his duties was producing army talent shows. He continued acting after leaving the army and in the early 1960s began teaching acting classes, while also starring in guest roles on television series including Bonanza, Rawhide and The Twilight Zone. He established his own acting studio where he taught for three years.
Nimoy auditioned for an earlier Gene Roddenberry project, and when Roddenberry created Star Trek he thought of him for the role of Spock. “I thought it would be a challenge,” Nimoy said. “As an actor, my training had been in how to use my emotions, and here was a character who had them all locked up.”
After 79 episodes across three series, the NBC network cancelled the show because of its low ratings. Nimoy went straight into another regular gig a role on the light-hearted spy series Mission: Impossible and then began studying photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He would later publish photographic studies including Shekhina (2002), a celebration of spirituality and sexuality in Judaism, and The Full Body Project (2007), focused on unorthodox female body sizes.
His acting work in the 1970s included a chilling performance in Philip Kaufman’s intelligent 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1979, he returned to play Spock in the rather leaden Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He would do so in a further seven Star Trek films. Among them were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He was the only original cast member to appear in JJ Abrams’s instalments of the revived or “rebooted” franchise, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). His appearance in the first of those Abrams films, as the older Spock coming face to face with his younger self (Zachary Quinto), was deeply affecting and played with characteristic restraint. He also revived Spock in two 1991 episodes (“Unification I” and “Unification II”) of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in animated and computer-game incarnations of Star Trek.
If Nimoy never escaped association with Spock, it was not for want of trying. He wrote seven poetry collections, released several albums and established himself as a successful and varied director. Alongside his two Star Trek movies, he directed himself in a TV movie version of the one-man play Vincent (1981), about the life of Van Gogh. He scored an international box-office hit with 3 Men and a Baby (1987). He also made the drama The Good Mother (1988), starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson, as well as two disappointing comedies, Funny About Love (1990) and Holy Matrimony (1994).
Date of Birth: 9 May 1932, Old Windsor, Berkshire, UK
Birth Name: Geraldine McKeown
Nicknames: Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan, could purr like a kitten, snap like a viper and, like Shakespeare’s Bottom, roar you as gently as any sucking dove. She was a brilliant, distinctive and decisive performer with a particular expertise in high comedy whose career incorporated West End comedy, Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre, and a cult television following in EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia.
She was also notable on television as a controversial Miss Marple in a series of edgy, incongruously outspoken Agatha Christie adaptations (2004-09). Inheriting a role that had already been inhabited at least three times “definitively” by Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson she made of the deceptively cosy detective a character both steely and skittish, with a hint of lust about her, too.
This new Miss Marple was an open-minded woman of the world, with a back story that touched on a thwarted love affair with a married man who had been killed in the first world war. Familiar thrillers were given new plot twists, and there was even the odd sapphic embrace. For all her ingenuity and faun-like fluttering, McEwan was really no more successful in the part than was Julia McKenzie, her very different successor.
Although she was not easily confused with Maggie Smith, she often tracked her stylish contemporary, succeeding her in Peter Shaffer roles (in The Private Ear and The Public Eye in 1963, and in Lettice and Lovage in 1988) and rivalling Smith as both Millamant and Lady Wishfort in Congreve’s masterpiece The Way of the World in 1969 and 1995.
And a decade after Smith won her Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, McEwan scored a great success in the same role on television in 1978; Muriel Spark said that McEwan was her favourite Miss Brodie in a cluster that also included Vanessa Redgrave and Anna Massey.
McEwan was born in Old Windsor, where her father, Donald McKeown, was a printers’ compositor who ran the local branch of the Labour party in a Tory stronghold; her mother, Nora (nee Burns), was working-class Irish. Geraldine was always a shy and private girl who found her voice, she said, when she stood up in school and read a poem.
She had won a scholarship to Windsor county school, but she felt out of place until she found refuge in the Windsor Rep at the Theatre Royal, where she played an attendant fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1946. Leaving school, she joined the Windsor company for two years in 1949, meeting there her life-long companion, Hugh Cruttwell, a former teacher turned stage manager, 14 years her senior, whom she married in 1953, and who became a much-loved and influential principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1965.
Without any formal training, McEwan went straight from Windsor to the West End, making her debut at the Vaudeville theatre in 1951 in Who Goes There? by John Deighton, followed by an 18-month run in For Better, For Worse… at the Comedy in 1952 and with Dirk Bogarde in Summertime, a light comedy by Ugo Betti, at the Apollo in 1955.
Summertime was directed by Peter Hall and had a chaotic pre-West End tour, Bogarde’s fans mobbing the stage door every night and in effect driving him away from the theatre for good; McEwan told Bogarde’s biographer, John Coldstream, how he was both deeply encouraging to her and deeply conflicted over his heartthrob star status.
Within a year she made her Stratford debut as the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost and played opposite Olivier in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, replacing Joan Plowright as Jean Rice when the play moved from the Royal Court to the Palace. Like Ian Holm and Diana Rigg, she was a key agent of change in the transition from the summer Stratford festival playing Olivia, Marina and Hero in the 1958 season to Peter Hall’s new Royal Shakespeare Company; at Stratford in 1961, she played Beatrice to Christopher Plummer’s Benedick and Ophelia to Ian Bannen’s Hamlet.
Kittenish and playful, with a wonderful gift for suggesting hurt innocence with an air of enchanted distraction, she was a superb Lady Teazle in a 1962 Haymarket production of The School for Scandal, also starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, that went to Broadway in early 1963, her New York debut.
She returned to tour in the first, disastrous, production of Joe Orton’s Loot, with Kenneth Williams, in 1965, and then joined Olivier’s National at the Old Vic, where parts over the next five years included Raymonde Chandebise in Jacques Charon’s landmark production of Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Alice in Strindberg’s Dance of Death (with Olivier and Robert Stephens), Queen Anne in Brecht’s Edward II, Victoria (“a needle-sharp gold digger” said one reviewer) in Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty, Millamant and Vittoria Corombona in The White Devil.
Back in the West End, she formed a classy quartet, alongside Pat Heywood, Albert Finney and Denholm Elliott, in Peter Nichols’s Chez Nous at the Globe (1974), and gave a delightful impression of a well-trained, coquettish poodle as the leisured whore in Noël Coward’s broken-backed adaptation of Feydeau, Look After Lulu, at Chichester and the Haymarket.
In the 1980s, she made sporadic appearances at the National, now on the South Bank, winning two Evening Standard awards for her fresh and youthful Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals (“Men are all Bavarians,” she exclaimed on exiting, creating a brand new malapropism for “barbarians”) and her hilariously acidulous Lady Wishfort; and was a founder member of Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury theatre.
In the latter part of her stage career, she seemed to cut loose in ever more adventurous directions, perhaps through her friendship with Kenneth Branagh, who had become very close to Cruttwell while studying at Rada. She was a surprise casting as the mother of a lycanthropic psychotic, played by Will Patton, in Sam Shepard’s merciless domestic drama, A Lie of the Mind, at the Royal Court in 1987. And in 1988 she directed As You Like It for Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company, Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian.
She then directed Christopher Hampton’s underrated Treats at the Hampstead theatre and, in 1998, formed a fantastical nonagenarian double act with Richard Briers in a Royal Court revival, directed by Simon McBurney, of Ionesco’s tragic farce, The Chairs, her grey hair bunched on one side like superannuated candy floss.
The following year, she was a brilliant but controversial Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, directed as a piece of Gothic absurdism at the Savoy by Declan Donnellan; McEwan tiptoed through the thunderclaps and lightning like a glinting harridan, a tipsy bacchanalian with a waspish lust and highly cultivated lack of concern (“My husband’s not dead; he’s upstairs.”)
Other television successes included playing Jeanette Winterson’s mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990) and Carrie’s War (2004), while her occasional movie appearances included Tony Richardson’s The Adventures of Tom Jones (1975), two of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations – Henry V (1989) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) – as well as Robin, Prince of Thieves (1991), Peter Mullan’s devastating critique of an Irish Catholic education, The Magdalene Sisters (2002), in which she played cruel, cold-hearted Sister Bridget, and Vanity Fair (2005).
She was rumoured to have turned down both the OBE and a damehood, but never confirmed this.
Date of Birth: 6 May 1924, Vienna, Austria
Birth Name: Robert Alexander Baron Schutzmann von Schutzmansdorff
Nicknames: Bob Syme, Robert Symes-Shutzmann, Bob Symes-Shutzmann
Bob Symes’s inventive mind and considerable engineering skills made him a natural choice in 1965 to join the small team producing the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, the series about new developments in science and technology. Bob appeared on screen regularly, first of all assisting Raymond Baxter and, in later years, with a regular feature in his own right. He continued to contribute to the programme for more than 30 years.
His special interest was in metal engineering, including developments in plumbing. His Tomorrow’s World colleagues particularly remember his presentations of a device that automatically removed air from central heating systems, an innovative ventilator for bathrooms and a process for relining broken water mains without having to dig up the road.
Alongside this, he developed a parallel broadcasting and film-making career. Bob contributed to BBC Radio 4, the British Forces Broadcasting Service, LBC and numerous local stations in the UK and Europe. His many television credits included The Man Who Started the War (1965) and the 1986 series ‘The Strange Affair of...’ that investigated intriguing mysteries from his central European heritage. His love of railways was reflected in such programmes as Model World (1975), The Line That Refused to Die (1980) and Making Tracks (1993-95). His concern for the environment found an ideal outlet in 1990 in the BBC’s The House That Bob Built, a pioneer project demonstrating the ecological benefit of rethinking how we construct our homes.
When the Waverley Line rail route between Carlisle and Edinburgh closed in 1969, Bob set up and chaired the Border Union Railway, a company established to keep the line operating. Though he was unsuccessful then, he did live long enough to see the rebuilding of the route between Edinburgh and Galashiels, now recognised as a key transport artery in the Scottish Borders.
Bob always had a preference for travelling by train. On one filming expedition for Tomorrow’s World in 1977, he and his small team were welcomed at the railway station in Cologne by a local oompah band organised by admirers from the German broadcaster WDR, with whom he regularly collaborated.
Bob was born into an aristocratic family in Vienna, the son of Herbert and Lolabeth Schutzmann von Schutzmannsdorff, and was educated at the Real Gymnasium in Vienna and later at a school in Switzerland. He developed his interest in railways by operating the private line that hauled timber around the family estate, and helping to keep it in good repair. Bob’s father died in 1937 and, as the influence of the Nazis took hold in his homeland, he left for a new life in Britain; his mother and younger sister, Eva, settled in the US.
During the second world war, Bob served in the Mediterranean with the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander, and took part in the landings that led to the liberation of Crete. In 1947 he visited the BBC to seek out Monica Chapman, who was responsible for producing the request programme Forces Prom. He wanted to thank her in person for playing the choices that he had submitted. The story goes that Monica’s mother gave up her ticket that evening to a Beethoven concert so that her daughter could invite this naval officer to join her. The two were married six weeks later, and they adopted the surname Symes, one of Monica’s family names.
Bob quickly realised that his languages, French as well as German, English and Arabic, could be valuable to the BBC. Following his wartime naval career, he joined the corporation’s Overseas Service in 1953, focusing in particular on the German service. His London-based work was interrupted in 1956 by a two-year assignment as district officer in the Eastern Region Colonial Office in Nigeria, where he was in charge of broadcasting.
Bob’s many other responsibilities and commitments included chairing the Institute of Patentees and Inventors, and he stood twice for parliament in 1974 as the Liberal candidate for Mid Sussex. He was made a companion of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1959 but perhaps the recognition of which he was most proud was being awarded the Knight’s Cross (first class) by the country of his birth, in recognition of his tireless work in promoting Anglo-Austrian relations.
At his home in Surrey, he built both a gauge 1 and a larger, 10.25in-gauge garden layout and regularly hosted steaming afternoons attended by admiring railway enthusiasts from all over the UK and northern Europe. At his 90th birthday party, he drove his pride and joy, his newest locomotive, a scale model of a Great Western tank engine, the Lady Melrose.
Monica died in 1998. While visiting the Ffestiniog Railway in north Wales in 2006, Bob met Sheila, a plant physiologist, who was works manager at the line’s locomotive depot at Boston Lodge. They were married within two months.
Date of Birth: 21 June 1954, Oldham, Lancashire, UK
Birth Name: Anne Kirkbride
Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre, the bespectacled, careworn femme fatale in ITV’s record-breaking soap opera Coronation Street for more than 40 years, and became renowned for her cracked, throaty voice, caused by chain-smoking in real life, and straining neck cords that were even more alarming than her enormous glasses.
In 1998, during a bitter ratings war with the BBC’s EastEnders, when Deirdre was wrongfully imprisoned after a relationship with a con-man called Jon Lindsay, the nation reacted with the “Free the Weatherfield One” campaign. In Parliament, even Tony Blair passed comment on her sentencing. It was not, commentators agreed, the prime minister’s finest hour. Producers at Granada Television decided to free Deirdre after three weeks.
Anne Kirkbride first came to Granada’s notice in 1972 in the ITV series Another Sunday and Sweet FA and was offered the bit part of the teenage dolly-bird Deirdre Hunt in Coronation Street later that year. When the character’s popularity grew after a few appearances, Anne Kirkbride signed a contract in 1974 and had been in the soap ever since.
With her distinctive owlish spectacles, she played Deirdre with a passion, steering the character through a calamitous tangle of marriages, broken engagements and affairs that produced an on-screen daughter Tracy in 1977, 20 years later the programme’s most notorious wild child and the Street’s spectacularly dull husband, Ken Barlow (William Roache). Dumped, divorced and widowed, Deirdre’s edgiest moment came with her affair with Mike Baldwin (played by Johnny Briggs) only two years after her wedding to Ken in 1981, and which started a feud between the two rivals that ended only with Baldwin’s death 25 years later.
Anne Kirkbride’s Deirdre was nearly written out of the series in 1978, three years after her screen marriage to Ray Langton (Neville Buswell). When Buswell decided to leave the programme, the producers believed there were already enough single women in the fictional Street. After Buswell intervened, however, the writers decided that Deirdre the single mother would be an interesting concept, and Anne Kirkbride was asked to stay.
One of the highlights of her career was her on-screen wedding to Ken Barlow in July 1981, on the day the Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer. But even this was eclipsed by Deirdre’s extra-marital affair with Baldwin in 1983. As Britain held its breath, a bishop in London warned Granada of the dangers of it all seeming too realistic; a woman in Halifax gave birth in an ambulance, having delayed her departure to hospital to witness the lovers’ first illicit kiss; and the Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, one of the Street’s greatest fans, declared that Ken Barlow deserved better.
The fling excited the divided consternation of Fleet Street’s finest, with Jean Rook of the Daily Express advising Deirdre to “stick with Ken” and her Daily Mail rival Lynda Lee Potter urging her to leave boring Ken for exciting Mike.
In the showdown between the two, Anne Kirkbride thought Bill Roache had gone mad when unrehearsed and unscripted he grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the Barlows’ front door as Baldwin stood on the step. “I was literally fighting to get away,” she remembered. Tracked by the cameras, she ran to an adjoining room and burst into tears.
When Deirdre and Barlow were reconciled in the next episode, the Daily Mail hired the electronic scoreboard at Old Trafford and, to the approving roar of 56,000 fans watching Manchester United play Arsenal, flashed up the news: “Deirdre and Ken united again!”
In 1987, when Deirdre by now working as a shop assistant became Councillor Barlow, Anne Kirkbride complained at this improbable turn of events, but soon realised that it got Deirdre out from behind the bacon slicer and into the swim of mainstream Street life. However, she remained upset at the decision to have Deirdre divorce Ken over his affair with his secretary.
Her character received a fresh lease of life in 1994 when Anne Kirkbride returned from a six months’ absence due to illness; at 39, she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but, after chemotherapy, recovered. On screen, however, a planned reconciliation with Ken Barlow had to be scrapped, and instead Deirdre embarked on a holiday romance with a 21-year-old toyboy, a Moroccan waiter, Samir Rachid (Al Nedjari), whom she later married.
“Anne Kirkbride is celebrating her return to health with a crackling storyline, a marvellous performance and a whole new vocabulary,” wrote Margaret Forwood in the Express.
The marriage was short-lived, however, and in 1995 Deirdre’s third husband died on his way to hospital to donate a kidney to Deirdre’s wayward daughter Tracy. She was reunited with Ken in 1999 and married him for a second time in 2005, despite Ken finding out that she had slept with the supersmooth corner shop owner Dev Alahan.
Anne Kirkbride was called as a character witness in Roache’s trial on sex assault charges in 2014 (he was found not guilty): she said her colleague was “always a perfect gentleman”.
As an actress, Anne Kirkbride possessed a photographic memory; she could read through a page of script and almost instantly know it by heart.
Anne Kirkbride was born on June 21 1954 at Oldham, Lancashire, the daughter of Jack Kirkbride, a painter and decorator who became a cartoonist for the Oldham Evening Chronicle. It was her father who encouraged her to go on the stage, having spotted her acting talent when she was only seven.
She developed it at Oldham Rep’s junior theatregoers’ club, and at the age of 11 joined the Saddleworth junior players and then the Oldham youth theatre. On leaving Count Hill grammar school she took a job at Oldham Rep as a student assistant stage manager at £1 a week, combining buying props and helping to build sets with several small acting parts.
When the company’s director, Carl Paulson, took her aside and told her she would be acting full-time on £18 a week, she said she ran through the streets “as if I’d just won the pools”. A Coronation Street talent scout saw her in a Jack Rosenthal play and she was asked to read for a walk-on part.
She hated her gravelly voice but revelled in the nine-to-five routine of a soap star, and never wanted to play Shakespeare or longed for the peripatetic life of a repertory actress. “Sometimes I think I should have made more of an effort to get out and do other stuff,” she admitted in 2001, “but then again I’ve never been terribly ambitious.” In a television confessional, Deirdre and Me (2001), Anne Kirkbride admitted to a compulsion to scrub and clean incessantly (even the lavatories at the Granada studios), and to the depression that in 1998 almost ruined her appearance on This Is Your Life, an ordeal she managed to survive only with the aid of Valium.
She took a leave of absence from Coronation Street in September 2014 and was written out of the script, but had been expected to return.
A lifelong heavy smoker, she also confessed to suicidal feelings and to a compulsion to iron her knickers.
In 1992 Anne Kirkbride married the actor David Beckett, whom she met on the Coronation Street set when he briefly played a handyman in the soap.
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: 21 July 1951, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Robin McLaurin Williams
Nicknames: Robin Williams
Robin Williams, who has died aged 63, was one of America’s most versatile and successful comedy actors; brilliant at improvisation and mimicry, he made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, while on screen he was able to portray anyone from a post-menopausal grande dame (Mrs Doubtfire) to a psychopathic killer (One Hour Photo).
Stardom came in the early 1970s after he had taken a cameo role as Mork, an extraterrestrial in the television sitcom Happy Days. Williams’s eccentric, largely improvised performance was a huge hit and spawned a spin-off sitcom, Mork & Mindy, in which Mork lands on Earth and ends up sharing an apartment with the quintessential girl next door. The series which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1982, and arrived in Britain in 1979 showcased the frenzied energy and amazing facility with voices and faces which he would later use in his films. Mork & Mindy eventually reached an audience of 60 million.
After making his screen debut in Robert Altman’s ill-fated 1980 version of Popeye, Williams’s breakthrough came in 1987, when he played Adrian Cronauer, a motormouth DJ who gets up the noses of the top brass in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).
He delivered an Academy Award-winning performance as a psychologist battling his own emotional demons in Good Will Hunting (1997), and won several Oscar nominations including one for his performance in 1993 as Mrs Doubtfire, the ex-husband who infiltrates himself back into the bosom of the family by disguising himself as a middle-aged Scottish nanny.
Hollywood directors sometimes found it difficult to harness Williams’s talents to a script and a storyline strong enough to take him. There were memorable flops, among them The Survivors (1983), Club Paradise (1986), Toys (1992), Patch Adams (1998), Jakob The Liar (1999) and Bicentennial Man (1999). But he won Oscar nominations for his roles as the mildly anarchic teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989) and as the deranged tramp who leads Jeff Bridges towards personal redemption in The Fisher King (1991).
His critics often complained that Williams’s characters were all the same: cuddly, waifish innocents with a mawkish need to ingratiate themselves with their audience. And there was, admittedly, something curiously sexless about his performances. One American columnist described his appearance as the owner of a gay club in The Birdcage (1996) as akin to “a hirsute construction worker halfway through a sex change operation who can’t afford to finish the job”. Of his performance as a psychologist in Awakenings (1990), one critic observed: “This is another of Robin Williams’s benevolent eunuch roles.” He certainly never got anywhere near a screen clinch.
Yet Williams proved he could play it straight; and he could play it nasty, too. In later life he revealed a darker, more interesting side to his acting. In Insomnia (2002) he put in a masterly performance as a sociopathic killer on the run from Al Pacino’s LAPD cop in the frozen wastes of Alaska. In One Hour Photo (2002) he was chilling as a photo lab technician who becomes obsessed with a family whose films he develops. And in The Night Listener (2006) he played a radio show host who realises that he has developed a friendship with a child who may not exist.
Williams first made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, and the versatility which was so evident in his later career would have come as no surprise to those familiar with the virtuoso free-fall improvisation of his stage routines. One critic wondered whether the star of such sickly-sweet offerings as Jack (1996) or What Dreams May Come (1998) could be “the same Robin Williams who used to spend two hours on stage pretending to be a penis”.
An only child, Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21 1951 in Chicago. His mother was a former model, his father an executive with Ford. The family moved several times during his childhood, at one point living in a house with 40 rooms.
Williams was often portrayed as a lonely child who tried to use humour to build friendships and avoid being picked on. Perhaps, he once joked, it was “because my mother was a Christian Dior Scientist... I was not only picked on physically but intellectually people used to kick copies of George Sand in my face.” But he denied being the class clown, and claimed that he got into acting in his final year at Redwood High School simply “to get laid”.
After leaving school, and a brief spell studying political science, Williams won a place at the Juilliard Academy in New York to study drama. There he demonstrated such extraordinary gifts for improvisation and mimicry that his tutors advised him to concentrate on comedy. He became good friends with his fellow student Christopher Reeve, and the two remained close until Reeve’s death in 2004, nine years after the riding accident that had left him paralysed from the neck down. Their relationship demonstrated the loyal, decent side of Williams’s character. When Reeve’s medical insurance ran out, Williams picked up the tab for many of the bills; then, after Reeve’s widow, Dana, died in 2006, he provided practical and financial support for their 14-year-old son.
After two years at the Juilliard, Williams moved to San Francisco, where he worked in restaurants by day and on the comedy circuit by night until his lucky break on Happy Days. The live stand-up comedy circuit remained a consistent thread throughout his career, and he sometimes turned up unannounced at San Francisco clubs just to get up on stage and start “riffing” — a great way to “peel off any pretence”, as he put it.
In his films and television performances, Williams often ad-libbed his own dialogue. The story goes that his television scriptwriters on Mork & Mindy got so fed up that they took to sending blank pages down to the set, inscribed “Robin Williams does his thing”.
For some reason his stand-up routine did not go down so well on the other side of the Atlantic. “I went to a club in Windsor and I just died,” he recalled. “It was the worst night of my life. A friend was watching and laughing his ass off because all you could hear was the clink of glasses.”
In 1978 Williams married his first wife, Valerie Velardi, a former dancer; but as a result of life in the fast lane he had become addicted to cocaine (“God’s way of telling you you’ve made too much money”, as he remarked). In the early 1980s his marriage fell apart and he started to make bad career moves, choosing films that bombed. But the death from a drugs overdose in 1982 of his friend the actor John Belushi, just hours after Williams had been with him, led Williams to rethink his own lifestyle. He went into rehab and sobered up.
The critical success of Good Morning, Vietnam was followed by a voice role as the Genie in Disney’s cartoon Aladdin (1992), in which left in the studio with a microphone Williams spun off into imitations of everyone from Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson to Carol Channing. Disney ended up with 30 hours of his improvisations, to which the animation was adapted later to synch with his voice-over. What started as a small cameo role eventually stole the show and helped make Aladdin the biggest earner in Disney’s history. By the time of Mrs Doubtfire in 1993 Williams was one of the biggest box office draws in the world.
In August 2008 Williams announced a 26-city stand-up comedy tour entitled Weapons of Self-Destruction. Though he explained that the tour was his last chance to have fun at the expense of George W Bush, the title could just as well have applied to himself. In 2006 he had gone into rehab for alcoholism, and in 2008 his second wife, Marsha Garces, whom he had married in 1986 and who had become his producer, filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
Williams’s many other film credits include Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), in which he played the adult Peter Pan, and Flubber (1997), in which he was an absent-minded professor who invents a miraculous flying green gloop. He starred in Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson (1984); appeared in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997); and played Theodore Roosevelt in the three Night at the Museum movies, the last of which is currently in post-production. He also played President Eisenhower in The Butler (2013).
An avid video games player, and a fan of professional road cycling and Rugby Union, Williams owned a vineyard in the Napa Valley, California, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including Comic Relief. In addition to his Oscar award and nominations, he won six Golden Globes, two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards and three Grammy awards.
He belonged to the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Lite same rituals, half the guilt”), and was philosophical about death. “In your fifties, loss is a thing you live with a lot,” he told an interviewer . “Pretty soon friends will be checking out from natural causes. It’s the grim rapper, he’s comin’.”
Robin Williams, who had recently been suffering from depression, died at his San Francisco Bay home in an apparent suicide.
Date of Birth: 19 December 1943, Manchester, UK
Birth Name: Roger Michael Kelly
Nicknames: Sam Kelly
Equally at home in panto and Pinter, sitcom and Shakespeare, Sam Kelly, was a quirky, instantly recognisable character actor, often playing beyond his natural age, and often peering through rimless spectacles like a mole pushing through to the surface. And once there, he quipped and cavorted with the best of them: Dave Allen, Dick Emery and Paul Merton on television, and the Two Ronnies, with whom he toured onstage to Australia, having partnered Ronnie Barker in the sitcom Porridge as the illiterate conman Bunny Warren, who couldn't decipher the words "burglar alarm" when it most mattered.
He enjoyed a long-time collaboration with the director Mike Leigh, dating from a "wiped" BBC television film, Knock for Knock, in 1976, right through to Leigh's latest, Mr Turner, starring Timothy Spall as the great painter. Like so many Leigh actors, he was a natural Dickensian, having played on television both Mould the undertaker in the 1994 Martin Chuzzlewit ("a face in which a queer attempt at melancholy was at odds with a smirk of satisfaction") and Snagsby the timid little law stationer in Bleak House (1985).
Porridge (1974-77) made his name on television and he built on that reputation with quality work in David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd's 'Allo 'Allo (1982-91), as the crooked-saluting German officer Hans Geering who, when asked what he felt about the Russian Front, replied, "She's a good cook", and as Dennis Waterman's chauffeur in Bob Larbey's On the Up (1990-92), co-starring Dora Bryan, Joan Sims and Jenna Russell.
He popped up in almost every TV series of note Casualty, Haggard (starring Keith Barron as a lascivious Georgian squire; Kelly played a sidekick called Nathaniel Grunge), the Poirot series and EastEnders he even spurned a long-term contract with Coronation Street, having made a cameo impression in 1983 as Bob Challis, the man who repainted the Rovers Return before it burned down.
Kelly was abandoned at birth in Manchester and adopted by a couple who moved to Liverpool, where he attended Liverpool Collegiate school and sang in the choir of the Anglican cathedral. After working as a clerk for three years with the civil service in Liverpool, he trained at the London Academy of Music and Drama (Lamda), graduating in 1967.
He played in rep for five years, working with the director Philip Hedley in Lincoln and the actor Nigel Hawthorne on a Macbeth in Sheffield which he felt had approached perfection. He spent a year in Beckett and Shakespeare at the Young Vic in London with the director Frank Dunlop. And in 1977 he co-founded the Croydon Warehouse, a buzzing fringe venue, with the actor Richard Ireson and the director Adrian Shergold.
In Leigh's TV film Grown-Ups (1980) he played "old Butcher", a grunting, eccentric schoolteacher (married to Lindsay Duncan's fellow teacher) who finds two former pupils (Philip Davis and Lesley Manville) moving in next door as sniggering newlyweds. His theatre work now ranged from pantomime, both in the commercial sector and with Ian McKellen at the Old Vic, Neil Simon's The Odd Couple at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and Terry Johnson's mordant comedy about comedian-fixated neighbours, Dead Funny, at the Savoy.
He featured in two greatly contrasted Leigh films, the colourful, tumultuous Gilbert and Sullivan saga Topsy-Turvy (1999) and the moody, atmospheric All or Nothing (2002), returning to G&S, and the Savoy, as Sir Joseph Porter in Martin Duncan's 2002 revival of HMS Pinafore, and followed in an early Richard Bean play, Under the Whaleback, cackling reminiscently as a garrulous old sea dog, directed at the Royal Court by Richard Wilson.
Having played wheezy old men all his life, he was obvious casting as Senex in Edward Hall's NT production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 2004, and he was a delightful, walrus-moustached Herbert Soppitt in a West End revival of JB Priestley's When We are Married (with Maureen Lipman and Roy Hudd) at the Garrick in 2010.
After playing a stint as the Wizard in the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, he returned to the role in November 2013 but retired as a result of ill health just before Christmas. It was his last stage appearance. But his valedictory performance was in Leigh's Grief (2011) at the National, as a Pooterish bachelor singing parlour songs in descant with his widowed sister (Lesley Manville) and facing a desolate retirement with no plans, no leisure pursuits and no new trousers.
Other recent film performances included playing Maggie Smith's husband in Susanna White's Nanny McPhee Returns (2010). which starred Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ralph Fiennes; and a mild old softie pensioner in Stewart Alexander's Common People (2013).
Date of Birth: 31 May 1921, Bromley, Kent, UK
Birth Name: Edna Gorring
Nicknames: Edna Doré
Edna Doré, was not only an outstanding character actor, best known for playing the battleaxe Mo Butcher, mother of Mike Reid's character, Frank Butcher, in the BBC's long-running soap EastEnders, but also an outstanding character; she was an authentic south Londoner who never lost her accent, or forthrightness, and delighted everyone she worked with.
She once told a radio interviewer that she was so fed up with being labelled a virgin in her early days at the Croydon Rep in 1937 that she asked the director of the company if he would help her to shed this unwanted burden. He invited her round to his place at 2.30pm the next day: "It lasted about five minutes, and that was that. Job done."And 10 years ago she told Paul O'Grady, with whom she appeared in a television bingo sitcom, Eyes Down, as Mary the cleaner, that in all her 70 years in the business she had never been sent home from a rehearsal room before; she and O'Grady, who played the bingo hall manager, were expelled for laughing too much and "ruining" (ie, enlivening) a day's work for everyone else.
Her appearance in EastEnders coincided with her best film performance, in Mike Leigh's High Hopes (1988), in which, as the lonely and bereaved old Mrs Bender, living in the last council flat on a gentrified Islington street, she was named best supporting actor at the European Film Awards. At the ceremony in Paris, she was called to the stage as "Edna Door". As she left clutching her prize she muttered (all too audibly): "You'd think that at least in Paris they'd pronounce my bloody name right."
This hilarious, good-natured chippiness and transparent honesty of thought and reaction informed all of her acting, which ranged across the media and included a decade at the National Theatre, where she was a notable member of Bill Bryden's wonderful company in the Cottesloe Theatre, appearing in Keith Dewhurst's brilliant adaptation of Lark Rise to Candleford and Tony Harrison's magical, working-class poetical version of The Mysteries.
She was born Edna Gorring and raised in Bromley, Kent, the younger daughter of a porter at Crystal Palace station and his wife, a cleaner and housemaid. She attended a local ballet school in Bromley and was encouraged by teachers to train at the Croydon Repertory theatre, where she worked as a stage manager and actor. She was a chorus girl with Ensa during the war and also appeared as a dancer with Britain's first "legitimate" striptease star and "Queen of Glamour", Phyllis Dixey, at the Whitehall theatre.
Dixey formed her own company at the Whitehall in 1942 and produced a series of what she called Peek-a-Boo revues. This entrepreneurial spirit took hold of Edna when, in 1946, she married the actor and director Alexander Doré, and the two of them ran their own company for five years at the Little Theatre, Aberystwyth. This period stood out in the 17 years she spent in weekly rep, all over Britain, but predominantly in Wales, a country she grew to love.
She was busy in television from 1959 onwards, appearing regularly in Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and numerous dramas. In the 1960s, she spent four years at the Albery theatre (now the Noël Coward) playing Mrs Sowerberry in Lionel Bart's Oliver! She returned to the role when the show was revived at the Piccadilly theatre in 1967, this time with Barry Humphries (the first Mr Sowerberry) as Fagin. Her other big West End show was John Barry and Don Black's Billy, starring Michael Crawford, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1974, in which she played Mrs Crabtree.
After her stint at the National, she was established as an "older" character actor in EastEnders (1988-90) and High Hopes, both roles signalling the onset of Alzheimer's. Her last stage role followed in 1990 when she played Anfisa, the nurse, in Chekhov's Three Sisters at the Queen's Theatre, produced by Thelma Holt and directed by the great Georgian director of the Rustaveli theatre, Robert Sturua, starring three Redgraves: Vanessa, Lynn and their niece Jemma.
She scored a personal success, too, in Gary Oldman's blistering debut as a film director, Nil By Mouth (1997), starring Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke as a married couple in a violent, alcoholic south London family of the sort she knew well. And, inevitably, she played a bag lady in the documentary composite of people on the underground system, Tube Tales (1999), as well as small roles in Leigh's All or Nothing (2002), with Timothy Spall as a depressed, philosophical taxi driver, and the equally downbeat Another Year (2010).
Doré was regularly to be seen on television throughout the 90s, in Casualty, Peak Practice, Hotel Babylon and Doctors. And she continued to exploit her vaudeville roots not only in Eyes Down, but also opposite David Jason in ITV's Diamond Geezer (2007). There were appearances in a Christmas Special of James Corden and Ruth Jones's Gavin & Stacey (2008), Shameless on Channel 4 (2010) and finally in an episode of Midsomer Murders (2011).
An enthusiastic gardener, Doré kept an allotment near her home in Barnes, south-west London, for 50 years, serving as chairman of the Barn Elms Allotment Society, regularly winning the flower class in the annual garden show, and was lately installed as life president.
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: 10 August 1939, Leicester, UK
Birth Name: Frances M Carroll
Nicknames: Kate O’Mara
The British actress was best known for her role as sister to Joan Collins' Alexis Colby in the US soap.
She also had prominent roles in the '80s series Howards' Way and Triangle, and in Doctor Who.
Her agent said she died in a Sussex nursing home following a short illness.
He praised her "energy and vitality" and her "love for theatre and acting".
Kate O’Mara was born in Leicester on August 10 1939, the daughter of John F. Carroll, an RAF flying instructor, and actress Hazel Bainbridge. After boarding school she studied at art school before becoming a full-time actress (her younger sister, Belinda, followed suit). Her early television appearances during the 1960s included roles in series such as The Saint, The Champions, The Avengers and Z-Cars.
"A shining star has gone out and Kate will be dearly missed by all who knew and have worked with her," said agent Phil Belfield, who labelled the actress "extraordinary".
O'Mara's first television roles were in the 1960s, but she came to public attention playing the manipulative Cassandra "Caress" Morrell in Dynasty.
She played a ruthless businesswoman in BBC drama Howards' Way and was briefly a regular on the North Sea ferry drama Triangle.
She also appeared in Doctor Who, opposite both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, as renegade Time Lord The Rani - a role she said she would love to return to.
"If you put a much older woman in Doctor Who, they can identify with it," she told Digital Spy ahead of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the show, where she tweeted images of herself with former co-stars.
"I think it's quite an interesting concept and if you remember things like Grimm's Fairytales, the older woman is often the villainess, often the terrifying figure why I do not know, but often she is. I think it's an idea to be exploited."
On hearing the news of her death, Doctor Who co-star Baker tweeted: "Oh my goodness. Kate O'Mara is no longer with us. Sad sad news. A delightful, committed and talented lady and actress. We are the poorer."
In the 1990s, O'Mara starred in BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous as Joanna Lumley's on-screen sister Jackie, and in 2001, she made a string of appearances in ITV drama Bad Girls.
More recently she had appeared in ITV soap Benidorm and a 2012 stage adaptation of Agatha Christie's Death On The Nile.
One of her final public appearances saw her hosting An Evening With Kate O'Mara in London last October.
She published two autobiographies and two novels, When She Was Bad and Good Time Girl.
She was married to actors Richard Willis and Jeremy Young and leaves a sister, actress Belinda Carroll. Her son Dickon died last year.
The actress last posted a message on Twitter on 17 March.
"Thank you so much for your kind tweets," she wrote.
"It's both humbling and completely overwhelming to read all of your messages. Much Love x."
Date of Birth: 24 June 1947, St. John’s Wood, London, UK
Birth Name: Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmeralda Dickson Wright
Nicknames: Clarissa Dickson Wright
Clarissa Dickson Wright was a bombastic, outspoken lawyer brought to her knees by riches and alcoholism who rose again on the TV series Two Fat Ladies.
Clarissa was a recovering alcoholic, running a bookshop for cooks in Edinburgh when the producer Patricia Llewellyn was inspired to pair her with the equally eccentric Jennifer Paterson, then a cook and columnist at The Spectator.
The emphasis of the programme was to be on “suets and tipsy cake rather than rocket salad and sun-dried tomatoes”, the producer declared. Hence bombastic tributes to such delights as cream cakes and animal fats were mingled with contemptuous references to “manky little vegetarians”.
Not all the reviews were kind. Victor Lewis Smith in the London Evening Standard referred to the ladies’ “uncompromising physical ugliness” and “thoroughly ugly personalities”. Another critic quipped: “Perhaps handguns shouldn’t be banned after all.” Most, though, became instant addicts and predicted future cult status. By 1996 the programme was attracting 3.5 million viewers.
The Triumph motorbike and sidecar which sped the two fat ladies around the countryside might have appeared contrived (although Paterson was a keen biker), but their kitchen-sink comedy could never have been scripted. Clarissa Dickson Wright would come up with such lines as “look at those charming looking fellows” when describing scallops, and advise businessmen to come home and cook “to relax after the ghastly things they do in the City”.
Not content to confine themselves to the kitchen, the indomitable pair ventured out into the field, gathering mussels in Cornish drizzle using their motorcycle helmets as pails and perilously putting out to sea in a sliver of a boat to catch crabs.
Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmeralda Dickson Wright was born on June 24 1947, the youngest of four children. “My parents had great trouble deciding what to call me in the first place,” she explained about her abundant christening, “but then they were so delighted they had finally found a name, they got pissed on the way to the church.” To decide which name should come first, “they blindfolded my mother and turned her loose in the library, where she pulled out a copy of Richardson’s Clarissa”.
Her father, Arthur Dickson Wright, was a brilliant surgeon who was the first to extract a bullet from the spine without leaving the patient paralysed; he also pioneered the operation for stripping varicose veins and his patients included the Queen Mother, Vivien Leigh and the Sultana of Jahore. He had met Clarissa’s mother, Molly, an Australian heiress, while working in Singapore.
Growing up in Little Venice, Clarissa’s first memory was of eating a hard-boiled egg and a cold sausage on a picnic at Wisley at the age of three. Her father, though basically miserly, did not stint on household bills. He had pigeons flown in from Cairo and a fridge permanently full of caviar. From infant trips back to Singapore remembered consuming “deeply unhygienic but delicious” things wrapped in banana leaves.
When her parents entertained, Clarissa read recipes to the illiterate cook, Louise, who in turn would squabble with Clarissa’s mother about what they were going to serve. One day, Louise stood at the top of the stairs: “Madam,” she said, “if you make me cook that I’ll jump.” “If you don’t Louise,” Mrs Dickson Wright retorted, “you might as well.” (Clarissa also had memories from around this time of Cherie Booth “always doing her homework in school uniform in the middle of louche Hampstead parties — she was a swot”. Later she observed the budding union between Booth (“desperately needy”) and Tony Blair (“a poor sad thing with his guitar”). Later still she observed that the “wet, long-haired student” that she had known had been replaced by a man with “psychopath eyes. You know those dead eyes that look at you and try to work out what you want to hear?”)
Clarissa’s father became a progressively violent alcoholic, so that when he came home “one would take cover”. He broke three of her ribs with an umbrella and on another occasion hit her with a red-hot poker. She later confessed to poring over botanical volumes in search of suitable poisons and scouring the woods for lethal mushrooms.
Boarding school proved a wonderful refuge. She then did a Law degree externally at London (her father refused to pay for her to go to Oxford unless she read Medicine) and was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 1970. It was while she was at home studying for her Bar final that a letter arrived for her mother while the family was at breakfast. It turned out to be from her father, announcing divorce proceedings. After her father left the house Clarissa Dickson Wright never saw him again.
She was by then a regular pipe smoker, consuming two ounces of Gold Block a week. The first woman to practise at the Admiralty Bar, she received excellent notices from, among others, Lord Denning, and was elected to the Bar Council as a representative of young barristers.
Things started to go awry, though, when her parents died in quick succession in the mid 1970s her mother in 1975, her father several months later. Her father left his entire £2 million fortune to his brother, explaining his decision in a caustic rider to his will. Clarissa’s mother, he wrote “never helped me and sought to alienate my children”. Clarissa’s sisters had married men either too old or too young, and her brother’s fault was to be “seeing Heather (one of Clarissa’s sisters) again”. As to his youngest daughter: “I leave no money to Clarissa, who was an afterthought and has twice caused me grievous bodily harm, and of whom I go in fear of my life.” The family contested the will to no avail.
It was Derby Day when Clarissa came home to find her mother dead. “It was a shock I quite simply couldn’t handle,” she recalled. She went to her boyfriend’s house and surprised everybody by pouring herself a large whisky: “I remember thinking 'Why have I waited so long? I’ve come home.’ I felt this enormous sense of relief.”
Her “habit” soon consisted of two bottles of gin a day, and a bottle of vodka before she got out of bed. “Suddenly it was as if I’d done it,” she remembered of her consequent loss of ambition. “I could hear the eulogies at my memorial service in my head, so what was the point of actually going through the mechanics of doing it.” In 1980 she was charged with professional incompetence and practising without chambers; she was disbarred three years later.
Financially this presented no immediate hardship since her mother had left her a fortune. Yet by the age of 40, Clarissa Dickson Wright had blown it all on “yachts in the Caribbean, yachts in the Aegean, aeroplanes to the races and drink”.
“If I’d had another £100,000,” she conceded, “I’d have been dead.”
At rock bottom she went to the DSS to ask for somewhere to live, only to be told: “We’re not here for the likes of you, you know. You’re upper class, you’ve got a Law degree.”
She began to cook in other people’s houses. “Of course it’s only the upper classes who will become domestic servants now,” she reflected. “Other people feel it demeans them.” One day, when preparing to cook for a house party, she was on her knees, cleaning the floor. “I looked up,” she remembered, “and said 'Dear God, if you are up there, please do something.’” The next day she was arrested for refusing a breathalyser. “I was carted down the long drive just as the house party was coming up it. From then on, I was inexorably swept into recovery.” It took place at Robert Lefever’s Promis Recovery Centre at Nonington, not far from Canterbury. She retained an affection for Kent ever after.
Clarissa Dickson Wright owed her proportions to drinking six pints of tonic a day over 12 years, leading to “sticky blood” (a condition normally associated with people taking quinine tablets over a long period) and a very slow metabolism. Of the ungallant nature of the Two Fat Ladies title, she said: “Well there are two of us. I have a problem with 'Ladies’ as it sounds like a public convenience. But which bit do you object to? Are you saying I’m thin?” Her size did not deter suitors. “I get more offers now than when I was slender,” she said. “Especially from Australians. They’re crazy about me.”
It could also be a formidable weapon. On Two Fat Ladies she was known as “Krakatoa” for her temper, and once put two would-be muggers in intensive care. “I didn’t go around beating people up,” she said, “but if people were aggressive to me, then I hit them.”
A knowledgeable food historian, she argued that the “use of anti-depressants is directly relatable to the decrease in use of animal fat (a stimulant of serotonin).” She did not own a television, but went across the road to watch the rugby. Her choice for Desert Island Discs ranged from The Drinking Song by Verdi to Ra Ra Rasputin by Boney M. The desert island of her imagination was “a Caribbean island during the cool season with lots of shellfish... and perhaps the odd hunky native that one could lure to the sound of music.”Following the success of Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright was elected a rector of Aberdeen University and opened a restaurant in the grounds of the Duke of Hamilton’s 16th-Century Lennoxlove House.
Then, after Jennifer Paterson died in 1999, Clarissa Dickson Wright presented the One Man And His Dog Christmas Special. She later went on to appear (from 2000 to 2003) in the series Clarissa and the Countryman, with Johnny Scott. It was remarkably un-PC, but the real reason for the fact that the BBC dropped her, she claimed, was that she was too pro-hunting.
Her support for the Countryside Alliance did see her plead guilty to attending a hare coursing event in 2007. She had thought it legal as the greyhounds were muzzled and the magistrate gave her an absolute discharge. “I did not get a criminal record for that,” she said. “I was quite looking forward to going to jail in Yorkshire and writing the prison cookbook. It would have been a rest.” In 2012 she again raised eyebrows when she suggested that badgers shot in any cull should be eaten. Badgers, she noted, were once a popular bar snack: “I would have no objection to eating badgers. I have no objection to eating anything very much, really.”
Her autobiography, Spilling the Beans (in which she claimed, among other things, that she once had sex behind the Speaker’s chair in Parliament) was published in 2007. That and other ventures such as the “engaging county-by-county ramble” Clarissa’s England (2012), and a return to the small screen (filming a three-part series for BBC Four on breakfast, lunch and dinner) saw her finances steadily improve. One supermarket chain offered her an “awful lot of money” to promote it, but she could afford to turn it down. “I don’t regret it. I used to say that all I had left in life was my integrity and my cleavage. Now it’s just my integrity.”
Her faith was less well defined than her views on field sports. “I’m not a very good or compliant Catholic. I reserve my right to disagree. My ancestors fought with Cromwell. Other ancestors went with Guy Fawkes. So we’re bolshie on both sides.” She admitted attending Mass to “give thanks” and enjoyed AA meetings, describing them as “better than television”.
The love of her life was a Lloyd’s underwriter named Clive who died from a virus caught in Madeira. Latterly she said that she had a long-time admirer. “We are very companionable,” she noted. But they did not live together. “Heaven forfend! I don’t mind cooking his meals, but wash his socks? No.”
Date of Birth: 22 June 1928, White Plaines, New York, US
Birth Name: Ralph Waite
Ralph Waite worked as a social worker, Presbyterian minister, publicist and book editor before turning to acting and landing the part as patriarch of a struggling American family in the wholesome US television drama The Waltons (1972-81).
For nine series and more than 200 episodes from 1972 to 1981, as John Walton he was the quiet tower of strength bringing up a family of seven during the depression and second world war with his wife, Olivia (Michael Learned).
The barefoot Virginia hillfolk operated a sawmill on Walton's Mountain, in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Their trials and tribulations, based on Earl Hamner Jr's autobiographical novel Spencer's Mountain, were seen through the eyes of the eldest son, John-Boy (played by Richard Thomas for most of the run, then Robert Wightman), a character who eventually realised his literary ambitions by having his first novel published. Waite's "Good night, John-Boy" closing line was a catchphrase for millions of fans of The Waltons around the world. The actor himself directed 16 episodes.
The run ended with John selling the mill to his entrepreneurial son Ben (Eric Scott) and moving with Olivia to Arizona, where she could recover from tuberculosis. The series was followed by six television specials three in 1982, A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion (1993), A Walton Wedding (1995) and A Walton Easter (1997). Waite's character was voted third in a 2004 TV Guide poll of the 50 "greatest TV dads of all time". President George Bush Sr wished in 1992 that American families could be "a lot more like the Waltons, and a lot less like the Simpsons".
Waite was born in White Plains, New York, the son of a construction engineer. He described himself as "a show-off, a dreamer, a storyteller" who was never taken to a play or concert as a child.
He served in the US Marine Corps (1946-48) and graduated from Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, in 1952, before working briefly as a social worker in Westchester County, New York.
After gaining a master's degree from Yale University Divinity School, Waite became a minister with the United Church of Christ on Fishers Island and in Garden City, New York. Dissatisfied with what he saw as hypocrisy in the church, he left to become publicity director and assistant editor of religious books at Harper & Row.
Switching to acting at the suggestion of a friend, as his marriage went downhill and his drinking increased, he trained with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio and made his professional debut as the chief of police in a 1960 New York production, The Balcony. Broadway plays followed, including Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), which Waite and the cast reprised at the Aldwych theatre in London in 1966.
After his first film appearance, alongside Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967), Waite appeared in dozens of big- and small-screen roles. He played Slater, the slave ship's sadistic third mate, in the television mini-series Roots (1977) and Kevin Costner's father in the film The Bodyguard (1992).
He sobered up after realising that his life was at odds with the caring father figure he portrayed in The Waltons. He then had regular roles on television as the retired lawyer Ben Walker in The Mississippi (1982-84), a corrupt billionaire in the second series of Murder One (1996), and priests in both Carnivàle (2003-05) and Days of Our Lives (2009-13).
In 1975, Waite was founder and artistic director of the experimental Los Angeles Actors' Theater. Seven years later, he married his third wife, Linda East, an interior designer. They moved to the Coachella valley in Palm Desert, California, in 2002. With his late brother Donald and other family members, Waite opened Don and Sweet Sue's Café in Cathedral City.
Political ambitions, inspired, he said, by the example of Czech playwright Václav Havel, led the actor to run unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in 1990 and twice in 1998, when he tried to take the Palm Springs, California, a seat formerly held by the singer Sonny Bono. That campaign was hampered by a commitment to complete a run in the leading role of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman for a theatre in New Jersey.
After shunning organised religion for half a century, Waite returned to it in 2010 as a minister with the liberal Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship. He saw it as reflecting his own progressive and political views.
Date of Birth: 27 November 1945, Pughsville, Virginia, US
Birth Name: James LaRue Avery
Nicknames: James Avery
James Avery, the bulky character actor who laid down the law as Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, has died.
Avery's publicist, Cynthia Snyder, told the Associated Press that Avery died Tuesday in Glendale, California, following complications from open heart surgery. He was 68.
Avery, who stood more than 6ft 5in tall, played Philip Banks, patriarch and wealthy lawyer (then judge), on the popular TV comedy that launched the acting career of Will Smith as his trouble-making nephew.
The sitcom, which aired on NBC from 1990 to 1996, was set in the Banks’ mansion, to which Smith’s character was sent from Philadelphia when things got tough in his own neighborhood.
Avery liked to say that the way to be an actor was to act, and he had a busy and diverse career before, during and after Fresh Prince. His TV credits included Grey’s Anatomy, NYPD Blue and Dallas, and among his many films were Fletch, Nightflyers and 8 Million Ways to Die. His voice alone brought him many jobs, notably as Shredder in the animated TV series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
According to Snyder, he will be seen in the film Wish I Was Here, directed by Zach Braff and scheduled to premiere later this month at the Sundance festival.
Avery grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and served in the US navy in Vietnam in the late 1960s. After returning to the US, he settled in California and studied drama and literature at the University of California at San Diego.
Date of Birth: 26 May 1946, Birkenhead, Wirral, Cheshire, UK
Birth Name: Lewis Collins
Lewis Collins was part of one of the great double acts in British television: Bodie and Doyle, the Seventies crime fighting duo in the series The Professionals.
As William Bodie, a former mercenary-turned-SAS trooper, Collins played the hardman of the team restrained, tough, yet armed with as many one-liners as lethal weapons. Alongside Ray Doyle, played by Martin Shaw, and under the uncompromising leadership of George Cowley (Gordon Jackson), his character worked for the secret government agency CI5. A fictional amalgam of MI5 and the CID, it was a below-the-radar unit set up to take the fight to nefarious criminals of every stripe from international drug dealers to terrorists.
Created by Brian Clemens, a producer who had made his name as the principal scriptwriter of The Avengers in the 1960s, The Professionals was filmed over four years (1977-81, though it continued to be aired until 1983). Yet Collins very nearly missed out on the central role of his career.
When filming began, in June 1977, Shaw was partnered by Anthony Andrews (who in 1981 would go on to find fame as Sebastian Flyte in the adaptation of Brideshead Revisited). After three days of shooting, Clemens decided that the pair did not have the required undercurrent of menace to carry off the concept.
He decided to keep the bubble-permed Shaw, who had established himself on stage at the National Theatre and elsewhere (in 1974 even playing Stanley Kowalski, the part made famous by Marlon Brando, in A Streetcar Named Desire). Casting around for a foil, Clemens thought of Collins, who had played opposite Shaw in an episode of The New Avengers. The producer remembered that the two actors had not got on well, and guessed that their tetchy relationship might develop into the abrasive on-screen pairing he was looking for.
In fact, when they met again, Shaw and Collins became friends. That chemistry carried to the screen, where though they were very different personalities their two characters are essentially devoted to one another.
A potent cocktail of violence, guns, girls and gangsters, The Professionals saw Bodie and Doyle operate in a seedy world of backstreet deals and silver Ford Capris, a mise en scène which lent their efforts an alluring sense of reality, no matter how fanciful the plot. When not disarming a Middle Eastern explosives kingpin, for example, the two were likely to be moaning about their lack of overtime pay, or their sore heads from the previous night’s boozing.
It was a mixture of glamour and grime that proved highly successful, if bruising. Collins and Shaw always did their own stunts and between them sustained three broken ankles and a fractured collarbone. Those who criticised the show for its excessive violence, like Mary Whitehouse, only added to its notoriety.
Towards the end of its run, however, all concerned accepted that the formula was becoming stale. Even so, Collins hoped that Bodie’s uncompromising persona might lead him to still greater heights. After The Professionals ended, he auditioned for the role of another secret operative: James Bond.
Lewis Collins was born on May 27 1946 at Bidston, Wirral, and left Grange Secondary School in Birkenhead to train as a hairdresser at the Andre Bernard salon in Liverpool. But in the mid-1960s he changed career to become a professional musician, and after stints with bands including The Eyes and The Georgians joined The Mojos, for whom he briefly played bass guitar.
The experience kindled an interest in the stage, and Collins enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art before going into rep. He worked at Chesterfield and Glasgow, and toured with the Prospect Theatre Company before graduating to London’s West End with stage roles in City Sugar and The Threepenny Opera.
While appearing in The Farm, directed by Lindsay Anderson at the Royal Court, Collins was noticed by television producers. His early television work included roles in popular series such as Z Cars (1974) and a recurring role as the lodger in the ITV sitcom The Cuckoo Waltz (1975-77), with Diane Keene and David Roper. Crucially, he broke with his light-hearted image to be cast as a hitman in a 1976 episode of The New Avengers with Martin Shaw — they were working together again less than a year later.
Apart from The Professionals, Collins was best known for playing the SAS officer Capt Peter Skellen in the 1982 film Who Dares Wins. He even applied to join 23 SAS – a Territorial unit – in real life, passing the entrance tests but being rejected on the grounds of his fame. As well as harbouring a lifelong interest in guns, he was trained in martial arts, including karate, and held a black belt in ju-jitsu.
Roles in other action films followed, including Code Name Wild Geese (1984), with Ernest Borgnine and Lee Van Cleef; and Kommando Leopard (1985) and The Commander (1988), both with Klaus Kinski.
His audition for Bond came in 1986. Collins had hoped to re-create the original, hard-nosed character of Ian Fleming’s books, rather than the suave Lothario portrayed by Sean Connery. “He’s not over-handsome, over-tall,” Collins noted of Bond. “He’s about my age and has got my attitudes.” The producer Cubby Broccoli, however, considered him “too aggressive” for the part.
Collins’s last British appearance was in a cameo role in The Bill in 2002. More recently he moved to Los Angeles with his wife and children. There he took a two-year break from acting and trained as a director-writer at the UCLA Film School. He also qualified as a pilot.
Early last year Collins was cast to play Earl Godwin in the historically-based film of 1066, but reportedly withdrew from the production and parted company with his agent. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2008.
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 September 1932, Los Angeles, US
Birth Name: Verla Eileen Regina Brennan
Nicknames: Eileen Brennan
Eileen Brennan, the American actress was best known for her role as the tough-talking Army captain Doreen Lewis in the 1980 film comedy Private Benjamin, in which she starred alongside Goldie Hawn.
As tormentor-in-chief to Goldie Hawn’s high society recruit, Eileen Brennan earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, and when she reprised the role in a television sitcom adapted from the film, she won two further awards, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Guest roles on such television shows as Murder, She Wrote; thirtysomething; Taxi; and Will & Grace (in which she played an over-the-top acting coach) earned her six more Emmy nominations.
On film she made a brief appearance as the crazy Cat Lady in the horror film Jeepers Creepers in 2001. Her last big screen appearance was in the 2011 comedy film Naked Run.
Her role in Private Benjamin led to a lasting friendship with Goldie Hawn. In 1982, a couple of years after they had made the film, the two women had dinner in Venice, California. As they left the restaurant, Eileen Brennan was struck by a car, in an accident which smashed her legs, broke bones on the left side of her face, and shattered her left eye socket. She later recalled seething with rage at what had happened: “I was no saint. I was angry, and anger is a powerful emotion. It increased my determination not to go under, to get well.”
She took three years off work to recover, but became addicted to painkillers, and eventually entered the Betty Ford clinic to cure her dependency. She later received treatment for breast cancer.
Ten years after the accident Eileen Brennan said she was glad she had been hit by the car. “You learn from powerful things,” she said in 1992. “Initially, there’s enormous anger, but your priorities get shifted around.”
The daughter of a doctor of Irish descent, Verla Eileen Regina Brennan was born on September 3 1932 in Los Angeles. Her mother had acted in silent films. Educated in convent schools, she went on to study at Georgetown University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
Her first major role on the New York stage was in Little Mary Sunshine, a musical that earned her the 1960 Obie award for best actress. In 1964 she played Irene Malloy in the original production of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. In Hollywood the director Peter Bogdanovich cast her as a weary waitress who inherits the café where she works in The Last Picture Show (1971).
Her other films included The Sting (receiving excellent reviews as the brothel madam with a heart of gold); The Cheap Detective; Clue and Divorce American Style. On television her versatility led to appearances in All in the Family; McMillan & Wife; Kojak; The Love Boat; Mad About You; and 7th Heaven.
As well as being cast as the gruff Capt Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin, Eileen Brennan applied her perfect sense of comic timing to several other sharp-tongued film roles including that of the aloof and world-weary Mrs Peacock in Clue (1985), and the cruel orphanage superintendent Miss Bannister in The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988).
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: 16 May 1941, Sierra Leone, Africa
Birth Name: David Laurie Lyon
Nicknames: David Lyon
David Lyon was a stalwart of numerous Royal Shakespeare Company productions and became a familiar face on television in series such as The Bill, Lovejoy, Taggart, Holby City and Midsomer Murders.
Though he was a popular figure at the RSC, Lyon never got to play the Dane and most audiences would be hard-pressed to name his roles. On stage they included the Earl of Westmoreland in Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V; Capulet in Romeo and Juliet; the Duke of Albany in King Lear; Thomas Mowbray in Richard II; King Philip of France in King John; Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing; Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew; and Dull in Love’s Labour’s Lost. On the small screen he ranged from bishops (The Inspector Linley Mysteries) to murderers (Midsomer Murders).
The principal exception to this rule was his role as Henry Collingridge, Margaret Thatcher’s decent but dithery successor whose position at No 10 is steadily undermined by his Machiavellian Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) in the 1990 BBC production of House of Cards.
The role was memorable not least because the first episode in the four-part series aired on November 18, four days before Mrs Thatcher stunned her Cabinet by announcing that she would resign as Prime Minister “as soon as a successor can be chosen”. Lyon uttered exactly the same lines, written some months earlier, in House of Cards two weeks later. He added, as Mrs Thatcher may also have done to her Cabinet colleagues, two-thirds of whom had told her she might not win if she stayed in the race: “I should like to take the opportunity of thanking you for your friendship and your loyalty at this time those who feel this description applies, of course.”
David Laurie Lyon was born on May 16 1941, the son of a diamond merchant, and grew up in Sierra Leone. He was educated at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, where he played scrum-half for the first XV. Forced to leave school aged 16 after his father was declared bankrupt, he worked for Royal Insurance in Glasgow, then as a flooring salesman in Birmingham. In his spare time he performed as an amateur actor with the Old Grammarians in Glasgow and the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham, and in the early 1970s studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
After making his professional debut in Manchester in 1975, he performed in repertory theatres around the country before joining the RSC in 1976. As well as supporting roles in Shakespeare, he also appeared in several modern plays, such as The Innocent, After Aida and Piaf.
In 1998 he married the actress Sandra Clark, whom he had first met at drama school when she was married to someone else. They spent their honeymoon touring with a production of Romeo and Juliet, in which they were playing Capulet and Lady Montagu.
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: 2 January 1932, Purley, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Richard Thorp
Richard Thorp starred as Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, but became better known to millions of television viewers as Alan Turner, the landlord of The Woolpack in the Yorkshire-based soap Emmerdale.
Alan Turner joined the series as a farm manager in March 1982, and went on to become its longest-running character. Inept, boozy and bullying, he ran through a series of lovers, wives and secretaries; but in later years, after becoming landlord of The Woolpack, he sobered up and, by the time of Thorp’s death, had become a pillar of the community “like the village war memorial”, as he put it.
Thorp recalled that when he first joined, the plot lines were very different from those of later episodes: “I remember one story, and it ran for about five episodes. It was all what Seth was doing to Amos’s rhubarb. We didn’t have to go to bed with anybody or get jolly with our mothers, we just put a few slugs on a chap’s rhubarb. I enjoyed that more because everybody knew the characters more back then rather than who they were sleeping with and who was gay and who wasn’t.”
Thorp’s character was central to a number of pivotal plots, including one in which his daughter Steph (played by Lorraine Chase) tried to bump him off by pushing him down the stairs, before keeping him drugged to the eyeballs in a B&B in order to get her hands on his money.
When he first joined Emmerdale, Thorp, a fit 50 year-old, was something of a pin-up for women of a certain age, but by the mid-1990s he had ballooned to 18 stone and had become, in his own words, “less a national heart-throb and more the local heart attack”. In consequence his character became more marginal, and he admitted finding it frustrating not to be given decent storylines. In 2010 he said: “I recently asked the scriptwriters if I could get a juicy love interest, but they said that given my age, they would have to dig someone up!”
But he admitted that he could not afford to retire because he needed the cash to pay three ex-wives.
Richard Thorp was born on January 2 1932 at Purley, Surrey, and got his first film role in Robert Jordan Hill’s 1949 comedy thriller Melody in the Dark. His breakthrough part was that of Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay in The Dam Busters, which he landed after applying for a more minor role because he bore a physical resemblance to the real Maudslay, who had died during the operation.
Thorp appeared in several more feature films, including The Barretts Of Wimpole Street (1957), but later confessed that he had been too lazy to pursue a career in Hollywood, and in any case preferred working in television soaps because they guaranteed a regular income.
Before joining Emmerdale, Thorp was best known as Dr John Rennie in the ITV hospital soap, Emergency Ward 10, which he joined in 1957. Often described by tabloids as “the nation’s heart-throb” who was a regular on the show for 10 years and became so popular with its mainly female audience that its producers employed two secretaries purely to deal with his fan mail.
Thorp continued to work despite ill health. In 1994, after starring on This Is Your Life, he had a serious heart attack and was in intensive care for three days. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukaemia. Although the cancer did not develop, he continued to live with it. In 2009 he took a break from Emmerdale to have knee replacement surgery.
Richard Thorp’s three marriages ended in divorce, and in the 1960s he was briefly (though secretly) engaged to Babs Beverley of the Beverley Sisters.
Date of Birth: 16 July 1946, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
Birth Name: Richard LeParmentier
Richard LeParmentier was an American character actor but in the 1970s moved to Britain, where he was cast as a young space station commander who is almost choked to death by Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film (1977).
Although LeParmentier appeared in more than 50 films and television series, it was the modest role of Admiral Motti, commander of the Death Star space station, who foolishly mocks Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways” and “sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion”, for which he became best known.
Darth Vader (played by David Prowse) finds Motti’s lack of faith disturbing, and starts crushing his windpipe using the “Force” (a powerful form of telepathy), choking the young commander, but allowing him to live.
Devotees of the Star Wars canon have acclaimed “a brilliantly understated piece of cinema that showcased the true power of the Dark Side while highlighting the Empire’s main weakness over-confidence”. The scene remains a favourite with fans and has even spawned an online craze known as “Vadering”.
LeParmentier’s role may have been modest but it was also crucial. It was his character’s reckless act of defiance in standing up to Darth Vader that prompted the Rebel Alliance’s strike on the Death Star.
“I did the choking effect by flexing muscles in my neck,” LeParmentier recalled. “It’s one of the most famous Star Wars scenes and it’s the most parodied one too. Eddie Izzard does a bit on it in one of his routines.”
In 1988 LeParmentier played Lieutenant Santino in the animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) a role that furnished him with the celebrated line: “Now that’s what I call one seriously disturbed toon” and found steady work as an actor on British television.
During the 1980s and 1990s he was also a television screenwriter, scripting episodes of Boon and The Bill for ITV.
Richard LeParmentier was born on July 16 1946 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but moved to Britain in 1974, settling in Bath. He appeared in the David Essex rock film Stardust (1974), and with James Caan in the futuristic Rollerball (1975). But it was a week’s work at Elstree Studios in 1976, in between playing bit parts on British television, that changed his life when he shot his scene as Motti in Star Wars.
“I thought the film was going to be a success as soon as I read the script, despite the fact people were laughing at us as we shot the thing,” LeParmentier recalled. Walter Murch, a friend of the film’s director George Lucas, explained that people thought it was laughable “because they couldn’t see the vision behind it. It was in pieces. It’s just that once you see the vision, then it all makes sense.”
For more than 30 years LeParmentier was a fixture at Star Wars conventions all over the world, often signing pictures of himself sporting his Imperial Officer uniform while being choked by Darth Vader’s “Force”. His role of Motti, although the briefest of episodes in a 40-year acting career, occupied most of his official website.
One section of the site called “Motti’s hotties” featured a series of photos of LeParmentier posing with female fans, one of whom wore a bored expression and a shirt emblazoned “porn star”. Interviewed on the site, LeParmentier said he would prefer to be known as a writer first and as Admiral Motti second. “But you can’t deny being part of [one of] the most popular and influential films of all time,” he explained.
In the 13th James Bond film Octopussy (1983), LeParmentier played an American aide.
While appearing as a reporter in Superman II (1980) he met the British actress Sarah Douglas, who was cast as the Kryptonian supervillain Ursa. They married the following year, but divorced in 1984.
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: 31 July 1947, Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, UK
Birth Name: Richard Griffiths
Richard Griffiths was one of Britain’s most recognisable actors, deploying his girth and equally sizeable talent to great effect on television, on stage, and on the big screen.
He was memorable in a host of different genres, with a range and subtlety that belied his giant physique. A natural in Shakespeare’s comic roles, notably Falstaff, he later captured the imagination of young filmgoers with his performances as the hideous Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter series. But it was, perhaps oddly, for his portrayal of two sexual predators that he was best-loved.
As Uncle Monty in Withnail and I (1987) he erupted, cheeks lightly rouged, into the bedroom of his nephew’s terrified flatmate, declaring that “I mean to have you, boy, even if it must be burglary.” Like the film’s other stars, Paul McGann and Richard E Grant, Griffiths would have such memorable snippets of dialogue quoted at him by legions of fans for the rest of his career. (“They’re all a bit silly about it, and they quote stuff and expect me to know it. I find that very odd.”)
Almost two decades later he played Hector, an inspirational teacher who fondles his pupils while giving them lifts home on his motorcycle, in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (2004). The play was a smash hit in London, and went on to repeat the success on Broadway. Like Withnail it contained some lines that left audiences helpless with laughter (notably when one boy sighs: “I’m a Jew ... I’m small ... I’m homosexual ... and I live in Sheffield ... I’m f---ed.”) A large part of its appeal, however was what its director Nicholas Hytner called Griffiths’s “masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation”.
Griffiths was always at pains to insist that Hector is not a paedophile the boys in the play are all over 18. “I’d feed all paedophiles into a tree-shredder,” he told interviewers. “One minute with a tree shredder. Anything left the police can have.” And he was almost as intemperate with audience members who forgot to turn off their mobile phones. At least three times he interrupted the play in mid-performance, threatening to walk off.
Griffiths became so associated with gay roles that many assumed he was gay himself. “Look, I’m just acting,” he said. In fact he was married and declared a pronounced preference for women of a fuller figure. “I could never understand the attraction of Bette Davis. I always preferred Jane Russell.” Moreover, not only was he not gay, it turned out that he had started life so skinny that he required medical treatment.
Richard Griffiths was born on July 31 1947 in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire. His father, Thomas, was a steelworker who also fought for money in pubs and, like his mother, the former Jane Denmark, was deaf-mute. Only two of the couple’s five children survived: two were stillborn and one, a longed-for daughter, died days after birth. The poverty, Griffiths said later, was “Dickensian”, with the unusual twist that, as he communicated with his parents by sign language, and the family had no television or radio, Richard’s childhood home was largely silent.
He ran away frequently but always came back to his parents because “I was sort of responsible for them. From the age of four I would help with the shopping. They would sign and I would translate to the shopkeeper.” As a result, he complained, “I have a lifelong loathing of shopping.”
He was also skinny as a boy, so skinny in fact that aged eight he was given treatment on his pituitary gland. His metabolism slowed and he gained 60 per cent of his body weight within a year. He was picked on at school but, owing to his new-found heft, coupled with a temper that he retained throughout his life (“I think I get it from my father. He was a very aggressive man”), he was more than able to hold his own. “I was the biggest. I once attacked two kids because they threw an apple core at me and it hit me in the face and everyone laughed and that was what really made me angry, being laughed at. So I pursued them round the school and beat them up. I was so angry. It was the best fight I ever had.”
He left St Bede’s school at 15 and applied for “a poxy job in a warehouse” only to find himself one of 300 hopefuls; so he returned to full-time education at Stockton and Billingham College. Taken by a teacher to see his first professional theatre production at 17, when he was in the audience of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Griffiths found himself spellbound.
He applied to do a drama course at the Northern College of Music in Manchester, which did not go down well at home. “In Teesside at the time ... if you said you wanted to be an actor it meant you had to be put to death. I had to keep the acting secret from my Dad. He raged at its pooffery when he found out.”
His first major role was in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the college’s drama society. When the student playing the governor of Massachusetts fell ill, Griffiths, promoted from a minor role, found himself overawed. “But I learnt it and did it.”
Like the principal characters in Withnail and I, Griffiths’s years as an aspiring actor were hard. But he soon realised that the weight he struggled with was a theatrical asset. Early in his career he was playing the Griffin in Alice in Wonderland when the actor playing the Mock Turtle turned to him and said: “Now listen to me, lad, you are very, very useful. You’ll never be out of a job.”
In the mid-1970s Griffiths was spotted by Trevor Nunn, then the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director, and moved to live in Stratford. He rose through the roster of roles, eventually playing Bottom and Trinculo as well as Volpone and Henry VIII.
Still, it was a precarious life, and the best financial rewards came from advertising. Griffiths appeared in a series of television ads for Holsten lager, then in 1979 was asked to go to America for three days to film a series of ads for BMW. But Nunn would not give him the time off from the RSC and Griffiths lost out, a blow he never forgot. “That would have meant never having to worry about overheads again, and I could have devoted my life to interesting theatrical projects.” Instead, he would have wait until the Harry Potter films (from 2001) to achieve real financial security despite its subsequent success, Withnail and I was a flop at the box office.
Griffiths appeared in many other films, from Gandhi (1982) to Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991), and also became well known to viewers of Pie in the Sky as Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe, a food-loving policeman who longs to retire from the force and set up his own restaurant. The light-hearted drama ran for five series on BBC1 from 1994.
Despite his success, Griffiths was not averse to moaning about the lot of the actor. It was a trait, he admitted, that drove his wife, Heather Gibson, an Irish actress whom he met in 1973 in a production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, “nuts”.
His most enduring concern, however, was with his size. His bountiful proportions may have come in useful in securing work, but there were complications elsewhere. Armrests on seats were a particular bugbear. And while he felt that the business of moving about and acting provided some sort of veil to his shape, posing for still photographs left him uncomfortably exposed. “I don’t like the way I look so I don’t like being photographed. I become defensive.” Being asked to appear naked, as his co-stars were in a production of Equus (2007), was never an issue. “Thank goodness it’s not me being naked. I wouldn’t inflict my naked body on any paying audience.”
“Everybody my age should be issued with a 2lb fresh salmon,” he told an interviewer before the play opened. “If you see someone young, beautiful and happy, you should slap them as hard as you can with it. When they ask, 'Why did you do that?’, you say, 'Because, you lucky young bastard, you don’t know how fortunate you are.’ And they don’t...”
Date of Birth: 25 December 1925, Hull, UK
Birth Name: Norman Victor Collier
Nicknames: Norman Collier
Norman Collier belonged to the tradition of northern comics on which television feasted in the 1970s and 1980s before dumping them in favour of “alternative” comedians.
Collier started out on the northern club circuit, attracting an enthusiastic regional following before coming to wider attention with his debut on the Royal Variety Show in 1971. “Unknown comedian Norman Collier won a standing ovation for his act,” reported the Daily Express. “Norman turned out to be one of the big successes of this year’s Royal knees-up,” agreed the Daily Mirror.
He is perhaps best remembered for his recurring gag in which a northern club compère struggles with an intermittently faulty microphone; and another in which he created the noises, gestures and movements of a chicken, using his out-turned, off-the-shoulder jacket to suggest the creature’s wings, a routine that recalled the antics of Max Wall.
Drawing on the tradition of the 1950s radio comedian Al Read, Collier perfected a style of absurd situational monologues rather than relying on the usual rattle of quick-fire jokes. Although his set pieces often drew on northern working-class stereotypes, he made a point of avoiding the kind of racist material that proved the undoing of some other comedians, and made them unusable on television.
As well as making regular appearances on popular radio and television shows of the 1970s and 1980s, including The Generation Game, Blankety Blank and The Little And Large Show, Collier also toured extensively in Britain, the United States, Canada, Europe and the Far East. Jimmy Tarbuck became a fan, acclaiming Collier as “the comedian’s comedian”.
Collier stumbled into showbusiness by chance. In 1948, when he was working as a builder’s labourer, a friend invited him for a pint at the social club in Perth Street, round the corner from his house in Hull. When the booked comedian failed to appear, Collier stepped forward. “In those days, if the act didn’t turn up, they asked for a volunteer,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was being announced.”
Notwithstanding his lack of experience, Collier paid five shillings (25p) for a Variety Artists’ Association card that allowed him to work in the clubs; in post-war Hull the working men’s clubs were all privately owned.
While venturing further afield to appear at nightclubs in Doncaster and Goole, he spent his days employed as a labourer at the DCL chemical works (now BP) at Saltend, on the outskirts of Hull. Once, when moving some scrap, he found a funnel and, using it as a prop, started shouting “Vote for Collier” through it. When he realised the boss was watching, Collier expected to be sacked. Instead, when the boss pointed to all his smiling colleagues, he was told to carry on.
By 1962 Collier was getting so much nightclub work that he turned professional. Booked for a show called Clubland Performance in Blackpool, hosted by Michael Aspel, he was subsequently signed to Lew Grade’s talent agency and billed with Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Collier was soon touring Britain with other big stars of the day, such as the Everly Brothers.
One of Collier’s sketches about a mythical northern working men’s club in which he played various characters, including the cloth-capped chairman became the basis of Granada Television’s popular Wheeltappers’ and Shunters’ Social Club series in the mid-1970s.
His own television debut was in 1965 on Let’s Laugh, made by the BBC in Manchester. Also on the bill was another unknown northern comedian, Les Dawson, and the singer Tom Jones, who, despite seeing his second single, It’s Not Unusual, rocket to the top of the record charts, arrived at the studios in a little blue van.
The eldest of eight children, Norman Victor Collier was born in Hull on Christmas Day 1925, and is said to have weighed 15lb 4oz at birth. His expanding family lived in a two-bedroomed house with an outside lavatory and no hot water. As the eldest child, Norman had to run errands and bathe the other children.
“We were like rats in a box,” he recalled. “Everything was on tick, and I used to run round to the shops at nearly closing time on a Sunday night and ask them to fill my carrier bag up with stale pastry for twopence. I also used to go to the old marketplace in Hull and bid for meat, sixpence a joint.”
At the age of 17 he joined the Royal Navy, and towards the end of the Second World War served as a gunner in an aircraft carrier.
Throughout his years on the club circuit, Collier invariably returned home to Hull after his show, regardless of whether he had been performing in Wales, London or on the south coast.
He claimed that he was kept “grounded” by his wife, Lucy, who would dispatch him and their son, Vic, who drove the car, with “snap” boxes of sandwiches wrapped in tin foil together with tea bags and powdered milk.
Collier also appeared frequently in pantomime, notably as Widow Twankey opposite the comedians Little and Large in Aladdin at the New Theatre, Hull. He continued to perform into his eighties. In 2009 he appeared with Tom O’Connor, Faith Brown, Bucks Fizz, Cannon and Ball and Ray Allen in a 25-night tour of The Best of British Variety.
Collier, a long-standing member of the Grand Order of Water Rats, raised thousands of pounds for charity by organising golf tournaments, and also played golf for the Variety Club of Great Britain. His autobiography, Just a Job, appeared in 2009.
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: 8 August 1928, Brampton, Cumbria, UK
Birth Name: Derek Batey
Derek Batey, once asked a contestant on Mr and Mrs to name his wife's favourite flower. "Oh Derek, that's easy," came the reply from the husband as he smiled at his wife. "It's Homepride."
But the ITV show with which the Cumbrian presenter became synonymous, and which was watched by 11 million ITV viewers on Saturday nights by the late 1970s, was not premised on spreading marital misinformation to a nation of couch potatoes. Rather, its aim was to encourage conjugal felicity: the show's theme song went "Mr and Mrs, be nice to each other / Mr and Mrs, we've got to love one another". Coterminous with an era in which divorce rates soared and casual sex became socially unexceptionable, Mr and Mrs proselytised for the straight and narrow virtue of heterosexual commitment.
The show's format was simple: one partner sat in a soundproofed booth while Batey asked the spouse three questions. For example: What is your partner's favourite way to eat an egg? What part of your partner's body is she or he most embarrassed about? What animal is your partner most scared of? The pair then swapped places. Couples who got one question correct won £10 and those who got all six right won a jackpot of £2,000. Losers received a carriage clock and Batey's condolences.
For viewers, one of Mr and Mrs' pleasures was the insight into the otherwise inscrutable privacy of the British marriage. Batey once asked: "When you're having a meal at home and there's no one else around, just you and your wife, do you always have serviettes, sometimes have serviettes, or never have serviettes?" "He looked at me for about three minutes," recalled Batey, "and then said slowly, 'Do you mean boiled or fried?' " It wasn't always husbands who gave dopey answers, but mostly. Perma-smiling Batey, with his dapper bouffant and unflappable geniality, was a perfect foil to such follies. The show made him a national star.
Until 1967, though, he had been merely a presenter and interviewer on Border Television, the long-defunct ITV franchise based in Carlisle. In that year, he saw a tape of a Canadian version of the show that had been on air for four years, and he realised its potential. "I liked it and decided to run a Border Television version of it for 13 weeks. The response from our viewers was fantastic and it stayed in our local schedule every year from then until daytime television opened up in 1973, when it was taken by the full ITV network and was an immediate hit nationally."
He presented Mr and Mrs 500 times on television and 5,000 times on stage. For 12 years from 1975, he presented a Sunday-night stage version of Mr and Mrs at Blackpool's Central Pier.
Batey was born in Brampton, Cumbria, and won a scholarship to the local grammar school. He developed showbiz aspirations after watching variety acts including Arthur Askey, Will Fyffe, Ted Ray and Harry Lauder, and ventriloquist AC Astor, at Her Majesty's theatre, Carlisle.
In 1940, he bought a ventriloquist's doll for three guineas and called him Alfie. One day, little Derek was practising his ventriloquism act in the bedroom. "I heard a sort of squeaking noise behind me and turned round to see our window cleaner just about to fall off his ladder at the sight of a 12-year-old boy talking to a wooden doll in a mirror." After leaving school in 1944 to become articled to a firm of accountants, he continued with semi-professional "vent shows" several nights a week.
Batey's break came when he was booked by the BBC to perform his ventriloquism act, improbably, on local radio. Later he became a radio reporter on The Voice of Cumberland and Points North, a radio show from Manchester introduced by Brian Redhead. In 1957, he moved to TV as a regional compere on Come Dancing. In 1960 he was lured to become a presenter on the newly launched Border Television; there he produced and presented programmes about religion, politics and sport, and wrote calypso numbers.
As well as for Mr and Mrs, Batey was known in the 1970s for Look Who's Talking, a talk show whose guests included Ken Dodd, Norman Collier, Dukes and Lee, and Jim Bowen. At the height of his celebrity, Batey was on ITV three times a week – he also hosted Your 100 Best Hymns. In 1978, he joined Border's board of directors.
After retirement, Batey divided his time between homes in St Anne's in Lancashire (where he kept his collection of ventriloquist's dolls, including the venerable Alfie), Gran Canaria and Florida.
ITV axed Mr and Mrs in 1988, but in 2006 the production company Celador considered a version with gay and/or unmarried contestants. Batey, who owned the rights to the show, frowned on the idea, saying: "It is a format that has lasted throughout the times and I see no reason to change it." But it did change: now Phillip Schofield presents a celebrity version of Mr and Mrs on ITV.
Date of Birth: 20 August 1916, Raton, New Mexico, US
Birth Name: Petro Vlahos
Petro Vlahos, developed the blue- and green-screen technique that made memorable visual effects possible on films such as Mary Poppins and Ben Hur.
While others had grappled before with so-called “composite photography”, overlaying shots of separately-filmed actors on background sets, the results were never totally convincing, with actors often appearing to glow in a halo of light that spoiled the effect.
Vlahos moved the process forward, first for the spectacular chariot race in William Wyler’s 1959 remake of the epic Ben Hur, and later for the charming penguin dance in the Disney musical Mary Poppins (1964). For the song Jolly Holiday, Walt Disney had decided that one of the choruses should be sung by animated penguins dressed as waiters.
Although Disney had spent £164,205.72 buying the rights to Vlahos’s blue-screen process “chicken feed”, he called the money technicians had to accommodate the animation with live footage that had already been shot, which meant major revisions. That did not prevent Vlahos working with the Disney studio on The Love Bug (1969) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), both of which also relied on special effects.
The techniques that Vlahos perfected in such pictures were applied in many subsequent science-fiction and fantasy films, including the first Star Wars trilogy between 1977 and 1983. Unfortunately, shooting for some of the special effects in Star Wars took place during the hottest British summer for many years. The blue-screen process required giant arc lights, making the sets stiflingly hot: electricians fainted, and the actor playing Chewbacca, clad in a body suit of angora wool and yak hair, collapsed from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Vlahos and his collaborators won an Academy Award for their composite processes in 1965, and with his son, Paul, he shared another Oscar in 1995 for the blue-screen advances made by Ultimatte, the company he founded in 1976.
His original concepts and innovations have been enhanced and expanded over the years, making possible entirely seamless composites which preserve fine details such as hair, smoke, mist, motion blur and shadows while automatically suppressing “blue spill” (whereby light from the blue screen behind washes across the foreground subject).
Refinements of Vlahos’s pioneering technique were used to make many of the blockbuster films of the 1990s, notably Titanic (1997), in which scenes that had hitherto been too dangerous, expensive or difficult to film were finally possible.
Special effects triumphs in contemporary films like Avatar (2009), in which blue-skinned Na’vi dwell among floating mountains, and Life of Pi (2012), in which the tiger, the ocean, and sometimes even the boy Pi himself are digital creations, also derive from Vlahos’s work.
Petro Vlahos was born on August 20 1916 at Raton, New Mexico. After graduating in Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1941, he became a designer at Douglas Aircraft during the Second World War.
After working as a radar engineer at Bell Laboratories, he joined the Motion Picture Research Council, spending six months devising a complex laboratory process that separated blues, greens and reds before recombining them. The result his patented “colour-difference system travelling matte scheme” created the breathtaking visual effects in Ben-Hur .
Having minimised the unwanted “halo” side-effect that had dogged earlier attempts, he modified the technique to work on green screens as well as blue.
On television, technology based on Vlahos’s work was regularly seen in episodes of Doctor Who, and made it possible for weather presenters to point at sun and rain symbols that only their viewers can see.
In all Vlahos held more than 35 patents for film-related gadgetry, and in 1978 received an Emmy for his work.
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: 25 August 1947, Leipzig, Germany.
Birth Name: Peter Gilmore
James Onedin, the protagonist of the long-running BBC television series The Onedin Line, gained his splendid name from a sea nymph. After the programme's creator, Cyril Abraham, had read about mythological figure Ondine, he transposed the "e", thus making her a man. And what a man: Peter Gilmore, who played Onedin in 91 episodes from 1971 to 1980, had tousled hair, flinty eyes, hollow cheeks, mutton-chop sideburns racing across his cheek, lips pulled severely down, chin thrust indomitably forward to face down the brewing gale.
The sea captain did not so much talk as emit salty barks that brooked no demur. In 1972, while filming, Gilmore was buzzed by speedboats from the Royal Naval College. Still in character as Onedin, he yelled irascibly at the tyro sailors: "Taxpayers' money! Where are your guns? What use would you be if the Russians came?"
Like Horatio Nelson, Francis Drake and to a lesser extent the early 70s prime minister Edward Heath, the very cut of Gilmore's jib suggested that the British if only in prime-time costume dramas still ruled the waves. For many, Gilmore's name conjures up the stirring Adagio from Khachaturian's ballet Spartacus that was used on the opening credits. Madly and marvellously, Onedin set up a shipping line with sailing vessels in late-19th century Liverpool at a time when steamships were taking over the seaways.
By series two, his business model had seen off the sceptics but his wife, Anne, had died in childbirth. That plot twist was partly explained by the fact that the actor who played her, Anne Stallybrass, had decided to return to the theatre.
To honour his dead wife's memory, Onedin added a steamship to his fleet called the Anne Onedin and then allowed Kate Nelligan (as a coal-merchant's eligible daughter) and Caroline Harris (as a 20-something worldly wise widow) to vie for his affections. He spurned both, marrying his daughter's governess, Letty Gaunt, who died of diphtheria. By the eighth and last series, Onedin was married to a third wife, Margarita Juarez, and had become a grandfather.
Before Howards' Way, The Onedin Line was the BBC's nautical franchise: Abraham wrote five novels loosely based on his television scripts, while Gilmore was frequently asked to launch ships and was also bombarded with fan mail and advice from veteran sailors. He parlayed fame into reviving a former career as a singer, releasing in 1974 an album of sailor shanties called Songs of the Sea and in 1977 another called Peter Gilmore Sings Gently.
He regretted that he became too typecast as Onedin to get other lead roles. In 1978 he starred opposite Doug McLure in the film Warlords of Atlantis as an archaeologist searching for the fabled underwater city who ends up battling a giant octopus and other sea monsters.
Gilmore was born in the German city of Leipzig. At the age of six, he moved to Nunthorpe, near Middlesbrough, where he was raised by relatives, later attending the Friends' school in Great Ayton, north Yorkshire. From the age of 14 he worked in a factory, but later studied at Rada. While undertaking national service in 1950 he discovered a talent for singing and after his discharge joined singing groups who performed all over the country.
During the 1950s and 60s he became a stalwart of British stage musicals, appearing in several largely unsuccessful shows, including one called Hooray for Daisy! in which he was the chief human in a drama about a pantomime cow. He even released a single in 1960 as a spin-off from his performance in Follow That Girl, Susan Hampshire's only foray into musicals. In 1958 he appeared on the pop programme Cool for Cats, where he met the actor Una Stubbs, then one of the Dougie Squires Dancers, who were weekly tasked with interpreting hit songs in movement. The couple were married from 1958 until 1969.
His success at this time in British and US TV commercials led him to be cast in comedies, with 11 appearances in Carry On films, two of which Carry On Jack (1963) and Carry On Cleo (1964) gave him early nautical roles. In 1970 he married Jan Waters, with whom he starred in both stage and television productions of The Beggar's Opera, he playing the highwayman Captain Macheath.
The Onedin Line brought Gilmore the fame that had eluded him. In 1976, he and Jan divorced and he started living with Stallybrass, whom he married in 1987. In 1984 a new generation of viewers saw Gilmore as Brazen, the security chief of a distant human colony called Frontios in Doctor Who's 21st series. Brazen died heroically while helping the Doctor escape. Gilmore made his last stage appearance in 1987 in Michael Frayn's Noises Off and his last screen one in the 1996 television movie On Dangerous Ground.
Date of Birth: 4 February 1923, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Birth Name: Conrad Stafford Bain
Nicknames: Conrad Bain
The actor Conrad Bain, who has died aged 89, found fame in middle age in the sitcom Different Strokes (1978-86). As Phillip Drummond, a white millionaire who fosters, who then adopts two orphaned black brothers, Bain was the straight man to the diminutive, wisecracking Gary Coleman, who played Arnold, the younger of the two boys. When his one-time housekeeper dies, the kindly widower Drummond takes Arnold and his brother, Willis (Todd Bridges), from their Harlem ghetto to his luxury Manhattan penthouse and brings them up with his daughter, Kimberly (Dana Plato).
Different Strokes tackled racial issues with humour and was courageous in confronting taboo subjects such as drugs, bulimia, sexual assault and paedophilia. The sitcom was devised as a vehicle for both Coleman, who had been spotted in television commercials, and Bain, following his co-starring role in the series Maude (1972-78) as Dr Arthur Harmon, the stuffy, conservative neighbour of the much-married title character, played by Bea Arthur.
Bain outlived two of his three screen children from Different Strokes. Coleman, who faced charges of assault and disorderly conduct, died of a brain haemorrhage aged 42; Plato died of a drug overdose aged 34. Bridges underwent treatment for drug addiction. Bain told interviewers that he found it difficult to talk about the trio's troubles because of his love for them.
Bain and his twin brother, Bonar, were born in Lethbridge, Alberta, in Canada. He attended Western Canada high school, Calgary, where he was a founding member of the Workshop 14 amateur theatre group, which later evolved into Theatre Calgary. After studying at the Banff School of Fine Arts (now the Banff Centre) in Alberta, he served in the Canadian army during the second world war. Moving to the US in 1946, he became a naturalised American citizen and trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York (1946-48).
After years with repertory companies, Bain played Larry Slade in the off-Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh (Circle in the Square, 1956) and made his Broadway debut in the short lived comedy Sixth Finger in a Five Finger Glove (Longacre theatre, 1956). He also took several roles in the original, disastrous Broadway production of the Leonard Bernstein operetta Candide (Martin Beck theatre, 1956-57). He returned to Canada for a 1958 season with the Stratford Shakespeare festival in which he played the Earl of Northumberland in Henry IV, Part I, Antonio in Much Ado About Nothing and Antigonus in The Winter's Tale.
Although he first appeared on TV in 1952, Bain did not find regular screen work until the second half of the 1960s. From 1966 he played Mr Wells, the clerk at the Collinsport Inn, in the series Dark Shadows until the character was killed by a werewolf in 1968. There were various one-off character roles before wider recognition came with Maude, in which he was cast by the sitcom's creator, Norman Lear, who remembered him unsuccessfully auditioning for a role in Lear's 1971 film Cold Turkey.
Bain reprised his Different Strokes role in the first episode of the spin-off The Facts of Life (1979) which transferred Drummond's housekeeper, Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), to a girls' school – and in the final episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1996). When Different Strokes ended, he played the presidential aide Charlie Ross, alongside George C Scott, in the sitcom Mr President (1987-88). His last television appearance was as a priest in the detective drama Unforgettable (2011).
Bain's films included Coogan's Bluff (1968), starring Clint Eastwood; Woody Allen's Bananas (1971); The Anderson Tapes (1971); and Postcards from the Edge (1990).
He was an organiser and the first president of the Actors Federal Credit Union, a co-operative set up in 1962 to help those in his profession secure credit.
Date of Birth: 28 April 1922, Kentish Town, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Violet Yeomans
Nicknames: Violet Phipott
Violet Philpott was a puppeteer best known for her work on the 1970s television children’s series Rainbow, for which she created the character Zippy.
With his huge zippered mouth, the know it all Zippy character was one of a mischievous oddball trio the others were a pink hippo called George and a big bear named Bungle who contributed to the programme’s general mayhem.
Zippy was a typical Violet Philpott creation: she always experimented with new materials and techniques to devise puppet characters, often working with polystyrene, polythene, plastics, and resins.
In 1963 she had been one of the creative figures behind The Telegoons, BBC Television’s adaptation of radio’s The Goon Show, bringing characters such as Major Bloodnok and Bluebottle to the screen. Violet Philpott was involved in the making of many of the Telegoon marionettes, and worked on the series for 15 episodes.
In 1972 she created Zippy for Thames Television’s pre-school children’s show Rainbow, the first British programme to feature significant interaction between puppets and humans.
Although the series ran for more than 20 years, Violet Philpott was forced to withdraw as the character’s operator after the first season because of a back injury sustained on account of having to adopt an awkward position every time Zippy appeared through a window.
With Mary Jean McNeil, she produced The KnowHow Book of Puppets (1975) that showed children how to produce puppet shows.
She was born Violet Yeomans on April 28 1922 in Kentish Town, north London. Her parents divorced when she was seven, and for two years she lived with her father, a pub entertainer, before returning to her mother. At St Martin’s School of Art she discovered a talent for puppetry and met her future husband AR Philpott, known professionally as Pantopuck the Puppet Man.
Theosophists, vegetarians and pacifists, the couple shared their home in Dartmouth Park with the painter Morris Cox (known as Mog), founder of the Gogmagog Press, and his wife, Wyn.
Using junk material, Violet Philpott made puppets to entertain children at the annual Punch and Judy festivals in St Paul’s, the actors’ church in Covent Garden, and worked with the young Emma and Sophie Thompson in a Children’s Theatre Workshop production in the Devon village of Dittisham.
Violet Philpott founded the Charivari Puppets, and in 1971 the Cap and Bells Puppet Theatre. Many of her live shows featured the adventures of a baby marsupial called Bandicoot to which she gave a distinctively comical voice. While touring with Bandicoot in Spain, a kindly woman put her up in what turned out to be a bordello.
She became a regular visiting artist at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, where her puppet adaptations of The Ugly Duckling and The Elves and the Shoemaker are still part of the repertoire. From the early 1970s she also performed as Boo the Clown.
A lifelong advocate of the therapeutic uses of puppetry, and a dedicated supporter of the Educational Puppetry Association (founded by her husband in 1943 and amalgamated with the Puppet Centre Trust in 1978), she regularly ran workshops and gave performances for disabled and disadvantaged people.
As well as being a creative puppeteer, she wrote poetry and stories.
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: 3 July 1940, St. Louis, Missouri, US
Birth Name: Fontella Bass
Rescue Me has been described as the best record Aretha Franklin never made. This is a somewhat backhanded compliment to Fontella Bass, whose insistent gospel-tinged vocals graced the 1965 single. As none of her other records emulated Rescue Me's commercial success, Bass, who has died of complications from a heart attack aged 72, was sometimes regarded as a one-hit wonder. However, she embraced a wide range of music during her career, including sacred songs and the politically and artistically radical free jazz of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
She was born in St Louis, Missouri, into a highly musical family. Both her mother, Martha, and her grandmother were professional gospel singers. From an early age, Fontella sang in public and learned piano and organ. She toured with Martha who was a featured soloist with the Clara Ward Singers, one of the most respected groups on the gospel music circuit.
As a teenager, Bass felt the pull of the secular sounds of jazz and R&B. After graduating from Soldan high school in St Louis, she took her first professional jobs with the bands of Little Milton and Oliver Sain. Among her colleagues was the trumpeter Lester Bowie, whom Bass married in 1969.
A duet that she recorded with Bobby McClure, Don't Mess Up a Good Thing, led to a solo recording session for Chess Records in Chicago. The final song of the session was Rescue Me. The arrangement was improvised on the spot by the producer Billy Davis and the musicians. The bass guitar player Louis Satterfield came up with the hypnotic figure that opens the track, while Davis created the memorable ending in which each instrumentalist drops out in turn, leaving Bass to complete the song a capella.
Rescue Me rose quickly to No 4 in the American charts. In the UK, an appearance by Bass on ‘Ready Steady Go!’ helped the record reach No 11 in 1965. Another single, Recovery, also sold well the following year, but only made No 32 in the UK. Bass became embroiled in an argument about money with the record company and unsuccessfully sought to be recognised as the co-writer of Rescue Me. In the early 1990s, she had more luck in challenging the use of the recording without her permission in an American Express commercial.
In 1969, Bowie and what would become known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago decided to move to Paris to seek a European audience. Bass joined them, adding piano and vocals to the group's performance art approach to collective improvisation. She is featured on two albums made by the ensemble in France in 1970.
When they returned to St Louis the following year, Bass made further soul records before devoting herself to raising her four children. She later returned to the stage, playing gospel shows and R&B events. She recorded occasionally with Bowie and in 1980 released an album of religious music, From the Root to the Source, recorded with her mother and her younger brother, the soul and gospel singer David Peaston. Her 1995 album No Ways Tired was nominated for a Grammy.
Bass remained popular in Europe, where she toured occasionally, and she made a memorable appearance at the Womad festival in the UK in 2001. She was also sought out by young producers such as Jason Swinscoe of the electro-jazz group Cinematic Orchestra. When Swinscoe travelled to St Louis in 2007 to record vocals by Bass, he found her in poor health, having suffered a series of strokes.
Date of Birth: 14 April 1929, Bloomsbury, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Gerald Alexander Anderson
Nicknames: Gerry Anderson
Gerry Anderson, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was the main mover behind a number of puppet series commissioned by Lew Grade's Independent Television Corporation. They made the company a fortune from the space age: perhaps the best known was Thunderbirds (1965-66), and among the others were Fireball XL5 (1962-63), Stingray (1964) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68).
Anderson embarked on Thunderbirds in 1964. For Grade, international sales particularly into the US market – were a key concern. So Thunderbirds focused on the Tracy brothers, with first names borrowed from the US astronauts Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Gordon Cooper. Enormously popular in its time, the series is still being repeated today.
Scott and the others were members of International Rescue, based on a south Pacific Island, set up, in a nod to the Bonanza western series, by their father, former astronaut Jeff Tracy. Thus did the brothers, with their motto "Thunderbirds are go!", fight fires in mines and villains in Monte Carlo, rescue solarnauts from the sun, quench blazing gasfields and take on the evil of The Hood, a villainous mastermind operating from a Malaysian jungle temple over some 32 episodes. The British featured with aristo blonde bombshell Lady Penelope (voiced by, and modelled on, Anderson's then wife Sylvia Thamm) and Parker, Cockney butler-cum-chauffeur of Penelope's 21st-century Rolls-Royce, FAB 1.
The pre-ITV world of the early 50s had been one of puppets such as Muffin the Mule and the Flowerpot Men, a mirror for a Britain on extremely visible strings. Rocket men, on BBC radio, Radio Luxembourg and in the Eagle comic, meant Dan Dare and Jet Morgan recycled Biggles and Battle of Britain pilots. After Anderson, they were destined for the galactic dole queue, just as Eagle's demise was hastened by the arrival of Anderson spin-offs such as TV Century 21 (1965-71). "Everything we did," Anderson told his biographers Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn, in What Made Thunderbirds Go! (2002), "was in an endeavour to sell to America," and Grade spectacularly achieved that with Fireball XL5, a US network sale to NBC. Thunderbirds, shown across the world and more than a dozen times on British TV, is the show that defines the Anderson achievement, yet never attracted a US network.
There was also the merchandising, for all the hit Anderson series, but spectacularly for Thunderbirds. While listening to the Royal Netherlands Air Force's rendition of the theme tune, the consumer could contemplate the purchase of the Dinky Toy FAB 1. There was a (very) minor hit record for Fireball XL5 and, beyond toys, wrote Chris Bentley in The Complete Gerry Anderson (2003), there were "clothing, toiletries, crockery, bedding, soft furnishings, ornaments, stationery, confectionery and baked beans".
Grade and Anderson's collaboration began in 1960, in the wake of the latter's western series for children, Four Feather Falls. Anderson proposed Supercar, featuring just before astronauts took off a test pilot hero from Arizona, Mike Mercury. Grade slashed Anderson's projected budget by a third, commissioned 39 episodes, and sold the series to the US, where it was a huge hit. That year, Anderson married Sylvia, beginning their tempestuous creative partnership.
Two years later, as Fireball XL5 was going to NBC, Grade's Associated Television (ATV) purchased Anderson's company, Anderson Provis Films (APF). The deal enriched Anderson, and left him, Grade aside, in creative control. In October 1964 Stingray, with Captain Troy Tempest of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, battling, among others, Titan, ruler of Titanica, waded ashore on ITV and netted ITC millions worldwide. After Thunderbirds came Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, and then Joe 90 (1968), which was erratically broadcast or not around the ITV network.
However, the moment seemed to have passed: television appeared clogged up with Anderson's Supermarionation puppets. Two Thunderbird movies had flopped; the tide was ebbing.
Anderson was born in London, the younger son of Deborah and Joseph Abrahams. Joseph's parents were Jews from eastern Europe. Deborah Leonoff's background mixed Jewish and Cornish roots. Their vituperative marriage gave Anderson an unhappy childhood. His father was a socialist, increasingly debt-ridden and trapped in low-paid jobs. The family gravitated from Willesden Green to penury in Kilburn, and then on to Neasden. In the face of the commonplace antisemitism of the times, mother and son, prevailing over Joseph, had the family surname changed to Anderson.
Gerry was educated at Kingsgate infants school in Kilburn and Braintcroft junior and senior schools in Neasden. Puppetry did not feature indeed, he preferred knitting. Escape was provided in the front stalls at the Kilburn State and Grange cinemas, facing each other across the Kilburn high road. He won a scholarship to Willesden county secondary school and became a chain smoker. The death of his Mosquito pilot brother, Lionel, on active service in 1944 devastated the family. Anderson enrolled at the local polytechnic, flirted with a career in architecture, and developed an aptitude for plaster modelling, which triggered dermatitis.
Then a friend invited him to the Pathé laboratories at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, and Anderson the moviegoer became intrigued by film. At the end of the war he became a trainee at the Colonial Film Unit, before joining Gainsborough Pictures as an assistant editor. Work on two bodice rippers, Caravan (1946) and Jassy (1947), and a thriller, Snowbound (1948), was followed by a posting as an RAF radio operator. By 1950, he was a freelance dubbing editor. The films included The Clouded Yellow (1950) with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons, Appointment in London (1953) with Dirk Bogarde, A Prize of Gold (1955) with Richard Widmark and Mai Zetterling, and Devil Girl from Mars (1954). It was a journeyman's career path, in a then declining industry.
In the mid-50s, commercial TV arrived. Anderson and Arthur Provis, a camera operator, set up Pentagon Films, whose recruits included Sylvia as a secretary. After Pentagon went bust came APF, which struggled until commissioned to produce a 52-part, 15-minute puppet series, The Adventures of Twizzle (1957-58). This was followed by Torchy the Battery Boy (1959-60). The wild west was big on late 50s British TV, via shows such as Wagon Train and Wells Fargo. APF came up with Four Feather Falls. Nicholas Parsons voiced, and Michael Holliday sang, Sheriff Tex Tucker. Bought by Granada, the programme debuted on ITV in February 1960. Tucker, his English-accented horse Rocky (Kenneth Connor), his dog Dusty and Pedro the villainous bandit rode into British children's teatime to be followed by Supercar.
In 1960 Anderson had produced and directed the B-movie Crossroads to Crime. At the other end of the decade, alongside a late and ill-starred puppet-live action series The Secret Service (1969), he produced the science fiction movie Doppelgänger. The live action TV series UFO (1970), The Protectors (1972-74) and Space 1999 (1975-78) followed. None greatly prospered.
In 1975, financially battered, and in the era before video sales, Anderson sold off his share of APF royalties. That year, too, he and Sylvia separated. Soon his relationship with ATV, in decline since the late 60s, ended. Anderson's finances were collapsing; his career reached its nadir before signs of revival in the 80s.
From the 1990s onwards the work of Anderson and the group of gifted puppeteers and film-makers he had worked with in 1960s Slough was rediscovered. There were conventions, live shows and repeat showings. Anderson developed other projects, but nothing really compared with those strange times and the mystery of Supermarionation, credited from the later episodes of Supercar.
Not that there was a mystery: it was the product, as the 60s advanced, of increasingly sophisticated and expensive technique. Just as the Wizard of Oz turned out to be a man behind a curtain, so Supermarionation merely combined the words "super", "marionette" and "animation". "It didn't mean," Anderson told Archer and Hearn, "anything other than that."
He was appointed an MBE in 2001. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters from his first marriage, a son from his second, and a son from his third.
Date of Birth: 27 April 1922, Philadelphia, US
Birth Name: Jacob (Jack) Joachim Klugman
Nicknames: Jack Klugman
As Quincy, Klugman played a hyperactive, fractious coroner in Los Angeles County who typically questions an apparently natural death, bringing him into conflict with his boss and when he starts to play private detective with the police; eventually Quincy proves that the case is murder, and proceeds to solve it. Later episodes of the series began to address social issues such as the dumping of hazardous waste, airline safety and the multiplicity of handguns.
The character of Quincy is often said to have been based on Thomas Noguchi, the real-life chief medical examiner for Los Angeles County who was known as “Coroner to the Stars”. He performed or oversaw post mortems on celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood and Robert F Kennedy.
The show starring Klugman was made in the 1970s and 1980s, and was an ancestor of programmes such as Silent Witness (the British series about a team of crack pathologists) and the American CSI, which suggests that no crime is beyond the investigative skills of forensic science.
Jacob (Jack) Joachim Klugman was born on April 27 1922 in Philadelphia. His father was a house painter who died young, and to make ends meet his mother made hats in her kitchen; the smart ladies of Philadelphia would arrive at the Klugman house by chauffeur-driven limousine to buy them. Meanwhile, Jack sold goods on behalf of vendors who were wary of venturing into the less salubrious areas of the city. He later observed: “Poverty can teach lessons that privilege cannot.”
Klugman served in the US Army in the Second World War, after which he took to gambling, later claiming that this led to his embarking on a career as an actor: “I owed a loan shark, who was also a friend, some money. I couldn’t pay him, so he turned the debt over to a couple of guys who were going to hurt me a little bit. I had to get out of town. Since I had the GI bill, I remembered my brother knew a guy in the Army who had been to Carnegie Mellon University, so I went there.” He enrolled in the drama department, only to be told by his tutor: “You’re not suited to be an actor. You’re more suited, Mr Klugman, to be a truck driver. Not that there’s anything wrong with truck drivers, but you’re really not ready for this.”
But Klugman persisted, and in 1949 made his (unpaid) stage debut at the Equity Liberty Theatre in New York. At this time he was sharing a room with the young Charles Bronson; continually short of funds, Klugman sometimes sold his blood for £3.12 a pint.
In 1957 he landed the part of juror number five in the film 12 Angry Men, starring Lee J Cobb and Henry Fonda (Klugman was the last survivor among the “jurors” in that picture), and finally broke into television, appearing in shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.
He won an Emmy for his performance in The Defenders, and then, in 1970, came one of the roles for which he is most remembered that of the newly-divorced sportswriter Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple. Madison shares an apartment with Felix Unger (Tony Randall), a photographer who is also recently divorced. Unger is neurotically tidy, Madison a slob. The show was a huge hit, and Klugman won two Emmies. He also starred in the original Broadway production of The Odd Couple, before being replaced by Walter Matthau; and in 2005 he published Tony And Me: A Story of Friendship, a book about his long friendship with his series co-star Randall.
Among the films in which Klugman appeared were Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and Goodbye, Columbus (1969). Although not a good singer, he won a Tony Award in 1960 for Best Supporting Actor (Musical) for his role in Gypsy. In 1993 he appeared on a special “celebrity versus regulars” version of the British quiz show Going for Gold, emerging as the series winner.
Klugman was a heavy smoker, a habit which probably contributed to his contracting cancer of the larynx in 1974. After treatment he was able to continue acting but he did not stop smoking, and the cancer returned. In 1989 he underwent further surgery, which involved the removal of his right vocal cord. It was some years before he regained his voice, although it returned as a hoarse rasp.
Among his passions was horse racing, and his horse Jaklin Klugman was voted the 1980 California Horse of the Year after winning several races, including the 1980 California Derby, and finishing third in the Kentucky Derby.
In 2008 it was reported that he was suing NBC Television over what he alleged were missing profits from Quincy.
Jack Klugman had two sons from his marriage to Brett Somers, whom he married in 1953. They separated in 1974, but never divorced; she died in 2007. Klugman had lived with Peggy Crosby (the ex-wife of Bing Crosby’s son, Philip) since 1988, and they finally married in February 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: 17 September 1920, Hampstead, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Dinah Mec
Nicknames: Dinah Sheridan
Dinah Sheridan was a graceful actress fondly remembered for her performances in two of the most thoroughly British, good-natured and popular comedies in modern screen history Genevieve (1953) and The Railway Children (1970).
In the first she played the wife of a vintage car enthusiast and perched prettily but unenthusiastically atop a 1904 Darracq (named Genevieve) which is driven from London to Brighton by her dull barrister husband Alan (John Gregson). The journey is riddled with mishap, and on the return leg they try to beat another couple in a race back to Westminster.
Subtly deploying her smiling mouth and high cheekbones to express doubts about the sort of Englishman who puts more emotion and sincerity into the running of his car than his marriage, Dinah Sheridan’s comic instinct and control were precise and stylish. When the girlfriend of her husband’s racing rival confides that her escort “only thinks about cars and the other thing”, Dinah Sheridan, without batting an eyelid, replies: “Alan only thinks about cars.”
Genevieve proved hugely popular, and won a Bafta for best film.
Dinah Sheridan was then in the prime of her career, having made two dozen films. But having tasted success, she married John Davis, her boss at the Rank Organisation, and promptly had 13 years of retirement imposed upon her. It was only following her separation from Davis, her second husband, that she began acting again. Then, after bringing wit and elegance to a succession of West End comedies, farces and thrillers, she picked up on-screen where she had left off, joining the cast of another huge hit, Lionel Jeffries’s The Railway Children.
Taken from an Edwardian story by E Nesbit about a mother and her three children adapting to straitened circumstances in the Yorkshire countryside after the father, a Foreign Office official, is wrongly convicted of treachery, the film is best-remembered for the adventures of city-bred children exploring a new life in the countryside. None the less, Dinah Sheridan achieved through restraint an affecting emotional eloquence that was crucial to the film’s appeal.
She was born Dinah Mec on September 17 1920 at Hampstead Garden Suburb. A sickly child, she contracted tuberculosis at the age of five. “I was pushed around in a spinal carriage until I was well enough to learn to walk again at age six and a half,” she recalled.
Her father was Russian, while before the war her German mother ran a photographic business, for which Dinah posed willingly and often from an early age. Later the Royal family became clients, and only the Mecs, under the trading name of Studio Lisa (her mother’s first name), were allowed to photograph the royal pantomimes at Christmas.
Educated at the Italia Conti school of acting, Dinah made her professional debut aged 11 in Where the Rainbow Ends (Holborn Empire, 1932), and proved a particularly lovely Wendy in Peter Pan, a role she played, from the age of 15, at least 100 times. By then she had already appeared in her first feature film, Give My Heart (1935), having perused a telephone directory to select “Sheridan” as a stage name. The following year she was the first actress to broadcast on television from Alexandra Palace, in Picture Page. Her first film lead also came in 1936 with Irish and Proud of It.
After such domestic English epics as Father Steps Out (1937), Merely Mr Hawkins (1938), and Full Speed Ahead (1939) she spent two years during the early part of the war in provincial rep, also driving an ambulance at Welwyn Garden City. Then came such films as Salute John Citizen (1942); Get Cracking (1945, with George Formby); Murder in Reverse (1947); Calling Paul Temple (1948); The Story of Shirley Yorke (1949); The Huggetts Abroad (1949); and Paul Temple’s Triumph (1950).
Despite such regular work, it was not until she played the game warden’s wife in Harry Watt’s film about African wildlife, Where No Vultures Fly (1951), that her acting received wide acknowledgement. And only after further parts, in The Sound Barrier (1952), Appointment in London (1953) and The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953), did she finally achieve in Genevieve stardom.
Success came at the same moment as the end of her 11-year marriage to the actor Jimmy Hanley, with whom she had a son and a daughter. Davis soon proposed on one condition that she give up acting “to have a happy home”.
It was a condition she seemed at first to accept: “I looked at films as a career from necessity but all I have really wanted is my home and children. The two things just do not work out together when one has to leave home at 5.30am in the morning to go to the studio.” Soon things changed. Two years later, in 1956, she resented having to turn down a big part in Reach for the Sky, the biopic about Douglas Bader. “I had promised my husband never to accept another engagement. It was hard. It was not a very happy time for me.”
It was two years after the end of her second marriage in 1965 that she returned to the stage in a drawing room comedy by Hugh and Margaret Williams, Let’s All Go Down the Strand (Phoenix). In it she had the only serious role that of a wife who insists on divorcing her husband after his first sexual lapse. Noting her “promising” comeback to the West End, the Telegraph’s critic WA Darlington praised her as “one of the clearest and best speakers on our stage”. “She had the task of winning our sympathy,” he added, “and brought it off with much charm.”
Subsequent stage productions included A Boston Story (Duchess, 1968); Out of the Question (St Martin’s, 1969); A Touch of Purple (Thorndike, Leatherhead, 1972); Move Over Mrs Markham (Vaudeville, 1972); The Card (Queen’s 1973); The Gentle Hook (Piccadilly, 1974); In the Red (Whitehall, 1977); and a tour of Half Life, which took her to Toronto.
If she rarely grappled with the classics, it was perhaps because she never could evoke persuasively that streak of hardness that goes with many great roles. So it was natural that, as she matured, it was as old flames, obliging widows, demure or indignant wives that she was most appreciated. Her femininity, likeability, integrity and sense of comedy contributed richly to the success of such West End hits as The Pleasure of His Company (Phoenix, 1976), A Murder Is Announced (Vaudeville, 1977) and Present Laughter (1981).
Despite the success of The Railway Children, she only made one more film The Mirror Crack’d, a Miss Marple adaptation starring Angela Lansbury as Agatha Christie’s detective. She did take several television roles, though, and could be seen thereafter in Don’t Wait Up (as Nigel Havers’s mother), and Winning Streak. In the early 1990s she also appeared frequently on the afternoon game show Countdown.
Date of Birth: 21 September 1931, Fort Worth, Texas, US
Birth Name: Larry Martin Hagman
Nicknames: Larry Hagman
On 21 November 1980, 83 million people in the US and 24 million in the UK watched the TV show Dallas to see who had shot the villainous JR Ewing. While working late at the office, the boss of Ewing Oil was suddenly fired on by an unseen assailant. Who shot JR, and would he survive?
Any character who had ever come into contact with the oleaginous Texas oilman had good reason to do away with him, but there was no way he could really have been killed off. If JR had died, then the series would have died, because JR was Dallas – and Larry Hagman, who has died aged 81 after suffering from throat cancer, was JR.
Other actors were at times replaced in their roles, but Hagman was irreplaceable. Nevertheless, just in case, Hagman quickly renegotiated his contract with Lorimar Studios just after the episode in which he was shot, securing an annual salary of around £0.62m. JR thus survived the attempt on his life, and continued his scheming ways for another 10 seasons.
One should not underestimate Hagman's achievement in becoming the man the whole world loved to hate, the focal character of this progressively preposterous soap opera. With his bug eyes, smarmy grin and dicey hairpiece, Hagman generated a certain lethal charm as he went about betraying trusts and manipulating innocent people. He was Machiavelli in a Stetson, the evil face of capitalism though, according to Hagman, "JR has lost Ewing Oil more than £9.98m."
Hagman, nominated twice for an Emmy award, though he never won, was the only member of the cast to be in all 357 episodes of Dallas from 1978 to 1991. Ironically, nothing in his previous acting career had indicated Hagman was other than a competent light-comedy actor whose fame would be strictly limited, despite being the son of Mary Martin, known as the "first lady of the Broadway musical".
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, he was brought up for a while by his grandmother after his parents divorced when he was five; he was then shunted between his mother and his district attorney father, Benjamin Hagman, and was moved around various private schools and psychotherapists.
At the age of 20, Hagman moved to London as a member of the chorus of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, which starred his mother as Nellie Forbush, the role she created on Broadway. Hagman and Sean Connery, a year older, were among the shirtless sailors who sang There Is Nothing Like a Dame.
After a year at Drury Lane, Hagman joined the US air force. Four years later he resumed his acting career in earnest, getting roles on television and in films. Hagman made little impression in his first Hollywood movies, as servicemen in Joshua Logan's Ensign Pulver (1964) and in Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way (1965). However, he was very good playing weak men in two Sidney Lumet films: as the US president's nervous Russian interpreter in the nuclear scare story Fail-Safe (1964), and as Joanna Pettet's playwright husband with a penchant for wine and women in The Group (1966).
In Harry and Tonto (1974), he was the selfish, whining son of retired teacher Art Carney. He hammed it up as an incompetent, gung-ho American colonel in The Eagle Has Landed (1976), and as a caricatured Hollywood studio executive in Blake Edwards's S.O.B. (1981).
But it was television that was the foundation of his career. Hagman had scores of TV appearances. His first real success came in I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70), in which he played a befuddled bachelor astronaut who finds himself master of a glamorous, 2,000-year-old genie (Barbara Eden). Continuing to display a deft light touch, Hagman went on to appear in other mildly amusing sitcoms.
Then came the long-running Dallas, which Variety initially called "a limited series with a limited future". Robert Foxworth was originally cast as JR, but he wanted the role softened too much for the producer's taste, and Hagman was the perspicacious second choice.
Hagman differed from JR in most aspects, being amiable and modest, though his liking for practical jokes and dressing up in different guises, such as an English bobby or French foreign legionnaire, gained him the nickname "Wacky Larry" and "The Mad Monk of Malibu". He was, like JR, a heavy drinker, which led to his developing cirrhosis of the liver; he had a transplant that saved his life. Thereafter, Hagman was active in several organisations that advocated organ donation and transplantation. A passionate non-smoker, he also served as the chairperson of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, from 1981 to 1992.
In 1996, Hagman reprised his infamous alter ego in a TV special called JR Returns, in which the dysfunctional Ewing family is reunited. Then, acting against type, he showed his range as a benevolent judge in Orleans (1997). Among Hagman's few later feature films was Mike Nichols's Primary Colors (1998), in which Hagman was convincing as a populist, plain-speaking Florida governor. Hagman himself, a member of the Peace and Freedom party, once described fellow Texan George Bush as "a sad figure, not too well educated, who doesn't get out of America much. He's leading the country towards fascism."
In recent years, Hagman became a prominent campaigner for alternative energy, transforming his California home into one of the world's biggest solar-powered estates. He revelled in the paradox of TV's most famous oil man driving an electric car, and his disgust with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill led him to agree to star as JR in a SolarWorld TV advert, in which he parodied vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's use of the phrase "Drill, baby, drill" with the pro-solar slogan "Shine, baby, shine".
Though he appeared in a couple of 2011 episodes of Desperate Housewives, Hagman largely retired from acting. Nonetheless, earlier this year he joined co-stars Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy in a new 10-episode season of Dallas, adding a further generation to the troubled family and its business.
Date of Birth: 4 April 1941, Ardwich, Manchester, England, UK
Birth Name: William Cleworth-Piddington
Nicknames: Bill Tarmey
Bill Tarmey made his name as Jack Duckworth, the endearingly lazy husband of the nagging motormouth Vera Duckworth, played by Liz Dawn, in Granada television's Coronation Street. The former asphalt spreader began with the long-running soap as an extra in the mid-1970s, and came into his own as Duckworth in 1979. This was five years after Dawn joined the cast, and it soon helped to create a character duo that was stronger than the sum of its parts.
Vera and Jack met at Gail and Brian Tilsley's wedding. Jack later became a cellar man at the Rovers Return, whose other stalwarts at the time included Hilda Ogden and Bet Lynch, played by Jean Alexander and Julie Goodyear. The health problems of his son, Carl, led to Tarmey's departure from the series in November 2010, in a touching and memorable finale.
Dawn started to become seriously ill with emphysema in the 1990s. When she found it difficult to get out of a chair, Tarmey would modify the script so that he walked over to her instead of vice-versa.
Tarmey himself had struggled with health problems throughout his time on the programme. He had a coronary in 1976, a stroke in 1977, a bypass operation in 1986, and in 2002 a second heart attack, after which a pacemaker was fitted. He also developed sleep apnoea, disrupting his breathing while asleep.
He and his screen wife had followed similar career paths. Both began by singing in pubs, but whereas Dawn gave up smoking after a 30-a-day habit lasting 55 years, Tarmey persisted. He once said that he could make it easier for himself if he gave up smoking: "I could sit in a rocking chair. But that wouldn't be me. That would kill me sooner than the old ticker. If I die tomorrow, they'll have to prise the smile off my face because I've had such a good life."
Even in the 1990s, Tarmey carried on singing in his local pub in Ashton-under-Lyne, near Manchester. He maintained that after the doctors had "regulated" his problems, no one need worry, though regretted the effect on his wife when he went to bed in a breathing contraption, "looking and sounding like an alien".
Another thing that he and his screen wife had in common was an unapologetic belief that they were not really actors. "I'm just an ordinary guy who got really lucky," he maintained. "I have two terrific children and six wonderful grandchildren."
In 2006 his sudden announcement that he was thinking of retiring prompted many protest letters from fans. When he relented, Granada TV announced that both he and Dawn had signed new contracts.
The sometimes stoically grizzled and bemused-looking Tarmey was born William Piddington in Manchester. His father, an army ambulance driver during the second world war, was killed in 1944 at the Battle of Arnhem. Shortly afterwards, Bill's mother married their next door neighbour, Bob Cleworth. This caused Bill, who adored his stepfather, to change his name by deed poll to Cleworth-Piddington in 1992.
His stage name of Bill Tarmey came from appearing at a club in Stockport where the manager insisted that Bill Piddington was too long to go on a poster. He had wanted to give him the surname of the singer Mel Tormé, but misspelled it as Tarmey.
He met his future wife, Alma, when both were 14 and attending the same school in Manchester. They lost touch until 1963, when she began coming to the church that Tarmey's Lads Brigade was attached to, and were married just before his 21st birthday.
Tarmey did not succeed at school. He left at 15 and then went to night school and a building college to get his City and Guilds qualification in construction, and was apprenticed to a building firm, for which he worked as an asphalter.
But he had not been a complete stranger to the performing arts. From the age of four, his grandmother taught him to harmonise, and by the time he was nine he was appearing with a singing group called the Songsters, who performed for local charities. In the 1950s he was in a skiffle band, playing in pubs while also working in his in-laws' greengrocery.
While he was still in the building trade, his wife persuaded him to sing in pubs and clubs. He accepted the challenge, though did not warm to the occasions when he found himself upstaged by the bingo caller.
Always devoted to Alma, he sang the song The Wind Beneath My Wings when he featured on the TV show This Is Your Life in 1992. Colleagues from the cast of Coronation Street in the studio were reduced to tears.
He started in television when a friend encouraged him to seek work as an extra, getting small speaking parts in series such as Crown Court, Strangers, The Ghosts of Motley Hall and The Glamour Girls. In a BBC Play for Today about a black pudding festival, Thicker than Water (1980), he played a slaughterer, and in the series Rising Star he sang with his own group, Take Ten.
An opportunity to expand his range came in King Lear with Laurence Olivier, in a production commissioned from Granada for Channel 4 in 1983. His agent had been asked whether Tarmey rode a horse. Of course he did, the agent replied. In fact, Tarmey's only relevant experience had been riding a donkey on Blackpool beach when he was four. Tarmey practised for 10 days before the first rehearsal with Olivier. The horse reared and bolted, and the last thing Tarmey remembered of the scene was Olivier saying fatalistically: "Bye, Bill."
In Coronation Street, he had a brief speaking part as Jack Rowe in 1978, and the following year reappeared, now as Jack Duckworth. The idle Stan Ogden was written out of the script, but Tarmey soon established himself as a substitute national anti-hero and helped stabilise the show.
Bill Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since it started, said: "He was the downtrodden loveable rogue who never got anything right but was loved by everyone. This was down to Bill's skills as an actor. He had amazing comic timing and was a genuinely warm and wonderful human being."
In 1989, the year of his appearance in the Royal Variety Performance with Dawn, the two of them released a single of I'll Be With You Soon. In 1993 he made another single, One Voice, for charity, with the St Winifred's School Choir, from Stockport. He produced an autobiography, Jack Duckworth and Me: My Life on the Street and Other Adventures, in 2010.
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).
Date of Birth: 26 June 1946 , Harrow, Middlesex, England, UK
Birth Name: Michael Hugh Saunderson Morris
Nicknames: Mike Morris
As a presenter at TV-am, Mike Morris was distinctive on screen for his prominent moustache and relaxed manner. Along with the puppet Roland Rat, this laid-back style was adopted more widely by TV-am, ITV's first breakfast television franchise holder, and proved successful, following the failure of its initial presenting line-up and the so-called Famous Five, that attracted audiences.
The big guns of David Frost, Anna Ford, Robert Kee, Angela Rippon and Michael Parkinson, with their high-brow approach, were firmly rejected by viewers, who opted instead to watch Selina Scott and Frank Bough on the BBC's Breakfast Time. The BBC show was lighter in style and gained an advantage by going on air 15 days ahead of TV-am's Good Morning Britain and Daybreak programmes in 1983, the year in which both the BBC and ITV launched breakfast television. As a result, Ford and Rippon left and Anne Diamond and Nick Owen became the main faces of TV-am.
Morris started as a sports presenter at TV-am and was host of the Saturday version of Good Morning Britain before becoming a main presenter in 1987. Three years later, he conducted the first live British television interview with Nelson Mandela following the ANC leader's release from prison. TV-am lost its franchise at the end of 1992, but Morris went on to host the new company GMTV's Sunday Best programme (1993-94), then finished his career in regional television.
Born in Harrow, Middlesex, Morris was brought up in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, attended St Paul's school, London, and gained a BA in English and American literature from Manchester University. He entered journalism on the Surrey Comet in 1969, was bulletins editor for the Sydney-based news agency AAP Reuters and, in 1974, became a sports reporter with United Newspapers, rising to the rank of sports editor.
Switching to television in 1979, Morris was a subeditor and reporter on the ITV London weekday programme Thames News before his move to TV-am, where he had the distinction of co-presenting its final programme, with Lorraine Kelly.
He also had a brief spell at the cable channel Wire TV, touring Britain in a bright yellow bus converted into an outside broadcast unit and spending a week at a time in different places. The channel closed in 1995.
The following year, Morris joined Yorkshire Television (now ITV Yorkshire) as a presenter of the regional news programme Calendar. The night before being interviewed for the job, his clothes were stolen from his car, so the wardrobe department dressed him in one of Richard Whiteley's suits.
Margaret Emsley, head of news at ITV Yorkshire, says: "He had such an easy manner on air but would terrify producers by refusing to come on set until just a few minutes before transmission. There was always laughter in the newsroom when Mike was around. He was gloriously irreverent and a master of comic timing. He loved to clown around but was a very intelligent man who was always a delight to be with."
Commuting weekly from his home in Surrey, Morris stayed in Leeds while working, but left Calendar in 2002. Although his television career had finished, he remained an avid viewer of sport.
Date of Birth: 3 December 1927, Wall Lake, Iowa, US
Birth Name: Howard Andrew
Nicknames: Andy Williams
Through the popularity of his television show and his mellifluous tenor voice, Andy Williams, who has died aged 84 after suffering from bladder cancer, was one of the best-loved figures in American popular culture. In a career that spanned eight decades, he sold more than 100m albums. Ronald Reagan described Williams's distinctive voice as a "national treasure".
The Andy Williams Show was also a favourite on British television and he had numerous UK hits in the 1960s and 70s. Among the biggest were Can't Get Used to Losing You (1963), Can't Help Falling in Love (1970) and Where Do I Begin (1971), the theme from the 1970 film Love Story.
Williams's British career was revived in 1998 when his 30-year-old hit Can't Take My Eyes Off You was used in a commercial for Peugeot cars. Soon, a Fiat advertisement revived Music to Watch Girls By, and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (from one of his eight Christmas albums) was chosen for a Marks & Spencer Christmas campaign in 2002. He even appeared in an episode of Strictly Come Dancing in 2009 to sing Moon River.
Williams grew up in Wall Lake, Iowa, the second youngest of six children, to Jay and Florence Williams. His father, a railway worker, arranged for Andy and his three elder brothers, Bob, Don and Dick, to be the choir at the town's Presbyterian church. The quality of their harmonising inspired Jay to train the quartet for a professional career, beginning with performances at weddings and socials. His ambition for the boys led the family to move to Des Moines in 1936 to seek a regular radio show. There, Jay's perfectionism hardened into an obsession: Andy was to claim that his self-confidence was deeply dented by Jay's edict that "you have to practise harder because you're not as good as others out there".
The Williams Brothers were eventually awarded their own 15-minute show on a station where Reagan was a sports reporter. But the family were still not well off, and when the youngest child died of spinal meningitis, the only way the family could pay the funeral costs was for the brothers to sing hymns at the funeral parlour after school for several months.
There were further moves to Chicago and Cincinnati so that the Williams Brothers could perform on more prestigious radio stations, and in 1944 the family uprooted again to Los Angeles. There, Jay Williams, by now his sons' full-time manager, negotiated a studio contract with MGM, which gave the quartet cameo roles in several B movies. He also persuaded Bing Crosby to employ them as backing singers on his hit record Swinging on a Star.
The group broke up as each brother was called up for second world war service – the 17-year-old Andy was briefly in the merchant navy and did not re-form until 1947. They next performed as a cabaret act, appearing in Las Vegas and the Café de Paris in London before splitting up in 1953. The actor and choreographer Kay Thompson then launched Andy on a solo career, which ignited when he landed a job as resident vocalist on Steve Allen's late night television show on NBC (1954-56).
In 1956 he signed a recording contract with Cadence, and the following year had a No 1 hit in both the US and Britain with Butterfly. Although Williams studied Elvis Presley's recordings, he avoided rock'n'roll and had four more top 10 hits with ballads. In 1961 CBS offered him a lucrative record deal.
The 1960s were to be his golden decade. The Andy Williams Show ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971, with consistently high ratings, and he had at least one album in the US top 10 in every year, aided by his musical director, the acclaimed jazz pianist Dave Grusin. The essential blandness of the show was reassuring to middle America, but it introduced new singers, notably the Osmonds, whom Jay Williams had spotted performing at Disneyland, and the fledgling Jackson Five, featuring a seven-year-old Michael.
The popularity of the show kept the crooning Williams afloat during the tidal wave of pop in the 1960s. Also, while contemporaries such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were baritones, Williams, a tenor, shared his vocal range with the Beatles and Beach Boys.
All his albums of the 1960s sold more than one million copies each, with Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses each selling almost 2m. The latter was No 1 in the album charts for 16 weeks in 1963. When his contract with CBS came up for renewal in 1966, his manager, Alan Bernard, negotiated an unprecedented guarantee against royalties of £0.93m. In return, Williams agreed to record 15 albums over the next five years.
The formula for his albums was carefully calculated to attract fans of the television show. Williams seldom recorded new or unknown songs. Instead, he chose a mix of titles from successful movies, Broadway shows and versions of recent pop hits. Williams and his producer, Bob Mersey, were careful to include material by songwriters of the rock era, albeit their most melodic numbers. Thus, he recorded songs from the pens of Lennon and McCartney (Michelle), Burt Bacharach (Don't You Believe It) and Jim Webb (McArthur Park).
On one occasion, he decided to experiment with a "concept" album of songs by the arranger Mason Williams (no relation), depicting existence from birth to death. Clive Davis, the head of CBS Records, warned him that sales would suffer. After some haggling, the concept songs took up one side of the LP Bridge Over Troubled Water. Davis was proved right and the album sold only half a million copies.
The loss of his television show led to falling record sales for Williams in the early 1970s. However, his celebrity enabled him to play lucrative concerts and cabaret engagements throughout the US and Europe. In 1992 he opened his own Moon River theatre in Branson, Missouri, where he appeared for several months each year.
Although he was a lifelong Republican, Williams became a close friend of Robert and Ethel Kennedy in the mid-60s. He was present when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles during the 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination. Williams sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the funeral and voted for George McGovern at the Democratic party convention, having been nominated as a delegate by Kennedy. More in keeping with his political convictions was his outspoken criticism of Barack Obama, and he allowed the rightwing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh to broadcast his recording of Born Free with added gunshot sounds. Sony Music (now the owner of CBS Records) forced Limbaugh to remove it.
Williams was married twice. He had three children, Noelle, Christian and Bobby, named after Robert Kennedy, with his first wife, the singer and dancer Claudine Longet. After their divorce, he was publicly supportive when, following the death of her new partner in a shooting incident, she was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in 1977. He is survived by his second wife, Debbie Haas, and his children.
Date of Birth: 16 October 1922, Rotherhithe, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Walter William Bygraves
Nicknames: Max Bygraves
Max Bygraves was a singer and comedian who became famous for his stage performances, notably in 19 Royal Variety Performances, and went on to lead the market in the kind of foot-tapping nostalgia which characterised his “Singalongamax” recordings.
Millions were charmed by his disarmingly homely delivery of catchphrases such as “I wanna tell you a story”, “I’ve arrived’, “dollar lolly”, and “Big ’Ead” though to many observers, including most press critics, his repartee often seemed insipid and predictable, and the scale of his enduring appeal remained enigmatic.
The ease with which he combined Danny Kaye’s style of intimate yet polite comic delivery with frequent reference to his own deprived childhood in East London, made his stardom seem universally attainable; and the fact that some of his jokes were familiar or mediocre only enhanced this effect. He was, as one critic said, “The boy next door writ large”.
Bygraves was still a soprano when he appeared in Tony Gerrard’s “Go as you Please” talent contest at the New Cross Empire. His rendition of It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today, given while clutching a half-starved mongrel dog whose level of house-training proved unequal to the testing demands of live Variety, was irresistible to the Empire audience.
This success led to Sandy Powell impressions, and precocious performances of songs such as Melancholy Baby. He later observed that audiences “liked nothing more than a kid singing grown-up words”, a formula he was to invert, with great success, with songs like You’re a Pink Toothbrush, I’m a Blue Toothbrush, I’ll Take the Legs From Some Old Table, and Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea.
He was born Walter William Bygraves in Rotherhithe on October 16th 1922, the son of a professional flyweight boxer who then worked on the Surrey Commercial Docks. “Wally” was one of six children brought up in a two-bedroom flat. He would acquire his stage name during the war as a result of his Max Miller impressions, performed in RAF reviews.
In his early teens he supplemented the family income by repairing footwear, and went into the business on his own account during the summer holidays, an early indication of an acute business sense not always found in showbusiness types. Lionel Bart, for instance, sold Bygraves his Oliver score for £350; Bygraves resold the rights for £156,756.65 .
Despite his early success at the New Cross Empire, when he left St Joseph’s School, Paradise Street, it was to become a messenger for WS Crawford’s advertising agency, running copy up and down Fleet Street. He spent the war as a fitter in the RAF, and in 1945 went to work as a carpenter in East Ham. A chance meeting with an RAF contact outside the London Palladium secured an appearance in the BBC variety show They’re Out.
The bandleader Jack Payne heard the programme, and this led to a spot in a new show, For the Fun of It, in which Bygraves starred with Donald Peers and a young Frankie Howerd. In 1950 Jack Parnell and Cissie Williams hired him as a replacement for Ted Ray at the Palladium, a role he filled so successfully that he was back in Argyll Street a few weeks later, appearing with Abbott and Costello at the theatre which was to become, for a number of years, his second home.
He gave his first Royal Variety Performance in November 1950, and was invited to join the radio ventriloquist Peter Brough in Educating Archie, the show which “launched”, among others, Tony Hancock; Bygraves’s then scriptwriter, Eric Sykes; and 14-year-old Julie Andrews, who was ousted from her singing spot when Bygraves arrived.
When he accepted an invitation to spend a month supporting Judy Garland at the Palladium, she was sufficiently impressed to ask him to appear with her at the Palace, New York, where together they sang A Couple of Swells. Notices were generally good and, in some sections of the British press, ecstatic. His performances also won praise from Marlene Dietrich.
Bygraves later said that he considered Judy Garland’s act to be “mediocre because of its simplicity”. He was able, nevertheless, to make the trip to Hollywood for The Judy Garland Show, which led to invitations also accepted to meet Clark Gable and James Mason.
During the 1950s there were numerous stage appearances in Britain, notably in Wonderful Time, and in We’re Having a Ball, which also starred the Kaye Sisters and Joan Regan. Bygraves took some time off from having a ball to write You Need Hands, a song which ran for several months in the Top 20.
The show Do Re Mi brought more success, in Manchester and London in 1961, though many considered him less suited to the role of the self-seeking and unprincipled New Yorker Hubie Cram than its American interpreter, Phil Silvers. In another revue from the early Sixties, Round About Piccadilly, he had a 20-minute spot with his son Anthony, though their partnership was never quite the success he had hoped.
With the arrival of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Bygraves became, seemingly overnight, part of the “Old Guard”. Only two years before the Royal Variety Performance during which he heard John Lennon urge the “expensive seats” to “rattle your jewellery”, he had been appearing in the same event with The Crazy Gang. His response to concentrate on television was typically astute. With writer Spike Mullins, he made Max in 1969, and his relaxed, cosy style adapted well to the small screen, although he still did not convince the serious critics.
At the suggestion of his mother, in 1972 Bygraves recorded an album of songs, including Daisy and If You Were the Only Girl in the World, with relatively sparse arrangements for two pianos and a chorus. Sing Along with Max was an instant success, and the first of a series of recordings which brought him most of his 31 gold discs. By the time the show Singalongamax was produced in London in 1974, the mood was one of wistful reminiscence.
As the youth culture of the Seventies became increasingly unsympathetic to most of Bygraves’s audience, and The Sex Pistols released an irreverent reading of his song You Need Hands, the appeal of such nostalgia only increased.
He continued to appear on television, drawing massive audiences, and in 1983 was appointed OBE. From 1983 to 1985 he hosted the television show Family Fortunes. By the late Eighties, however, there were fewer listeners prepared to “singalongamax”, and his records were banned from peak time broadcasts on the Bournemouth radio station which he partly owned.
He also appeared in several films, including Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951), Spare the Rod (1961), Charlie Moon (1956) and A Cry From The Streets (1958). His novel, The Milkman’s On His Way, concerned a working boy who became the highest-paid pop star in the world. He saw no essential difference between literary and musical inspiration, as he explained on the book’s publication in 1977: “Dickens and all those people used to do it, almost the same thing as we do. Only, of course, without the songs.”
He published several volumes of memoirs, including I Wanna Tell You A Story (1976), After Thoughts (1988) and In His Own Words (1997).
In 2001 Bygraves recorded an album for the Royal British Legion, and four years later he emigrated to Australia.
His wife Gladys (known as “Blossom”), whom he married in 1942, died in 2011, and he is survived by their son and two daughters. He is said to have fathered three other children by three different women.
Date of Birth: 12 August 1946, Marylebone, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Terry Nutkins
Terry Nutkins introduced generations of children to the natural world as a wild-haired presenter of wildlife television programmes, notably Animal Magic and The Really Wild Show.
Neither tarantulas nor big cats held any fears for Nutkins, who delighted in eliciting gasps of excitement or squeals of fear from his youthful studio audiences as he confronted them with the animal stars of the show. Such on-screen ease with creatures stemmed from what he described as his own “instinctive bond with animals”, a bond that formed early in an extraordinary childhood.
Terry Nutkins was born on August 12 1946 in London to John Nutkins, a bricklayer, and his wife Kathleen. He grew up in a small terraced house in Marylebone, central London. Once, while playing truant from school, he spent the day at London Zoo where, by his own account, he vaulted the fence into the elephant compound. The keepers were initially appalled, but Nutkins had found his calling. “When I went to bed I didn’t wash my hands because I liked to smell the elephants on them,” he noted in a recent interview.
Soon Nutkins was accepted by the keepers, even staying for weekends at their lodge. Then, in 1959, the naturalist Gavin Maxwell wrote to the zoo appealing for two young assistants to help him look after his pet otters at his remote home in the Sandaig Islands near Skye.
The post was only meant to last the summer holidays. In fact Terry ended up staying for seven years, spending his teenage years alongside the hard-drinking, homosexual naturalist, who eventually adopted him and the other boy who had responded to the appeal, Jimmy Watt.
It was, Nutkins was happy to concede later, a highly unconventional arrangement, with the boys alone with Maxwell both during the highs of his great literary success, Ring of Bright Water (1960), and also through the lows and financial hardships of the book’s far less popular follow up, The Rocks Remain (1963).
The writer provided his charges with two or three hours of lessons each day. But the boys’ real education was the environment around them, the stags roaring on Skye, the dolphins, the basking sharks, eagles, pine martens and, of course, the otters. If Watt was away, Nutkins “wouldn’t see people for months. It was just the otters and Gavin and me.” But there was never any hint of impropriety: “Maxwell never tried anything funny with us. But I must admit I’d never let any of my kids go off to live with some strange bloke.”
There were downsides. The loneliness was hard to cope with, and the otters themselves were not always easy company. A year after arriving Nutkins was in the house on his own when one, known as Edal, bit at his shoe. “I automatically put my hand down to get her away but she bit my thumb and had that hanging off in a split second. She then got hold of my middle finger on my right hand and started crunching away on it.” Maxwell drove him to Glasgow for treatment, but gangrene set in (“I can remember the smell now,” Nutkins said half a century later) and the boy eventually lost two fingers. Recounting the episode in print, Maxwell described Nutkins lying in a hospital bed and stoutly declaiming: “Chop ’em off, doctor. That ruddy lot’s no good to anyone.” “But,” as Nutkins reflected, “it wasn’t funny at the time, as I was in hospital for a month. I was 14. It was hugely traumatic.”
His upbringing was also hard on his parents: “It devastated my dad letting me go. Still, my folks knew I was happier up in Scotland living with the otters. I didn’t miss home. I only missed the zoo.”
Fired by his enthusiasm, he eventually joined a zoo himself, and by his late 20s had worked his way up to become general manager at Woburn, near Milton Keynes. It was there that he met Johnny Morris, who had presented the children’s series Animal Magic since its launch in 1962. Morris was filming at Woburn Zoo and was so taken with Nutkins’s ebullience that he asked him to join the programme as a presenter.
The two would go on to become very close friends, with Nutkins describing Morris as a “father figure” (In 1999, after his death, Morris left much of his estate to Nutkins, sparking a legal row between Nutkins and Morris’s family).
On screen, Nutkins’s flared jeans, bald pate and floppy fringe made him instantly recognisable, as did his frequent companion Gemini, a sea-lion which Nutkins had hand-reared. Nutkins spent several years in and around the show, which was made in Bristol, before its anthropomorphic style fell out of fashion. While Morris, to his enduring upset, was sidelined, Nutkins was commissioned to come up with a new animal programme for children, which debuted in 1986 as The Really Wild Show.
It was a huge hit, with patrician presenting scrapped in favour of a new, energetic, and decidedly youthful feel. For seven years Nutkins presented the show alongside Chris Packham, Nicola Davies and Sue Dawson, but in 1993 he suffered the same fate as Morris had before him, and was effectively ousted from what he considered his own programme.
His departure marked the last time that he worked with great regularity on television, but was never short of projects afterwards. He tried to run a hotel, and then, in 2000, bought Fort Augustus Abbey, on the banks of Loch Ness. His aim was to turn it into a wildlife resort, with treetop restaurants, a maze, tropical wildlife glass house, and traditional Scottish tea room. Disney was said to be interested.
But the ambitious venture flopped, and by 2006, Nutkins had “no more businesses, no more partners”. The result was “just pure me, doing what I do best”.
This involved, among other things, a programme called My Life as an Animal, in which “celebrities” tried to live for several days alongside farm and zoo animals. One episode, which had a bosomy former model learning to sleep, eat and communicate like a sheepdog, moved a reviewer to describe the series as “Terry Nutkins’s bonkers show”.
Nutkins himself was not always complimentary about other presenters. He found David Attenborough’s voice “boring” and the late Australian naturalist Steve Irwin responsible for “dreadful, dreadful television”; Bill Oddie he dismissed as “a birdie man”. But he reserved his greatest wrath for glamorous young women who “don’t know their subject so well and are just reading from a script”. According to Nutkins, Charlotte Uhlenbroek, (described by tabloids as a “telly wildlife stunner”), sat around “looking pathetic” after a close encounter with a gorilla which “wouldn’t have bothered me a bit”. His former colleague, Chris Packham, however, he singled out as “a brilliant naturalist who can deliver with an authority which is very gentle”.
Nutkins continued to work despite being diagnosed last year with leukaemia. He lived in Scotland near Skye, amid the landscape with which he had fallen in love during his most unusual boyhood.
Terry Nutkins briefly separated from his wife, Jackie, in 2005, after 26 years of marriage, but they subsequently remarried. She and his eight children survive him.
Date of Birth: 28 September 1923, New York, US
Birth Name: William Windom
The character actor's career on television spanned seven decades, from his debut as a fiery Tybalt in a Philco Television Playhouse production of Romeo and Juliet (1949) to an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages (2004) in which he recreated the role of the unbalanced Commodore Matt Decker. Decker was first seen in one of the series's best chapters, The Doomsday Machine (1967), and it was enough to sanctify Windom in the eyes of Trekkies. The role had been written for Robert Ryan, but Windom's powerful portrayal made any possible comparisons redundant.
Among many other standout performances on television were two in the cultish Twilight Zone series, as an agitated military officer who turns out to be a doll in Five Characters in Search of an Exit (1961), and as a calm psychiatrist trying to sort out Robert Duvall's disturbed mind in Miniature (1963). Windom also had leading parts in long-running programmes such as The Farmer's Daughter (1963-66), as a widowed congressman who falls for the Swedish farm girl (Inger Stevens), governess to his children; and Murder, She Wrote (1984-96), in which he was Seth Hazlitt, the crusty old doctor, friend and confidant of the crime writer Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).
The former role was close to his heart because Windom's great-grandfather, of the same name, had been a Minnesota congressman and secretary of the treasury in the 19th century.
Windom was born in New York City and educated at Williams College, Massachusetts. During the second world war he served as a paratrooper, and after it enrolled in the new American University in Biarritz, France. It was there that he started acting, and he continued on his return to the US. Windom made his Broadway debut in 1947 in roles of various sizes in an American Repertory Theatre season that included Shakespeare's Henry VIII, Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman (as young Erhart Borkman), Shaw's Androcles and the Lion, Barrie's What Every Woman Knows, and Alice in Wonderland (as the White Rabbit). In 1956, Windom showed a flair for comedy in a revival of Noël Coward's Fallen Angels.
When already 13 years into his long career in television, Windom made his big-screen debut in one of his best films, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), in which he played the smirking prosecutor who knows that he just has to play the race card to win against Gregory Peck, defending a black man charged with the rape of a white woman.
Further unsympathetic roles followed: an alcoholic whose sister (Joan Caulfield) is being wooed by a cattle rancher (Robert Taylor) in Guns of Wyoming (1963); a closeted, married gay man in The Detective (1968); a sleazy movie producer in The Angry Breed (also 1968); and Deborah Kerr's cuckold husband in The Gypsy Moths (1969). In Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Windom, trying not to look foolish, played the US president questioning an English-speaking simian couple who have landed in America by spaceship. "I tend to go overboard," Windom once remarked. "I go too far and then let the director bring me back where he wants me. It's like focusing a telescope."
Few of his feature films allowed for much humour, unlike television, which gave him more leeway. My World and Welcome to It (1969-70), based on the writings and cartoons of the American humorist James Thurber, gave him the chance to play a witty, nuanced character not unlike the original author. The shortlived sitcom won Windom an Emmy award and led to his touring one-man show on Thurber.
Of the show, which Windom performed around the US and abroad for some years, the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Windom has the gift of picking the terrible plainness of living and bringing it forward to say, 'See? Here's what we are, every one of us. And do you know, we're not bad.' "
Date of Birth: 8 August 1921, New York, US
Birth Name: William Milton Asher
Bill Asher, the director and producer behind classic TV shows like "I Love Lucy" and "Bewitched," has died. He was 90.
Asher was best known for his work on "I Love Lucy," where he directed Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz for 100 of the show's 181 episodes between 1952 and 1957.
He also produced and directed "The Patty Duke Show" and "Bewitched," which starred his then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery as the mortal-marrying witch Samantha Stephens. Montgomery and Asher had three children together.
Asher brought Sally Field to TV screens in "Gidget," and took the same sensibility to movies as director of the teen romps "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "Beach Party," starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.