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Comedy and Light Entertainment

Dads Army

Dad’s Army was first broadcast on TV in 1971. Written by comedy writing legends David Croft and Jimmy Perry, the series was based on the exploits of the fearless if not dysfunctional Home Guard of the fictional seaside town Walmington on sea. As with all Croft and Perry collaborations, the strength of the show lay in its cast of hugely diverse characters led by the pompous bank manager Captain Mainwaring played by Arthur Lowe. Joining his platoon among others, were Sergeant Wilson, a laid back character of superior background! (John Le Mesurier), Corporal Jones, the local butcher prone to panic (Clive Dunn), Frazer, the pessimistic undertaker, (John Laurie) Godfrey the frailest of the squad who took on the role of medic but had major health issues of his own (Arnold Ridley) and Pike a naïve young lad often referred to by Capt Mainwaring as ‘stupid boy’ (Ian Lavender). Following Jeff’s success in the stage version of the show, he was offered the role of an army squady in an episode of the TV series entitled Wake –Up Walminton. During the platoon’s attempts to alert the town of the danger from a possible enemy attack, Jeff’s cameo sees him make a forceful contribution as a driver of an army transport vehicle thus strengthening his link with the writers for greater things to come. Dad’s Army remains as popular today as it did when it was first shown and enjoys numerous repeats.

Are You Being Served

Written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, Are You Being Served first appeared on our television screens in 1972 and ran for 10 seasons finally bowing out in 1985. Ranking as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, the series was set in the dated Grace Brothers department store and followed the unlikely antics of its staff whose characters were more colourful than the fashions displayed on their shop floor. Central to every plot were the stayed and pontificating floor walker Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton), the snobbish Head of Ladies Fashion Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) and the often outrageously camp sales assistant Mr Humphries (John Inman), ably supported by a large cast of actors many of whom became household names as a result of the series including Wendy Richard and Trevor Bannister. Jeff appeared twice in the series, the first time in 1977 in an episode entitled The Old Order Changes when he was cast rather bizarrely as a character called the Afro Pants Man in which he portrayed an Afro American. He returned two years later in the episode The Apartment as a rather aloof and bewildered customer at the mercy of Messer’s Humphries, Lucas and Goldberg as they diploid the hard sell method on him in respect of buying an expensive blazer. These cameo roles undoubtedly made their mark with the writers.

It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

David Croft and Jimmy Perry’s sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was perhaps a natural progression to their series Dad’s Army and was based on their own wartime experiences in India. The series revolved around the activities of a fictional Royal Artillery Concert Party during World War II. During the show’s seven season run, the concert party moved from Bombay to Burma which allowed the series to accommodate a number of enforced cast changes along the way, the most notable due to the untimely death of actor Michael Bates in the pivotal role of Bearer Rangi Ram. That said, the programme continued to enjoy success on the strength of its remaining and new characters for several years. Jeff first joined the series in an episode entitled Flight to Jawani playing an RAF Airman. This paved the way for a second appearance as Aircraftsman Ormanroyd  in the episode The Superstar, a year later. When asked to describe his character Jeff smiled warmly claiming that Ormanroyd could only really be described as ‘A bit of a gormless twit’. The character may well have been a gormless twit but the performance was one of inspired genius and Jeff is firmly convinced that it is on the strength of this portrayal that he was offered the role of Spike in Croft and Perry’s next creation, the immensely successful Hi de Hi. The challenge was to create a character that would stand out against the hugely diverse array of those already firmly established. He achieved this with a brilliantly crafted comic portrayal in which Ormanroyd transforms from a timid introvert to a show biz superstar through the course of his audition with the concert party. In so doing he demonstrates his ability to sing opera, play classical piano, jazz trumpet, tap dance and do a ventriloquist act all at the same time, thus outshining all his contemporaries single handed!

Russ Abbott Madhouse

Russ Abbott’s Madhouse took to the airwaves on London Weekend Television in 1981. A light entertainment programme, it provided the perfect showcase for a number of performers to display their talents in support of Russ Abbott’s madcap comic creations. This was another particularly period in Jeff’s career although he almost missed out on the experience as when the opportunity first arose it clashed with the casting for Hi de Hi. However, where there’s a will…….. Jeff knew Russ Abbot’s format well and was very aware of the type of character actor they would be looking for to join the team. As a result and determined to succeed he was very well prepared for the auditions where he found himself up against Sam Kelly later of Allo Allo fame. Armed with a huge pile of photographs depicting a vast array of assorted characters in a variety of costumes and make up from his earlier career in Rep. This coupled with a selection of impressions and funny voices, impressed the producers and gave Jeff the job which was to last a very happy four years. Packed with contrasting sketches, musical numbers and multiple costume changes, Jeff admits to it being ‘Damned hard work but great fun’. The regular cast also included Michael Barrymore, Les Dennis, Sherrie Hewson, Susie Blake, Dustin Gee and Bella Emberg. Among Jeff’s most noted portrayals were his impression of Prince Charles and as a member of Vince Prince’s backing group, The Tone Deafs.

The Les Dennis Laughter Show

Following Russ Abbot’s Madhouse, comedians Les Dennis and Dustin Gee formed a popular double act and created their own series, The Laughter Show which ran until Dustin’s sudden death forced Les to rename the programme The Les Dennis Laughter Show. Similar in format to that of the Madhouse, Jeff teamed up with his former colleague to guest on a number of the shows which also included Bella Emberg in the cast.

Kenny Everett Show

Kenny Everett’s shows could be described as zany, eccentric and outrageous but ‘always in the best possible taste’. In addition to Kenny’s own regular flamboyant performances, he was joined each week by a number of well known guest stars including Gareth Hunt, Sheila Steafel, Cleo Roccas, Vicki Michelle and of course Jeff who appeared in three episodes, playing in a number of sketches.  Particular favourites include a Punch and Judy sketch in which he played the policeman and a spoof sketch of the former popular quiz show Ask the Family in which the Royal Family competed against the Thatchers where Jeff once again gave his impression of Prince Charles and Sheila Steafel portrayed a highly convincing Margaret Thatcher. Recognised in his day as being a comic genius, Kenny had a reputation for not turning up at rehearsals. Jeff describes him as ‘Amazing. Everyone else would rehearse and then Kenny would arrive and just do it and we would all adjust accordingly’.

Johnny Vanguard

In 1986 while still starring as Spike in Hi de Hi, Jeff was targeted by casting director Sheila MacIntosh to take the lead role in a pilot sitcom for Southern Television entitled The Ballad of Johnny Vanguard. The story is basically that of a forty year old one hit wonder from the revolutionary pop era of the 60’s living off his success of 1959. Such is his ego, he has dined out on is one hit for twenty five years believing his lack of further fortune since to be nothing more than a glitch! Even his agent uses every tactic to avoid him in a wonderfully acted portrayal by John Bird, aided and abetted by his waspish secretary, the then totally unknown Lesley Joseph. Johnny meets and strikes up a partnership with an attractive traffic warden (Nicky Croydon), who has a beautiful voice. They perform at a couple of gigs with disastrous results leaving Johnny no alternative but to return to teaching the guitar for a living, no doubt to the dismay of his number one fan and would be stalker brilliantly played by the late Diane Bull. The character of Johnny Vanguard was something of a contrast to Jeff’s earlier roles and one he thoroughly enjoyed. ‘Obviously it’s always good to have your own spot,’ he remarks. ‘I even got the chance to sing the theme song. It’s a shame they never made a series of it but I have some great memories. Johnny’s mother was played by my great friend Pamela Cundell then there was the record shop owner played by an actor called Fine-Time Fontaine and an amazingly energetic cameo performance by a young Peter Capaldi as a screaming Scottish punk rocker providing an unbelievable rendition of Mull of Kintyre’.