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Comedy classics revisited
As the annual Elstree Film Evening boasts another great turnout, PAUL WELSH reflects on some screen careers peppered with comedy and tragedy.
I noticed on one of the television satellite channels that a number of old comedy series are being shown.
In particular I have watched some episodes of the late 1960s hits Please Sir and Doctor in the House which, in their day, were getting viewing figures twice that of Ant and Dec or The X Factor.
Having not seen them for several decades, I was surprised how almost child-like television humour was in those days, with basic sight gags and corny lines.
However, they are still watchable, if only for the innocence of that age.
Please Sir was the vehicle that launched John Alderton to stardom and was based in an East End school.
Oddly enough, none of the young actors, who were in their 20s in real life, seem to have enjoyed subsequent high-profile acting careers.
For me, the star of the series was Derek Guyler as the uniformed school caretaker, always buttering up the headmaster.
Derek also enjoyed success in the long-running television series Sykes, as a police officer, and in the war, he was the first actor allowed on BBC radio with a provincial accent when he appeared in It's That Man Again.
Eventually, he retired to Australia, where he died in a nursing home, aged 85, in 1999.
Doctor in the House was a television spin-off based on an idea that was successful in the 1950s on the big screen, with films starring Dirk Bogarde as a young doctor.
Barry Evans took on the role and soon established himself as a television heartthrob and later enjoyed another television hit with Mind Your Language, which probably could not be repeated today due to the use of racial stereotypes for comedy purposes.
When both series finished, Barry found difficulty breaking out of typecasting and ended up in several soft porn movies that were popular in the 1970s, spurred on by the success of the Elstree-made Confessions Of films.
Barry ended up as a mini cab driver living in a ramshackle house in Leicester-shire with a drink problem.
In 1997, the police found his dead body at home and initially suspected foul play. However, nothing was proven and the coroner ruled he had died, aged 53, from alcohol poisoning.
His successor in the Doctor television series was Robin Nedwell, who I met years later when he filmed The Shillingbury Blowers at Elstree.
Robin was also destined for a tragic early end. He had a minor fall requiring a couple of stitches, but while visiting his doctor a few days later, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 52.
On a happier note, we had a successful annual Elstree Film Evening at the BBC Elstree Centre.
We had some laughs, some excellent music from the BBC Elstree Band and saw some film clips, including some of me, eleven years ago, and some of the plaque unveiling ceremonies, with the likes of Honor Blackman, John Mills and Olivia De Havilland.
I noticed how slim I was a decade ago. It's odd that now I am going bald, overweight, older and tanned by the Borehamwood air, people keep saying how well and better I look nowadays!
It was good to have a number of celebrity guests and in particular some new faces such as Liver Bird Nerys Hughes, Peter Egan and Nicky Henson, who was recently in EastEnders as Honey's dad and Peggy romancer, Jack Edwards. I remember Nicky in films years ago such as Witchfinder General and Psycomania.
Nicky recalled: "Psychomania was so bad that when George Sanders saw a preview copy and noticed how frail he appeared on screen, he committed suicide shortly afterwards."
We paid tribute to Dad's Army co-creator Jimmy Perry who remembered: "When I was a lad and told my dad I wanted to be a film star, he used to say, you stupid boy', which is a line I used in the series when Captain Mainwaring sometimes addressed Private Pike." In the audience was Philip Madoc, who played the German officer in a classic episode. He asks Pike for his name for his black book and Capt Mainwaring interrupts: "don't tell him, Pike."
It is marvellous how these people are willing to support Borehamwood and Elstree Town Council's event, often travelling hundreds of miles at their own expense, which says something about the nostalgia people have for the studios of Borehamwood.