I was recently invited to attend the memorial service for the actor Philip Madoc, which was held at the actors’ church in Covent Garden.
I had known Philip for nearly 30 years and he usually played screen villains, including several guest roles in the Elstree made Avengers television series, on Doctor Who and even as a German soldier menacing Sophia Loren in Operation Crossbow at MGM.
Philip spoke several languages and Jimmy Perry remembered how he cast him in a guest role in Dad’s Army.
He recalled: “We needed somebody to play a German officer captured by the platoon and we knew Philip could give the right German accent rather than some over the top impression.
“We did not know the scene would become a classic when he asks Private Pike for his name to go in his book of people to be dealt with, but Captain Mainwaring butts in and says: ‘Don’t tell him Pike’ and that has gone around the world.”
The church was full and the hymns were sung by the excellent London Welsh Male Voice Choir.
I did not notice any actors in attendance other than Philip’s ex-wife Ruth Madoc, best remembered for her role in Hi De Hi.
The last time I attended a memorial service at that church was for Peter Cushing in the Nineties.
On that occasion Christopher Lee gave the address and I sat with Joanna Lumley and Donald Sinden who joked to me: “This place is so cold I think they are trying to finish us off as well.”
I was due to organise a service there for Trevor Howard in 1988, when his wife asked me to investigate what would be involved.
I was looking forward to the challenge, but then she changed her mind, saying she remembered Trevor had attended David Niven’s and felt there were too many phoneys at such events and did not want one for himself.
The first memorial services I attended were in the Eighties, which I seem to remember being held at Westminster Abbey.
The first was for Dame Anna Neagle, whose career had been launched in Borehamwood in the early Thirties.
She returned later to make Odette at the old Gate Studios and two very successful movies at MGM entitled Spring In Park Lane and Maytime In Mayfair.
Today they would seem very dated, but in post-war England they lifted the spirits amid the rationing and rebuilding.
The second occasion was the hottest ticket in town and was for Lord Laurence Olivier, often described as the greatest English-speaking actor of all time.
It is difficult to judge now as his best work was done on stage and that is now lost to time.
He did make some good films, but at the end of his career, he mainly had guest star roles often employing some awful accent.
The cream of the acting profession attended and I found myself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Michael Caine, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and Ken Branagh.
When we were walking out, Joan Collins was in front of me and a slightly stooped, grey haired gentleman. During one hold up, he turned and smiled at me and only then did I realise it was a very unassuming Jack Lemmon.
The last memorial service I was invited to before Philip’s was for Sir John Mills several years ago, and the invite was sent by his daughter, Hayley Mills, who I have the pleasure to know.
She had attended a plaque unveiling with her father in his honour at Elstree Studios in the Nineties.
I found them both lovely people and, at the service, Hayley introduced me to her sister Juliet and her sister’s actor husband Maxwell Caulfield.
I think these occasions are a great way to pay tribute to and celebrate the career of a star, whereas funerals are a sadder and more private event.
I have been pondering if I should have a memorial service for myself, but if so, I suspect a telephone box will suffice.