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Proper Telly Legends Lost in 2018

As we count down the hours to the start of yet another New Year, I'd just like to take a moment to remember some of the great names from the world of film and television that have passed away during 2018. Many wonderfully talented people who reached the height of their fame during the Proper Telly era of the seventies and eighties are no longer with us.

Dame June Whitfield

Just two days ago on December 28, we said goodbye to a lady who truly deserved her status as a national treasure. For well over sixty years, June Whitfield entertained the nation with wonderful performances in scores of television, film and stage productions. She starred alongside some of the biggest names in British comedy, such as Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Dick Emery and Peter Sellers, becoming a legend herself in the process. For many of us, including myself, June will be most fondly remembered for her long-running screen partnership with the great Terry Scott, first in the sitcom Happy Ever After from 1974-1979 and then simply Terry & June from 1979 to 1987. 

Despite her hugely successful, long-running career, she always seemed to stay so refreshingly down to earth, her warm personality ensuring her continued presence in the hearts of the nation.

John Bluthal

Another star with a long-lasting career, John Bluthal passed away in November aged 89. Of course, most people will remember John for his wonderful portrayal of the exceedingly boring Frank Pickle in The Vicar of Dibley. Personally, as a life-long fan of the Carry On films, I also fondly recall his supporting performances in Carry On Spying, Follow That Camel and, most memorably for me, as the personal tailor to Sid James' Henry VIII in Carry On Henry. This last role was a little in-joke, as John was famous at the time for the popular sitcom Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width in which he played a Jewish tailor. 

George A. Cooper

His name might not be as familiar as the others in this tribute piece but to millions of Proper Telly viewers of a certain age, the face of George A. Cooper is instantly recognisable. For seven years he was the most famous of the various caretakers who looked after the comprehensive school Grange Hill. As a Sid James fan, I also remember his great performance as the grumpy owner of the Kwik Snak cafe in the big-screen version of Bless This House in 1971. His thick Yorkshire accented pronunciation of "eggs an' 'amburgers" in that film is something that my wife Lisa and I often imitate when eating something similar! George passed away in November at the grand age of 93.

Geoffrey Hayes

A reassuring on-screen presence during so many of our childhoods, Rainbow presenter Geoffrey Hayes sadly died on September 30 aged 76. For 18 years, from 1974 to 1992, Geoffrey kept order between Zippy, George and Bungle in the Rainbow House and taught them, along with us kids watching at home, the values of friendship, caring and sharing. Despite the brightly coloured trousers, Geoffrey Hayes never felt the need to be over the top and 'on' all the time, like so many of today's children's television personalities. He was quite happy to let Zippy, George and Bungle be the stars of the show.

Liz Fraser

 Although the marvellous Liz Fraser enjoyed her greatest successes during the fifties and sixties, as one of my personal favourite comedy actresses I wanted to still include her here. I always thought that Liz was vastly underrated as a comedy actress in comparison to some of her contemporaries. Her on-screen image as a dizzy blonde was probably the reason for that. While always great value for money in her Carry On appearances, I believe her finest hour came as Sid James girlfriend in the BBC comedy series Citizen James. Despite the real-life seventeen year age gap between the two, Liz and Sid made for a marvellous on-screen couple with Liz more than holding her own opposite her experienced co-star. The two stars also appeared in the 1961 film Double Bunk, singing the title song together too. Liz passed away in September aged 88.

Peter Firmin

Without Peter Firmin, my childhood, along with those of millions of other kids of the seventies, would have been very different and nowhere near as memorable. Alongside Oliver Postgate, Firmin created the children's television production company Smallfilms. They were responsible for creating some of the greatest children's television programmes of all-time, programmes that have stood the test of time and remain as beloved today as when they first aired. Can you imagine a childhood without the likes of Bagpuss, The Clangers and Ivor the Engine? I certainly can't.

While Oliver Postgate was the voice of many of the Smallfilm productions and therefore arguably the better remembered of the two, Peter Firmin, who died in July at 89, was the behind the scenes genius who created the puppets and animated the shows.  The style of many of the Smallfilms series was deliberately slow and gentle, allowing younger viewers the time and space to become completely enraptured in the stories being told. They certainly don't make them like that anymore.

Glynn Edwards

In a long successful career as a charactor actor, Glynn Edwards appeared in some huge British films, such as Zulu, The Ipcress File and Get Carter. However, it is as Dave the barman in the ITV series Minder, for which he is undoubtedly remembered.

Glynn, who died in May aged 87, was one of those faces who was always popping up in various TV shows in the seventies and eighties: Bless This House, Steptoe and Son, Man About the House and The Professionals to name just a few. 

Bill Maynard

Passing away in March at 89, Bill Maynard was one of those much beloved stars whom everybody seemed to like. He certainly had a great screen presence and was capable of stealing a scene with only a handful of lines and minimal screen time. Whether as the lead in sitcoms such as Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt and The Gaffer or in supporting roles in the Carry On and Confessions films, Bill was never less than brilliant. The veteran star enjoyed a renaissance later in his career as the lovable rogue Greengrass in Heartbeat

Bill Maynard had a wonderful dry delivery, especially in his supporting roles in Carry On at Your Convenience and Carry On Matron. In Carry On Loving, Bill only had one short scene as a client at a marriage guidance bureau but his memorable delivery of the line, "I couldn't get 'alf me arse on it!" ensures that appearance lingers in the memory. 

Jim Bowen

During the eighties, a Sunday afternoon in front of the telly just wasn't complete without an episode of Bullseye. Even at the time, this mash-up of darts and general knowledge was an unlikely hit. It wasn't particularly exciting, definitely was not glamorous and featured fairly ordinary prizes at best., yet thus most unassuming of shows was unmissable. I think it was loved by many because of its very ordinariness. For a lazy Sunday afternoon, it was perfect.

Best known until that point as a stand-up comedian (he was a regular on The Comedians in the seventies), Jim Bowen became one of the biggest faces on British telly after Bullseye began in 1981. Unassuming and down to earth, Jim Bowen seemed like the kind of guy you could enjoy a pint and a pie with down the local pub. As a game show host, he lacked the slick charisma and sparkle of many of his peers but he made up for that.with a sense of genuine warmth. His occasional stumbling over his lines and fluffing the odd question simple endeared him to us even more. Jim passed away in March aged 80. 

Peter Wyngarde

I always thought that Peter Wyngarde had one of the greatest speaking voices I had ever heard, in addition to one of the all-time great telly 'taches! The charismatic actor was best known to TV fans as novelist turned sleuth Jason King in both Department S (69-70) and Jason King (71-72). At the time, the hugely flamboyant Wyngarde was one of the biggest stars in the country and a well-known face internationally too. Sadly his career took a bit of a downward turn in the mid-seventies after revelations of his sexuality hit the headlines.

Fans of the cult sci-fi movie Flash Gordon will remember Peter Wyngarde's velvet tones as the voice of Klytus, head of Emperor Ming's secret police. I remember with fondness his appearance in the 1984 Christmas special of The Two Ronnies. The show featured a mini-film called The Ballad of Snivelling and Grudge, with the Ronnies as two medieval shysters pedalling a fake elixir. They find themselves summoned by a nobleman, played with grand authority by Wyngarde, to cure his daughter of her illness. It's a small role but served to remind everyone of how magnetic a presence Peter Wyngarde truly was.

All of the above stars provided us with so much joy and entertainment over the years. Thank you to each and every one of them.


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