The older I get the more people who I’m familiar with from TV and films seem to be dying. The only good thing is that film and TV actors, comedians and famous musicians are actually never going to be forgotten because their films have made them immortal. I’ve mentioned below just a few of my favourite people, whom I only ever knew from TV, but yet, somehow, felt a kind of bond with because of the pleasure they gave me and so many others. This is just a tiny fraction of the hundreds and thousands of talented folk who deserve an accolade, so why not tell me some of your favourites?
Poor old Mel Smith died just yesterday at only 60. I only remember him as the hugely funny part of the comedy duo in Alas Smith and Jones, where he played a normally confrontational gruff foil to Griff Rhys Jones’s more sensitive soul. But I heard since his death he was also in Not the Nine of Clock News, and scores of other comedies, and that he was widely respected and loved by those who knew him.
JOHN LE MESURIER
With his perpetually concerned slightly mystified expression, to my mind John Le Mesurier was one of the most interesting lovable actors of his generation. Suave, charming, funny, he was the archetypal English gentleman, who shared his charm with everyone. He played comedy mostly, but he was a master of understatement and control in absolutely everything. Famous in later life for playing Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army, he also played family solicitors, doctors, high court judges, all kinds of parts, the unifying factor in all of them being innate breeding, kindness and faultless good manners. He displayed more charm in the arching of an eyebrow than in most people’s panoply of full-on smiles.
Dear old Eric Sykes had a chequered career before he went into show business. He was born and brought up in a tough northern town and worked in a a timber yard until he joined the army, where he got his first breaks in show business. In fact Eric Sykes was initially a script writer, and went on to write very clever and inspired comedy scripts throughout his life: his madcap brand of comedy acting came later, and perhaps his skills at creating comedy from the page were what augmented his masterful performances.
Like so many comedians, Tony Hancock suffered badly from depression. His suicide was thought to have arisen because the new type of comedy he was experimenting with wasn’t working, and people wanted him to go back to his tried and tested act, which he’d lost interest in. By all accounts a man who was a good friend to all, and coincidentally, John Le Mesurier happened to be one of his closest friends.
Her death was a terrible, unsolved mystery. She was shot at point-black range on the doorstep to her house, and the murderer has never been found. Rumours of political motives, revenge for remarks she may have made on Crimewatch all appeared to come to nothing. A beautiful, talented, highly intelligent, kind, charming and interesting woman whose career had just begun to branch out in all kinds of different directions died for no apparent reason. It is desperately sad.
A lively, brilliant, incredibly witty journalist and author, whose column in the The Times always kept me amused. His talented offspring are in the public eye in the media, and I’m sure he’d be intensely proud of them. I’ll never forget the column he once wrote, where he was incensed at his neighbours builders, who turned up to work each day and did nothing but sunbathe on the roof. As he was about to phone his neighbour, one of the builders saw him looking down and waved. He hung up the phone, unable to betray his new friend. An interesting, warm hearted, intensely charming man who could always inspire a smile. A man who didn’t just seem like a nice chap, but who really was a nice chap.
In my opinion, one of the most admirable English actors there’s ever been. He always brought his special brand of charm to whatever part he played, whether it was captain of the doomed Titanic, or drunken carouser Dr Gaston Grimsdyke in the old Doctor in the House comedies of the 60s. Kenneth More always managed to transmit his tremendous happiness and zest for life, he was somehow cheerful deep inside.
Most people will remember him as Charlie Hungerford, the loud-mouthed northern go-getter in the TV series Bergerac. But because my mother knew him when he was starting out, our family always followed his career, which was long and successful before his final major role: when he was younger he was remarkably handsome, tailor-made for dashing heros, and he had a brilliant touch with all kinds of comedy, both on stage and TV.
Who could ever forget the astonishingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, who was actually born in England, but spent most of her life in America. She was a fiery forceful actress with an amazing presence. I heard that she was also personally very kind. Her work with AIDS victims is well documented. But I also heard that when she was at the height of her fame, holidaying in Wales, her car had a crash with another vehicle (not her fault) and she insisted on going with the other driver, who was slightly hurt to hospital, and staying with her, making sure she was okay. Not something she had any reason to do, other than because she was a nice person.
Famous personalities, who, thankfully are never going to be forgotten. Who would you like to give a mention to?