Gone but not forgotten

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?


ImagePoor 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.


ImageWith 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.


ImageDear 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.


ImageLike 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.


ImageHer 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.


ImageA 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.


Ken MoreIn 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.


ImageMost 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.


ImageWho 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?


14 thoughts on “Gone but not forgotten

  1. Lovely tribute to wonderful people! I too was saddened to hear of the death of Mel Smith this week – I grew up with his comedy. I will add author Iain (M) Banks, who died a few weeks ago. Marvellous writer (which I’m trying to be) & lover of whisky (which I am)!


    1. Hello Karen, yes terrible about Iain Banks, my mind was more on actors, but thiniking of writers there was the brilliant James Herbert too. As you say, we ally fave actors/musicians with different parts of our lives, that;s why they’re so fondly remembered. Musicians could fill a book: Freddy Mercury, John Lennon, Gerry Rafferty . . . Sadly the list goes on and on.


  2. I very much enjoyed your post. We, too, were very sad to hear of the death of Mel Smith. One of my favourite actors was David Niven, closely followed by James Mason.


    1. Hello Ann, yes, I agree David Niven was in a similar vein to John Le Mesurier, but also dashing, debonair, bright and always cut a dash, an unforgettable and brill actor. James Mason too – I always remember his tremendous ‘baddie’ part in North by North West – especially the last bit on the mountain.


  3. Another great post Geoff. I was gutted by the recent death of James Gandolfini . He brought me so much pleasure as Tony Soprano. I think he blazed the trail for so many of the fabulous TV shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire that we’ve had since.


  4. Yes John Le Mesurier was a favourite of mine, such a lovely man, also Jill Dando, and who could ever forget Princess Diana, wouldn’t she have been so proud now of the new baby. Another favourite of mine was Angharad Rees, Demelza from Poldark who sadly passed away last year from pancreatic cancer. As you say they are all remembered by millions for their work, that’s not to mention authors such as Agatha Christie and Catherine Cookson.


    1. Hello Sherrie, yes, Princess Diana of course, lots of people will be thinking of her today. I agree about Angharad Rees, lovely woman, and an excellent actress. So many of the best authors have gone, but at least their work goes on forever.


  5. The list could be endless. I’m glad you mentioned James Herbert in one of your replies; I’ve been a fan of his for many years and was very saddened to hear of his death. Thinking along the lines of your blog post, there’s one glaring omission for me: the wonderful Kenneth Williams.


    1. I agree Alison. And yes, funnily enough I thought of Kenneth Williams just after I’d finished, what a unique talent. I heard someone talking about him on the radio years ago, he;d been in the RAF with him, and was saying how popular Kenneth W was, apparently everyone liked him. And someone mentioned Eric Morecombe on a tweet. I very much liked Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe too. Spike Milligan I never saw too much of, but the little I did I liked.


  6. I found it so sad about Mel Smith. We were watching Sky News and they held up the front pages of several newspapers on which Mel’s death was announced but they made no mention of it in their broadcast. It didn’t feature in their ‘ticker stream’. I thought how sad it was that such a loved comic didn’t even get a mention when he passed.

    Did you see the BBC mini movie a week or two ago about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton? It was so well done, very moving I thought.


    1. Hello Alice, yes very sad. I meant to see the BBC4 mini movie but missed it. I also meant to include Richard Burton – tremendous man, excellent actor. I remember Melvyn Bragg did his biog years ago, and, uniquely only said good things: biographers usually love to dig up dirt and attack those who cannot defend themselves.


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