Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The passings parade

This edition of TDOY’s regular feature recognizing the passing of certain celebrity notables was kick started by an e-mail I received yesterday evening alerting me of the death of British actor Trevor Bannister, who as long as public television still exists here in the U.S. of A. will live on in television immortality as the randy Dick Lucas, junior salesman in the men’s wear department of Grace Brothers Department Store in the long-running Britcom Are You Being Served?  According to this obituary, Bannister suffered a heart attack “at his allotment” (Matthew Coniam will have to explain to me what this is but I’m already committed to using this term in everyday conversation) in Thames Ditton, Surrey at the age of 76 on April 14.

Bannister’s passing means that there are only two surviving members of AYBS’ original cast:  Frank Thornton, who played the autocratic Captain Stephen Peacock, and Nicholas Smith, who appeared as toadying upper management head Cuthbert Rumbold.  (Thornton turned 90 years old in January while Smith celebrated his 77th natal anniversary in March.)  Cast members Mollie Sugden (Mrs. Betty Slocombe) and Wendy Richard (Miss Shirley Brahms) both left this world for a better one in 2009 and John Inman, who played the swishy Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries, died in 2007.  (The other original cast members, Arthur Brough and Harold Bennett, passed on in 1978 and 1981, respectively.)

Although Are You Being Served? was an ensemble comedy Bannister received top billing (along with Sugden) primarily due to his earlier television exposure in such shows as Object Z, Object Z Returns and The War of Darkie Pilbeam.  He had previously been part of the ensemble on the hit Britcom The Dustbinmen playing a character nicknamed “Heavy Breathing” and there were quite a number of similarities between the persona of the oversexed trash man and ladies’ man Mr. Lucas on AYBS.  AYBS premiered as a pilot on the BBC anthology series Comedy Playhouse in September 1972 and was aired because the coverage of the 1972 summer Olympics ground to a halt as a result of the Munich massacre.  AYBS returned as a full series in March the following year and would become one of the Beeb’s reliable sitcom warhorses, lasting 69 episodes (yes, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence) until 1985.

Bannister, however, jumped ship from AYBS after the Christmas special that aired following the show’s seventh series in 1979—a wise move to make as the program was starting to run on fumes by then.  He continued to make guest appearances on TV shows and appeared in another sitcom in 1988 entitled Wyatt’s Watchdogs but also concentrated a great deal on stage work, running the gamut of productions in romantic comedy to drama to Shakespeare.  His last regular role was on another Britcom veteran, Last of the Summer Wine (he played Toby Mulberry Smth), a show which also featured his former AYBS mate Thornton.

I’ve mentioned on the blog in the past that while I don’t necessarily dislike Are You Being Served? (when it was running on all four cylinders, it was hard to top for pure undiluted farce and saucy sexual innuendo) I’ve always been frustrated by the fact that it seems to be the only Britcom with which Georgia Public Television seems to be acquainted—they currently run it twice on Saturday nights, at 8:30pm and 10pm.  My mother, on the other hand, loathes the show with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns—when I mentioned that my friend ClassicBecky didn’t seem to get the show on the public TV station in her neck of the woods Mom seriously contemplated moving there.

The other death which sort of caught me by surprise was that of actor Michael Sarrazin, who died Sunday (April 17) in Montreal after a long bout with cancer at the age of 70.  In glancing at the always reliable IMDb to see what films and other productions I’d seen Sarrazin in I was genuinely surprised that there were more than I remembered, because while I admired Sarrazin’s talent I can’t say I was a fervent devotee.  He gave outstanding performances in a number of my favorite films, including The Flim-Flam Man (a movie that deserves to be better known), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (a longtime TDOY favorite), The Pursuit of Happiness (another great sleeper), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Harry in Your Pocket, The Gumball Rally, Joshua Then and Now…and a 1973 TV production that I remember very vividly from my childhood, Frankenstein: The True Story (in which he played “The Creature”).  Sarrazin also had a small role in the CBC prime time soap The City and guest starred on such various series as The Virginian, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Murder, She Wrote and The Outer Limits.

Comedy writer and author Arthur Marx was able to transcend being known as “Groucho’s son” (though not to the point where he didn’t write four books on his famous pop) to become a well-respected radio, film and television scribe and producer, penning episodes of such TV series as McHale’s Navy, The Mothers-in-Law, The Paul Lynde Show and Life with Lucy.  His experiences creating and producing Mickey Rooney’s short-lived 1964-65 self-titled sitcom no doubt inspired a book he wrote on Rooney twenty years later in 1988 (The Nine Lives of Mickey Rooney), and with his Mickey partner Bob Fisher the two men served as head writers at one time on the hit sitcom Alice (1976-85).  He and Fisher also wrote such Broadway hits as The Impossible Years, Minnie’s Boys (based on the vaudeville years of his father and his father’s brothers) and Groucho: A Life in Revue.  He will also be remembered here in the House of Yesteryear for his biographies on such comedy luminaries as Red Skelton, Bob Hope (a controversial book in which he posits that Hope’s altruistic visiting and performing for the troops during wartime was a blind for the comedian’s various romantic trysts) and Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis—the latter book (Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime [Especially Himself]) becoming the inspiration for the 2002 TV-movie Martin and Lewis.  Marx died on April 14 at his Los Angeles home at the age of 89.

In addition to these three talented men, we also bid a fond farewell to:

Gil Robbins (April 5, 80) – Folksinger and guitarist with the 1960s group The Highwaymen (he joined shortly after they scored their huge hit with Michael, Row the Boat Ashore); he was also the father of actor-director Tim Robbins (Bob Roberts, Dead Man Walking)

Gerald Perry Finnerman (April 6, 79) – Emmy Award-winning film and television cinematographer whose work can be seen on episodes of such series as Star Trek, The Bold Ones, Night Gallery, Kojak and Moonlighting; he also served as D.P. on such films as They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! and Brother John

Randy Wood (April 9, 94) – Musical impresario who turned his Gallatin, TN record shop/mail-order business into the Dot Records label in 1950…and also had Pat Boone record a version of Fats Domino’s Ain’t That a Shame, so he’s definitely due for a stretch in Purgatory for that

Robert Orrin Tucker (April 9, 100) – Musician and bandleader who made occasional appearances in such films as You’re the One, From the Terrace and Tender is the Night; his best-known hit was a 1939 tune entitled Oh, Johnny, Oh sang by “Wee” Bonnie Baker and played ad infinitum in a P.E. class I took as a kid when we took up square dancing

Angela Scoular (April 11, 65) – English film and television actress whose oeuvre includes the James Bond films Casino Royale and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; her other films include A Countess From Hong Kong, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and Doctor in Trouble.  Married to actor Leslie Phillips, Scoular also appeared regularly as Lady Agatha Showcross on the Britcom You Rang, M’Lord?

William A. Rusher (April 16, 87) – Conservative syndicated newspaper columnist (and also a lawyer, activist and author) who served as the longtime publisher of National Review, the magazine founded by William F. Buckley in 1957

Bookmark and Share


Linda said...

You remember allotments from Britcoms...Tom and Barbara Good had one, for growing more veg.

Stacia said...

This is the first I'd heard of Trevor Bannister's passing, and I'm sorry to hear it. (Allotment, by the way, is basically a garden.)

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Both Linda and Stacia assisted in jogging my befogged memory:

You remember allotments from Britcoms...Tom and Barbara Good had one, for growing more veg.

(Allotment, by the way, is basically a garden.)

...and I'm pretty ashamed of myself for not knowing this--particularly in light of the reference to The Good Life, because my parents had one (my Dad's boss owned a farm and let him use a patch for growing our own veg) and I use to jokingly call them "Tom and Barbara".

It's hell getting old sometimes.

Matthew Coniam said...

Sorry to be coming so late to this, and for being so pedantic, but the Goods didn't have an alotment - they had a garden.
An alotment is not a garden, which is attached to one's own house, but a patch of municipal land which one can rent, and grow vegetables in. It needn't be anywhere near one's own house. Usually they are used by people who do not have gardens of their own, but also by people whose own gardens are insufficient for their veg-growing zeal.
Bannister, I'll bet, was of the latter persuasion.

Stacia said...

I can't speak to whether the TV show featured a garden or allotment, but when I said "basically a garden" I was being deliberately brief and using the U.S. definition of "garden" to explain.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I can't speak to whether the TV show featured a garden or allotment

I can...they had both. It's been ages since I've watched the show but something about Matthew's assertion didn't sit right with me and so when I looked at the episode guide for The Good Life at Wikipedia the entry for "I Talk to the Trees" reads: "While at their allotment, Tom and Barbara come across Mr Wakeling talking to his plants and he claims that it helps them grow."

This may be a little off-topic, but when the show was programmed on this side of the pond (when it was renamed Good Neighbors) both my parents were huge fans...and yet you couldn't get my Dad to watch an episode of Green Acres if you pointed a gun at his head.

Matthew Coniam said...

You realise this is war!!!
Actually you're right of course. They did have both, though I can't off-hand think of any other scene set in the alotment, and I've just watched the whole darned lot right through... so forgive an old man his didacticism.
Most of the time they're in their garden... and I was only trying to invite you into the wonderful world of English petty distinctions...
Anyway, the point about an allotment is that you rent it from the council, and it's a plot of land next to a whole bunch of other people's allotments, not next to your own house.
You can imagine how disappointed I was when I found out that the Kay Francis flick Allotment Wives was nothing to do with gardening at all.

Stacia said...

Now I REALLY want to see Kay done up in some of her fabulous fashions, surrounded by a lovely assortment of veg.