Jeffrey Holland creates ‘another fine mess’ in Leiston
PUBLISHED: 15:01 15 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:01 15 April 2016
Jan Etherington talks to the comedy actor about bringing his ‘friend’, Mr Laurel, to the town
‘Hi de Hi!’ the familiar catchphrase of one of the most popular BBC television comedies of the 80s, takes us instantly back to the staff of Maplin’s Holiday camp, from smouldering Gladys (Ruth Madoc) to cleaner Peggy (Su Pollard), who dreamed of becoming a yellowcoat, and to camp comics, Spike and Ted.
Jeffrey Holland played the young comic, Spike, taken under the wing (and frequently corrupted) by the wily camp host, Ted (Paul Shane). And if the double act of lanky Spike and roly-poly, worldly Ted, with their slapstick, crazy capers, reminds you of another, legendary partnership, then Jeffrey Holland is not surprised.
“It was very much a homage to Laurel and Hardy,” he reveals. “Both Paul and I felt an instant chemistry. The first thing he said to me was ‘Haven’t we met before?’” So strong was the connection that, in the Hi-de-Hi stage show, Ted and Spike did a Laurel and Hardy routine, and performed the famous song, On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine. But Holland was fascinated by Stan Laurel long before that.
“Although he played the stooge, Stan Laurel was the brains behind the act,” he insists. “The story of their partnership and relationship is absolutely fascinating. I got hooked on Stan and Olly at the Saturday morning pictures, when I was a kid. There was Hopalong Cassidy, Flash Gordon, Mickey Mouse, but I loved Laurel and Hardy best.”
He calls it his lifelong ‘specialist subject’ and, with the help of writer Gail Louw, Holland has devised a one man show called And this is my friend, Mr Laurel, in which he plays the great man, visiting the bedside of his (unseen) sick partner Oliver Hardy, and talking over the good and bad times of their lives and career.
He’s received wonderful reviews and if, like me, you were lucky enough to see him perform it, as part of Southwold Arts Festival last year, you will be very pleased to hear that he’s bringing it back to Leiston Film Theatre on Friday, April 22. If you miss that, there is another chance to see the show in Thetford in May, as part of the Dad’s Army weekend celebrations. It’s a test of stamina and memory for any actor. This year Jeffrey will be 70 and is celebrating 49 years in showbusiness. He’s a grandfather of three, with a son, Sam, an IT website specialist, and daughter, Lucy, an accomplished stage manager and assistant director.
“I might be nearly 70, but I’m 19 up top!” he laughs. “I don’t play golf or do any special exercises to keep fit, but I never stop working, so I supposed that’s why I tick along alright.” Having a very happy 11 year marriage, to actress Judy Buxton, helps, he says. They met 20 years ago, in a Ray Cooney farce, Out of Order.
“Judy and I love working together. We’ve done several pantomimes, with Judy as the fairy and me as the Dame. We think similarly about work and we really enjoy going round the country, on tour.”
Born in Walsall, in the Midlands, at 19 Jeffrey joined a drama group called the Minster Players. He went on to the Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art and his first theatre role was in 1967, on his 21st birthday, in a play alongside Robin Hood actor Richard Greene.
“Richard Greene was a little nervous and on edge and insisted on being called ‘Sir’, but it was a lucky break for me.” He had another lucky break – literally – in 1980, during the Big Freeze, when Frankie Howerd was starring in Robinson Crusoe, but slipped on the ice and broke his hip.
“His break was my break and I got to play Billy Crusoe,” he remembers. Jeffrey’s career highlights read like the history of TV comedy and drama from the last 50 years. Dixon of Dock Green, Crossroads, The Kenny Everett Show, Russ Abbot’s Madhouse. He’s worked with Les Dennis and says he’d love to work with Russ Abbot again. He’s tackled Shakespearean roles, including Snug the joiner, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Stephano in The Tempest.
Apart from Hi de Hi, he’s starred in other comedies by David Croft and Jimmy Perry, playing the pompous footman in You Rang, M’Lord? and the stationmaster in Oh, Mr Beeching and although he didn’t star in the TV version of Dad’s Army, he had a small part in one TV episode and in 1975/76 he played the crafty spiv, Private Walker in the Dad’s Army Stage Show.
He’s joining a Dad’s Army Legends themed cruise through the Norwegian fjords on the ship Marco Polo on April 4 this year. He’ll also be on the Suffolk/Norfolk borders on May 20, for the annual Dad’s Army Day of the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society, in Bressingham and at the Dad’s Army Museum, Thetford, where they did most of the filming.
“I can’t wait to come back to this part of the country,” Jeffrey admits. “I’ve got to know Southwold, Walberswick and stately Aldeburgh. It’s so unspoiled and the skies are so big!” And we can’t wait to say ‘Hi-de Hi’ to his friend, Mr Laurel.
And This Is My Friend, Mr Laurel is at Leiston Film Theatre, April 22 at 7.30pm 01728 830549. Booking essential. Details about the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society and the weekend events of May 20-22 at www.dadsarmy.co.uk
Friday May 20, And This Is My Friend, Mr Laurel will be performed at Thetford Grammar School, Tickets from Thetford Information Centre 01842 751975.