Alec Bregonzi

Actor in 'Hancock's Half Hour'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Alec Bregonzi, actor: born London 21 April 1930; died London 4 June 2006.

Alec Bregonzi was a character player who became one of the stalwarts of British television and radio. He will be particularly remembered for his contributions to the Tony Hancock shows (he was in 22 of the 63 television episodes) and for his support of such other comedy stars as Benny Hill, Arthur Askey and the Two Ronnies.

Always a welcome presence, his lean, aristocratic bearing, aquiline features and, in particular, his melodically resonant voice made him instantly identifiable. His film appearances were relatively few, but he provided choice moments in such movies as Georgy Girl and Carry On Sergeant. He was particularly proud of his work in the French romantic comedy L'Etincelle (1984), also known as Tug of Love, but alas it was never distributed in the UK, and he proved that comedy was not his only strength with dramatic roles for, among others, the National Theatre and the RSC.

Born in London in 1930, Bregonzi made his professional début as an actor with the Farnham Repertory Company, later working in York, Bromley and Leatherhead. After appearing for the RSC in Wedekind's Spring Awakening at the Barbican, he made his West End début in the controversial production of one of Tennessee Williams' lesser plays, Camino Real, with Elizabeth Seal. Bregonzi had two roles in the production, and understudied Ronnie Barker.

In 1957 he made his first appearance in the television series Hancock's Half Hour, in an episode titled "The Continental Holiday". Memorable roles in the 22 playlets in which he appeared included his exasperated pilot in "Air Steward Hancock", a young juror in "Twelve Angry Men" annoyed by Hancock's procrastination, a library client disconcerted by Hancock's desperate search for the page which reveals the killer in the book he has been reading, in "The Missing Page", and the character "Fred" in the Archers-type radio show from which Hancock has just been sacked, The Bowmans. In 1958, he toured with Hancock in the revue Tony Hancock - In Person, the pair performing their famous "budgerigar" sketch which they later reprised in the Royal Variety Performance and on television in Christmas Night with the Stars. The pair toured again with The Tony Hancock Show in 1961.

Bregonzi also worked with such comics as Hale and Pace, Little and Large, Kenny Everett, Charlie Drake, Harry Worth and Ted Ray, and in the series Mapp and Lucia, and Filthy Rich and Catflap, and he had "straight" roles in such series as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Great Expectations, Don Camillo, The Barchester Chronicles and London's Burning.

In the theatre, he appeared in the traditional pantomimes staged by the Players' Theatre, and he and Anthony Colin made a hit as Alf and Bert, the Broker's Men, in a production of Cinderella at the Ashcroft Theatre (1964). He appeared in several musicals, and can be heard on the original cast album of Virtue in Danger (1963), the Mermaid Theatre production based on Sir John Vanbrugh's Restoration comedy The Relapse. Bregonzi also played King Ferdinand in Opera Rara's 1977 recording of Offenbach's opéra bouffe Christopher Columbus.

Perhaps his most memorable stage appearance was his starring role in the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Richmond Theatre in 1974. As Pseudolos, the wily slave determined to gain his freedom, he had the daunting task of following Frankie Howerd, who created the role in the West End, but vanquished comparisons with a hilarious performance that captivated audiences.

His screen roles included a notable cameo as a hairdressing-salon manager in the hit comedy Georgy Girl (1966), with Lynn Redgrave and James Mason. For four years, he read viewers' letters in the BBC television series Points of View. More recently, he provided voices for several characters in the puppet series The Treacle People (1995-97).

Alec Bregonzi was a true champion of the performing arts, and one used to wonder if he ever spent an evening at home. Whether at the National Film Theatre or the Royal Festival Hall, at the opera or at a fringe theatre checking out a new playwright or obscure revival, one would frequently run into him, his sense of humour and enthusiasm boundless as ever.

It was almost a year ago that he accompanied me to the opera at Holland Park, and though worried about a throat problem that was limiting work (he was a prolific provider of voice-overs for commercials) he was sparkling company.

Tom Vallance