Diane Holland: Actress who played the snooty dance instructor in 'Hi-de-Hi!'
Friday 10 April 2009
As the snooty Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves, half of the husband-and-wife dance-instructors team at Maplins holiday camp in Hi-de-Hi!, the dancer and actress Diane Holland achieved her greatest fame.
The sitcom, set at the turn of the 1950s, was created by Jimmy Perry and David Croft and based on the writers' experiences of staging shows for Butlins. Yvonne and her husband, Barry (played by the renowned female impersonator and pantomime dame Barry Howard), were professional ballroom dancers who had once swept across the floors of the country's leading venues but were now reduced to imparting their skills to holidaymakers in the era before the start of cheap foreign package deals.
Instead of mocking the holiday-camp concept or the guests, who generally enjoyed the experience, Perry and Croft drew humour from the staff – and none more so than Yvonne and Barry. They remained po-faced and looked down their noses at everyone, doing nothing to hide their bafflement at how their careers had nosedived. At the same time, their own relationship was clearly strained, perhaps the result of Yvonne's previous infidelities. "Barry, don't be so common," was one of her frequent, frustrated asides. Perry described their relationship as "strange and rather sad".
Hi-de-Hi! (pilot 1980, series 1981-8) was typical of the ensemble comedies that came from the pens of Perry and Croft. It also featured Simon Cadell as Jeffrey Fairbrother, the entertainments manager, Paul Shane as the host, Ted Bovis, Ruth Madoc as Gladys Pugh, the senior Yellowcoat and Radio Maplin announcer and Su Pollard as Peggy, the chalet maid.
A reclusive person, Holland insisted that she was nothing like her screen alter-ego, but she was happy to become a Forces Sweetheart in the 1980s after receiving a letter from British soldiers stationed in the Falkland Islands.
Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1930, Holland was the daughter of a British soldier who had been gassed in the Battle of the Somme during the First World War. She grew up in Britain and trained as a dancer at the Cone-Ripman School in London (now the Arts Educational Schools).
She began her professional career as a dancer in variety theatre, working alongside comedians including Arthur Askey and Tommy Trinder. At the age of 20, she appeared in a BBC television production of the pantomime Cinderella (1950), starring Sally Ann Howes in the title role. At one time, with two male dancers, Holland was part of the cabaret act the Page Hatton Trio, for which she was clad all over in black and wore high-heeled shoes.
Branching out into acting, she worked in repertory theatres around the country. After her actress sister Gilda married Perry, who later co-created Dad's Army and Hi-de-Hi!, Holland occasionally appeared at the Palace Theatre, Watford, which the couple ran from 1956 to 1965. She then acted in the West End in the comedy Big Bad Mouse, alongside Eric Sykes and Jimmy Edwards, as the secretary Miss Spencer (Prince of Wales Theatre, 1967-72, screened on ITV in 1972).
On television, Holland was seen on and off as Sarah Maynard (1966-9), wife of the village GP Derek, in the much maligned soap opera Crossroads, as well as appearing with Sykes again in two episodes of his situation comedy Sykes (1972, 1973) and a special, The Likes of Sykes (1980). She made brief appearances in two other sitcoms, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973) and Grace and Favour (1992, 1993), David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd's sequel to Are You Being Served? in which she played a magistrate.
Holland was also seen in some small-screen dramas, including Poldark (1975), Mother Song (the second of the writer John Hopkins's "Fathers and Families" plays, 1977), Tales of the Unexpected (1980), The Children of Dynmouth (1987), Bergerac (1990) and Casualty (as a terminally ill patient, 2001).
In 1981, the actress played Mrs Fawkham-Greene in the BBC's 10-part adaptation of the children's novel Stig of the Dump. Her last screen appearance, 20 years later, was as the Maiden Aunt in a re-staging of Sir Peter Wright's 1985 production of The Nutcracker, performed by the Royal Ballet from the restored Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and broadcast on BBC2.
June Diane Neeltje (Diane Holland), actress and dancer: born Melbourne, Australia 28 February 1930; died Godstone, Surrey 24 January 2009.
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