Felix Bowness: The jockey Fred Quilly in 'Hi-de-Hi!'

The all-round entertainer Felix Bowness found fame in his sixties as Fred Quilly, the suspended jockey employed as a riding instructor at Maplin's holiday camp in Hi-de-Hi!, after spending much of his working life as a variety comedian, extra, bit-part actor and warm-up artist for television shows.

In the sitcom, set at the turn of the 1950s and created by Jimmy Perry and David Croft – who based it on their individual experiences of staging shows for Butlin's – Fred joined a host of colourful characters among the staff keeping holidaymakers happy in one of the camps that grew up during the post-war years.

Hi-de-Hi! (pilot 1980, series 1981-8) also featured Simon Cadell as the entertainments manager Jeffrey Fairbrother, Paul Shane as the host Ted Bovis, Ruth Madoc as the senior Yellowcoat and Radio Maplin announcer Gladys Pugh, Su Pollard as the chalet maid Peggy, Jeffrey Holland as the comedian Spike Dixon, and Barry Howard and Diane Holland as the dance instructors Barry and Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves.

Some had shady backgrounds and bitter attitudes to life, but none more so than Fred, who had been paid by a small-time gangster to fix races during his time as a jockey at Brighton racecourse. His licence was eventually revoked, he fled the South Coast, in fear of being caught by underworld crooks, and ended up in Essex, at Maplin's.

Like the snooty Yvonne, who looked down on those she taught on the dance floor, Fred felt his job was beneath him, bemoaning the fact that the horses in his care were not up to the standard he had known during his career as a jockey. He shared a chalet with the alcoholic, child-hating Punch and Judy show entertainer Mr Partridge (Leslie Dwyer). The part brought Bowness centre-stage after years of warming up audiences before recording started on television programmes such as The Morecambe and Wise Show, The Two Ronnies and many of Perry and Croft's sitcoms.

"I'm the chap behind the scenes who gets the audience in a good mood before the real show begins," he said. "But Jimmy and David saw me, talked to me when I was the warm-up for their shows, knew I'd done a lot of riding in my time, and actually wrote the part of Fred with me in mind. I'm a 'turn', not an actor, but they've been marvellous to me. Jimmy and David, and all the cast, give me acting lessons, laugh at me and encourage me."

Felix Harvey Talbot-Bowness was born in Harwell, Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire), in 1922 to a French-Canadian father and an English mother, and his uncle owned riding stables, giving him an early love of horses (he later owned one).

On leaving the village school at the age of 14, he was apprenticed to a carpenter-joiner and fought as a bantamweight boxer. Then, he served as a signalman with the Royal Berkshire Regiment during the Second World War, surving when his craft was sunk during the D-Day landings.

After the war, Talbot-Bowness decided on a career in show business, won a Carroll Levis Discoveries talent contest at the Palace Theatre, Reading, and started to get work in variety, shortening his professional name to Felix Bowness. When he appeared alongside the Forces Sweetheart, Vera Lynn, she spotted his singing potential and gave him vocal lessons. He became resident comedian at Clacton-on-Sea Pier in 1948 and toured in shows for many years, as well as working at Pontin's holiday camp. At the height of radio comedy, he found work on Variety Bandbox (1950), Workers' Playtime (1953-9) and Mid-day Music Hall (1954).

His first screen appearance was a bit-part in the 1963 film melodrama 80,000 Suspects, directed by Val Guest. He subsequently popped up on television in Sykes and... (1964, with Eric Sykes), The Benny Hill Show (1965-66), Frankie Howerd (1966), Sykes (1972-79), The Goodies (1972), The Liver Birds (1972), Dawson's Weekly (1975, alongside Les Dawson), Porridge (1975), The Dick Emery Show (1976), Jim'll Fix It (as Jimmy Savile's butler) and Noel's House Party (as Bert the Bugler), as well as the game-show 3-2-1 (1978-88).

Bowness was also in various sitcoms written by David Croft, with or without Jimmy Perry. He took three roles in Dad's Army (1974-77, twice as a driver, once as a special constable) and two in Are You Being Served? (1975, 1978), before being given greater prominence in Hi-de-Hi! This led him to be cast as the grocer Mr Pearson in later series of Croft and Perry's You Rang M'Lord? (1990-93) and the relief train guard Bernie Bleasdale in Oh, Doctor Beeching! (1996-67). Throughout this, he continued his work as a warm-up artist, notably on the chat-show Wogan, Des O'Connor Tonight and This Is Your Life.

Like many other actors and comedians who appeared in soft-core porn films during a period when British cinema was in the doldrums, Bowness was seen in Queen of the Blues (1979) and Mary Millington's World Striptease Extravaganza (1981), both produced by David Sullivan. He had previously performed in the dance sequence at the end of the film musical Half a Sixpence (1967). In 2003, Bowness retired from show business after being diagnosed with dementia.

Felix Harvey Talbot-Bowness, actor and comedian: born Harwell, Berkshire 30 March 1922; married 1950 Mavis Dungey (one son); died Reading, Berkshire 13 September 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Sales Consultant / Presales Engineer / Sales Engineer

£55000 - £75000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software House that produces ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is Europe's indust...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Technician

£17020 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Aerospace company is looki...

Recruitment Genius: Company Bookkeeper

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Bookkeeper is required to joi...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen