Geoffrey Hughes: Versatile actor who was happy to be cast as the lovable scouser


Geoffrey Hughes invariably played an overweight, gap-toothed, slightly suspect but friendly layabout with a Scouse accent in such popular programmes as Coronation Street and The Royle Family, but he did not object to being typecast. It was an advantage to be fat because there was less competition for the roles: "I have always been an actor who works, which is nice in such a precarious business," he told me in 1999.

Geoffrey Hughes was born in Wallasey in 1944 to a Scottish mother and Welsh father, and his love for Celtic folk music came from them. His father worked on the docks and he was raised on Merseyside, attending Abbotsford Road secondary modern school in Norris Green, and inevitably he got involved in the beat music of the early '60s. "Everyone in Liverpool was playing music at the time and we called ourselves the Strangers because we thought that nobody else would want to know us. We got some gigs at the Blue Angel in Liverpool and the Jive Hive in Crosby, but sadly not at the Cavern. I did some funny voices in 'Little Egypt' and we would play a terrible Russ Hamilton song, 'Rainbow', to get everybody smooching at the end of the evening."

Hughes did some acting with the left-wing group, Unity Theatre, in Liverpool, where he was spotted by actor Tom Bell and playwright Alun Owen. In 1964-65 he appeared as a juvenile character lead in a new musical, Maggie May, by Owen and Lionel Bart, which was set in Liverpool's dockland and starred Georgia Brown. It ran for a year in the West End and provided him with invaluable experience. "Paul McCartney came to see Maggie May with Jane Asher," he said, "and when I auditioned for Yellow Submarine, I told them I had met Paul McCartney."

Hughes regularly had one-off roles in such TV series as The Likely Lads (1966), Z-Cars (1968) and Till Death Us Do Part (1969). The first series in which he was featured was the infamous Curry And Chips for London Weekend Television in 1969. On paper it looked promising, as the series starred Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes and was written by Johnny Speight to combat racial discrimination. Unfortunately, the series was taken as encouraging discrimination rather than mocking it.

Hughes made several film appearances, including Smashing Time (1967), The Bofors Gun (1968), The Virgin Soldiers (1969) and Carry On At Your Convenience (1971), but his most significant film role was one in which he was heard but not seen. In 1968 he auditioned for the cartoon Yellow Submarine, as the Beatles were reluctant to provide their own voices for the soundtrack. Hughes played McCartney and I have seen him demonstrate, in a very funny five minutes, that he could have done any of the voices.

"The producers were looking for Beatle voices and my agent sent to me to do George Harrison," he said. "I told George Dunning, who was a Canadian, about the difference between posh Scouse and normal Scouse, that is, the difference between John and Paul on the one hand, and George and Ringo on the other. They put the emphasis in different places when they speak and I was asked to do Paul McCartney instead. Incidentally, I am the whole of the Everton football team in that film. It's 11 of me in the 'Eleanor Rigby' sequence. It was such an inventive film that I was proud to be part of it but it was a year out of my life."

His first appearance in Coronation Street was a thug who beat the grumpy pensioner, Albert Tatlock. "Some of the public thought I should have killed him," he said. His most celebrated role came in 1974 when he joined Coronation Street as the ne'er-do-well Eddie Yeats. When he joined Stan Ogden's window-cleaning round he used it as an opportunity to case the joints for burglaries. The producers realised they had comedy gold with the relationships between Stan and Hilda Ogden and their dodgy lodger, who with his huge grin and silly laugh created havoc with his every move.

"I had done lots of work for Granada and they wanted a character to replace Jed Stone, who was played by Kenneth Cope, as Minnie Caldwell's lodger," Hughes said. "They asked me in for three episodes and then they invited me to stay. I loved with working with Jean Alexander and Bernard Youens. There were scenes which we would gladly do 20 times as they were such fun to do. I left after eight and a half years because I wanted to do other things, but it was great."

After Coronation Street he had a long run in the West End farce Run For Your Wife, but he and his wife Sue also ran a sheep farm in Northamptonshire and they converted an old building into a craft centre. Later, they moved to the Isle of Wight, where he ran a timber company and could enjoy his love of yachting. He was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant in 2009.

After a succession of roles in the theatre and on TV, Hughes played Onslow, the slobbish brother-in-law of the snobbish Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95). In 1998 he played the suspect but good-natured Twiggy in The Royle Family, which led to exceptional repartee between himself and his old friend, Ricky Tomlinson. He was also Vernon Scripps in Heartbeat (2001-07) and Uncle Keith in Skins (2007-09). Invariably he would play pantomime, while in 2007 he was the Archangel Gabriel in the BBC's Liverpool Nativity, which was broadcast live.

Given the chance, Hughes was a versatile actor, but he could wander from one production to another playing the same type, and it is that role of Eddie Yeats which defined him. About 15 years ago, someone introduced himself to me in Liverpool and said, "Hello, I'm Eddie Yeats' brother."

Hughes loved the countryside and old-time traditions like Morris dancing. He compèred Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival and sometimes joined them on stage with his bodhran. "I love the moment at the end of every Cropredy Festival when all the guests come on the stage and sing 'Meet On The Ledge'. The fans are so loyal and happy and that wonderful image is among the favourite moments of my life."

Geoffrey Hughes, actor: born 2 February 1944; Deputy Lieutenant, Isle of Wight 2009-; married; died 27 July 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect