Jack Douglas: Actor and comedian who made his name in the 'Carry On' films
Friday 19 December 2008
A permanent fixture in the final eight Carry On comedy films, Jack Douglas is best remembered for the twitching character he usually portrayed, complete with flat cap, spectacles and workman's overalls, and the one-word catchphrase: "Phwaay!"
The character, known as Alf Ippititimus, was created on stage two decades earlier and became a staple of his act. Douglas first transferred the character to the screen for a single scene in Carry On Matron (1972). Acting the part of the father of a new-born baby, he arrived in the waiting room of a maternity ward displaying the nervy, fidgeting mannerisms and facial expressions that would become familiar to fans of the series that made stars of actors such as Kenneth Williams, Sid James and Barbara Windsor.
It was a cameo role that had been written specifically for Douglas, to test his suitability for the series. He returned, looking exactly the same, for Carry On Abroad (1972), and he continued until the films fizzled out with Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), in which he went out of character to play a snooty butler. Later, he was one of the few from the original team who appeared in the abortive revival, Carry On Columbus (1992). "My favourite was Carry On Girls," he said. "The films might have been naughty, but they weren't filthy. It was seaside-postcard humour and could be watched by the whole family."
Hiding behind his screen persona meant that Douglas was able to go out in public without being bothered, despite his fame. "Because I played Alf – a character I'd developed at Butlins some years before – in seven of the eight Carry On films I worked on, people don't recognise me in the street," he said in 2006. "But I'm receiving plenty of fan letters, more now than I've ever had in my life."
Jack Douglas was born Jack Roberton in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1927, the son of a theatre producer. Although he showed no early interest in acting, he was bitten by the stage bug and ran away from home at the age of 11 to become a lime-boy, operating the spotlights at Feldman's Theatre, Blackpool.
Four years later, his father gave him the chance to direct a pantomime himself, at the Sunderland Empire. His break as a performer came while he was directing Dick Whittington (1948-49) at the Kingston Empire in Surrey. He was persuaded to step in after the comedian Joe Baker's straight man was taken ill. As a result, the pair formed a double-act and, in addition to their stage appearances across Britain and in Australia, they were seen regularly during the first year of the children's television programme Crackerjack (1955-56). When Baker left for the United States, Douglas worked as a foil to other comedians, including Bruce Forsyth, Arthur Askey and Des O'Connor.
He made his film début in the RAF comedy Nearly a Nasty Accident, starring Jimmy Edwards, in 1961. As well as appearing with the Carry On team in their forays into television, Carry On Christmas (1972) and Carry On Laughing (1975), Douglas performed on the small screen in many entertainment programmes. He was in The Bruce Forsyth Show (1965, 1969) and became a regular on both The Des O'Connor Show (1970-71) and the quick-fire comedy series Jokers Wild (1973-74).
Douglas's sitcom roles included Stanley Pickersgill, who pulled pints at the Brown Cow pub alongside his cousin Nellie Pickersgill (Hylda Baker), in the final series of Not on Your Nellie (1975) and the chief superintendent in The Boys in Blue (1983), which starred the comedy duo Cannon and Ball as policemen.
He switched to a straight acting role as Jake, the dour village widower, in the pilot of the comedy drama The Shillingbury Blowers (1980), the subsequent series, Shillingbury Tales (1981) and its spin-off, Cuffy (1983), which put Bernard Cribbins's village tinker character in the spotlight.
Both of Douglas's marriages ended in divorce. He leaves his partner, Vivien Howell, an actress with whom he regularly appeared in pantomime, as well as a son and daughter from his first marriage.
Jack Roberton (Jack Douglas), actor: born Newcastle upon Tyne 26 April 1927; twice married (one son, one daughter); died Newport, Isle of Wight 18 December 2008.
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