John Louis Mansi: The bungling Gestapo officer Von Smallhausen in '’Allo ’Allo’
Wednesday 03 November 2010
The character actor John Louis Mansi trod a comedy path that went from appearances alongside the former Goons Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine on television and The Beatles in Help! to the role of the bungling, junior Gestapo officer Herr von Smallhausen in 'Allo, 'Allo!
As assistant to the emotionless Herr Flick in that television sitcom, he dressed exactly the same – in a long, leather, double-breasted coat, wide-brimmed leather hat and gloves, and large spectacles – but Von Smallhausen was only half Flick's height. This "little and large" partnership guaranteed laughs in the tradition of music hall and slapstick films. With Richard Gibson (later David Janson) as Flick, Mansi threw himself into the part of the minion dominated by his superior officer – often taking a battering over the head with a rubber truncheon when he voiced one of his stupid plans or ideas.
Mansi joined the Second World War comedy about the French Resistance in 1985, during its second series, when the writers Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft decided Flick needed a foil. He stayed for the remaining seven years of its run before retiring from acting.
The actor was born John Patrick Adams in London in 1926, the son of an Italian father and an Irish mother. After Second World War service with the Merchant Navy and RAF, he trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. He combined his first name with his father's family name to become John Mansi. Later, he added Louis – which was his nickname – as a middle name and, at times, he was simply credited as Louis Mansi.
He made his screen debut in the 1952 Ealing Studios film The Secret People, starring Audrey Hepburn. Soon, his foreign looks and mop of curly, black hair saw him typecast in such roles as an Italian in Hammer the Toff (1952), based on John Creasey's novels about a gentleman sleuth, and an exasperated Turin traffic-control official witnessing the mayhem of the Mini chase in The Italian Job (1969).
In Help! (1965), directed by Richard Lester – who had worked with the Goons on radio and television – Mansi was one of the thuggish followers of a cult leader, played by Leo McKern, trying to prise an ancient, sacrificial ring from Ringo Starr's finger.
On television, he appeared alongside one Goon in the surreal sketch show Spike Milligan: a Series of Unrelated Incidents at Current Market Value (1961) and another, Michael Bentine, in the zany It's a Square World (1960-64). He also appeared with Frankie Howerd in the comedian's eponymously titled BBC show (1964-66).
He was an Italian again, Professor Pesca, in a Sunday-afternoon adaptation of Wilkie Collins's mystery novel The Woman in White (1966), and appeared in episodes of the sitcoms The Fenn Street Gang (1972-73) and Robin's Nest (1980). He also played the role of a harassed restaurant chef in Jack Rosenthal's play Spaghetti Two-Step (1977). Mansi was also cast as the archetypal "foreigner" in programmes such as the air-stewardess sitcom From a Bird's Eye View (1971), starring Millicent Martin. He took rare straight roles in Department S (1969) and the Thirty Minute Theatre production "Revolution: Fidel Castro" (1970). On stage, he acted in runs of Uproar in the House (Whitehall Theatre, 1967-69) and Captain Brassbound's Conversion (Cambridge Theatre, 1971).
Mansi, who enjoyed his retirement in East Sussex, surrounded by chickens, later suffered from Parkinson's disease and, in May this year was diagnosed with lung cancer.
John Patrick Adams (John Louis Mansi), actor: born London 8 November 1926; died Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex 6 August 2010.
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