Mavis Pugh

Actress cast as dotty aristocrats


Mavis Gladys Fox Pugh, actress: born Croydon, Surrey 25 June 1914; married 1959 John Clegg; died Chichester, West Sussex 6 December 2006.

The actress Mavis Pugh was frequently cast in aristocratic roles, most memorably the dotty Lady Lavender in the "upstairs downstairs" television sitcom You Rang, M'Lord?, from the successful writing partnership of Jimmy Perry and David Croft. It was comedy in the tradition of British variety theatre, with elements of farce thrown in - something Pugh had excelled at in her earlier theatre career - and featured an amalgam of stars from the writers' two previous hits, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Hi-de-Hi!

Lord Meldrum (Donald Hewlett), the 1920s stately home owner, tried to have his gin-drinking mother Lady Lavender (Pugh) declared mentally unstable when she promised her shares in the Union Jack Rubber Company first to the maid, Ivy Teasdale (Su Pollard), then to Ivy's father, the scheming butler Alf Stokes (Paul Shane), whose raison d'être appeared to be to swindle his employers out of money.

Alf plotted to relieve her Ladyship of cash when he discovered that she kept a stash under her bed. However, he was forced to move faster than he intended when Lady Lavender threw the money out of a window into the street. Laying his hands on what he could, he hid some in one of his Lordship's antique vases, only to discover later that Meldrum had donated the vase to the Bishop's Auction for Distressed Gentlewomen. Finally, the family completely lost their fortune after the devastation wreaked by a beetle attack on their Malayan rubber plantation and the effects of the stock- market crash.

These were typical of the comic storylines in a popular programme that began with a pilot in 1988 and was followed by four series (1990-93), based on anecdotes about Jimmy Perry's grandfather, who had been a butler in a house in Berkeley Square, London, and parodying the television period drama Upstairs Downstairs.

Mavis Gladys Fox Pugh, the daughter of a London solicitor, was born into a middle-class family in Croydon, Surrey, in 1914, and her acting talent was spotted in school plays at the Downs College, Folkestone, in Kent. Frank Royd and Haydee Gunn, former members of the touring Compton Comedy Company and parents of one of her friends, ran the International School of Acting, to which Pugh won a scholarship.

After working in repertory theatre in Amersham, the tiny 5ft 1in actress played a child on tour in My Wife's Family (starring the music-hall comedian Ernie Lotinga, 1939), before making her West End début as Beth in Little Women (Westminster Theatre), then taking over the title role from Joan White to give a notably energetic performance in Junior Miss (Saville Theatre, 1943, and British tour) and playing the newspaper reporter in We Must Kill Toni (1954), alongside Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray at the Westminster Theatre.

For many years, the theatrical impresario Harry Hanson booked her at repertory theatres across Britain, including the Camberwell Palace, where she forged a memorable partnership in farces with the radio star Hugh Paddick, each of them trying to outdo the other with their ad-libbing.

Spotted by the writer Jimmy Perry at the Golders Green Hippodrome while she was touring in the farce Talk of the Town Hall (1956), Pugh was invited to join his company at the Palace Theatre, Watford, where she met the actor John Clegg, whom she married in 1959.

Both were to appear on television when Perry subsequently had comedy writing success in partnership with David Croft - Clegg getting his biggest role as "Lah-de-Da" Gunner "Paderuski" Graham in It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

Pugh made her television début in 1974 in Croft and Perry's first joint success, Dad's Army, as the first of a string of upper-class characters, Lady Maltby, who loaned Captain Mainwaring her Rolls-Royce. Then she was Chief Commander Crisp in It Ain't Half Hot Mum (1976) and, in two episodes of Hi-de-Hi! (in 1986 and 1988), the Hon Winifred Dempster, mother of the naïve entertainments manager Clive (David Griffin) who was pursued by the senior Yellowcoat Gladys Pugh (Ruth Madoc). She also took three different roles in Are You Being Served? (in 1976, 1977 and 1978), which Croft wrote with Jeremy Lloyd.

In a 1979 episode of Fawlty Towers, the sitcom written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, Pugh played an elderly guest who ordered "a little saucer of warm milk" and a plate of sausages for her beloved Shih Tzu dog, which then bit both Manuel (Andrew Sachs) and Polly (Booth), before being poisoned by the sausages.

She also had small roles in the films The Class of Miss MacMichael (starring Glenda Jackson, 1978) and in the prostitute-murder drama Brothers and Sisters (1980).

Anthony Hayward

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