Michael Sharvell-Martin: Perennial supporting actor who worked with Benny Hill, Dave Allen and Les Dawson
Monday 13 December 2010
The actor Michael Sharvell-Martin was the perennial supporting player, most often seen in television sketches alongside comedians such as Benny Hill, Dave Allen and Les Dawson – and on stage as a long-running pantomime dame.
The usually mustachioed actor joined The Benny Hill Show with its seaside-postcard humour when the programme transferred from the BBC to ITV. He appeared only in its first series (1969-70) but will be remembered for playing a bespectacled doctor doing the ward rounds at the fictional Lower Tidmarsh Volunteer Hospital and hopping into bed with a female patient, as well as a vicar discussing his football-playing prowess while unaware that his flies are open, and Dr Frankenstein in a mini-musical show finale, "The Sound of Frankenstein".
More subtle was the comedy in the BBC's Dave Allen at Large (1971-79), where the star interspersed his sit-down monologues with filmed sketches. Taboo subjects such as sex, death and religion – particularly the Pope – were all part of the Irish Catholic Allen's repertoire, which relied on observing life and putting a slightly lunatic slant on it. Sharvell-Martin was one of Allen's small repertory company of sketch actors, taking dozens of roles. "It was like having a big dressing-up box called the BBC – and someone gave you money at the end of it as well," he recalled earlier this year. "You put on a German helmet, then do a silly sketch, then become a Viking, then something else. Wonderful. A great, great time and a great laugh."
He also remembered benefiting from the star's generosity as a performer. "You'd be frantically changing for another sketch," said Sharvell-Martin, "and Dave had had some complicated make-up on and he would say, 'Let Michael do the sketch.' The bottom line, as he said, was that it doesn't matter who gets the laugh."
Later, Sharvell-Martin had a rare continuing role as a single character when he played William Gaunt's neighbour, Trevor Botting, in the sitcom No Place Like Home (1983-87). Trevor often joined Arthur Crabtree (Gaunt) in his greenhouse, sipping home-brew sherry, when his own wife's trademark shriek became too loud and Arthur was seeking refuge from his wife and the four grown-up children who had all returned to the fold.
The actor was born Michael Ernest Martin in Herne Bay, Kent, in 1944. His mother had served in the Women's Land Army and the Women's Royal Air Force, and his father rose to the rank of wing commander in the RAF.
At the age of seven, the family moved to Singapore. Four years later, Sharvell-Martin returned and attended Bethany School in Goudhurst, Kent, where a broken nose sustained in a football match gave him a distinctive look that probably helped his later acting career.
Appearances in school plays and his father's love of theatre led Sharvell-Martin to train in stage management at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. After working behind the scenes at the Aldwych, London, and in Guildford and Worthing, he was given the chance to act at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, in 1965. There was already an actor called Michael Martin, so he took his mother's maiden name and became Michael Sharvell-Martin.
While performing at Cheltenham in that year's pantomime, Cinderella, he met Linda Hind, one of the dancers, whom he married in 1967, when he also changed his name by deed poll. His initial screen appearances in The Benny Hill Show, an episode of the Frankie Howerd-starring comedy Up Pompeii! (1970) and the 1970 special Inside the Mind of Dave Allen were followed by a string of one-off television roles. He popped up in the sitcoms Dad's Army (1974), Terry and June (five roles, 1980-85), Yes Minister (1982) and Murder Most Horrid (as a major and a judge, 1991).
Sharvell-Martin continued with Dave Allen in his television specials (1981, 1984, 1986) and appeared in sketches in Look, Mike Yarwood! (1976), Mike Yarwood in Persons (1976-78), The Dawson Watch (1979), The Les Dawson Show and The Kenny Everett Television Show (1982-83).
He was also on the West End stage in the farces When Did You Last See Your Trousers? (Garrick Theatre, 1987-88) and Don't Dress for Dinner (Duchess Theatre, 1992-97). In 1996, he and the late Brien Chitty founded The Irving Society, in memory of the Victorian actor-manager Sir Henry Irving. This followed their National Theatre exhibition celebrating the centenary of Irving's knighthood the previous year.
By 2000, television comedy was changing and work was drying up for Sharvell-Martin. That year, he and his wife started running a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Bournemouth. They moved to Somerset, to live in Wincanton, in 2007.
Despite a lack of television work, the actor – known by his fellow professionals as quiet, gentle and genial, and as an avid collector of early theatrical memorabilia – remained popular in pantomime, usually playing dames or Ugly Sisters. He clocked up 35 consecutive years in such stage shows, finishing as Widow Twankey in Aladdin at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, last Christmas. Sharvell-Martin was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus earlier this year.
Michael Ernest Martin (Michael Sharvell-Martin), actor: born Herne Bay, Kent 2 February 1944; married 1967 Linda Hind (two daughters); died Wincanton, Somerset 28 October 2010.
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