Paul Shane: Actor who mined a seam of comedy nostalgia in 'Hi-De-Hi!' and 'Oh Mr Beeching!'

His graduation from entertainer to actor came thanks to a part in Alan Bennett's play 'A Day Out'

Pug-faced and cheery-eyed, Paul Shane was the face of a particular strain of nostalgic comedy on BBC television for nearly two decades. Instantly recognisable as the face (and voice) of the ’50s-set holiday-camp sitcom Hi-De-Hi!, Shane relished the role of resident comedian and shyster Ted Bovis. The series won a Bafta in 1984, and while the camp performances and larky plots may seem as quaintly antiquated now as the 1950s themselves did in the 1980s, the series was a Sunday-night hit for the BBC and worked well as a knockabout family romp alongside the decade’s more ground-breaking sitcoms.

Born George Frederick Speight, he came from a South Yorkshire mining community, and if it hadn’t been for an accident when he was 27 he may well have remained a collier. He had been performing for fun in working men’s clubs as a musical act for a few years, but when he slipped on a bar of soap in the pithead baths at Silverwood Colliery, resulting in double herniated discs, he was pensioned off and decided to go professional.

Like Billy Connolly, he was a musician who gradually evolved into a comedian. In Connolly’s case it was when his patter between the songs got a better reaction from the audience than the songs themselves. In Shane’s case it was by taking straight renditions of pop standards, and, as his confidence grew, performing outrageous parodies of them. Ironically, when he attempted to make a return to straight singing in the 1990s with a performance of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” on the BBC’s Pebble Mill at One, it caused unintentional hilarity and ended up on Channel 4’s 100 Greatest TV Moments from Hell.

His graduation from club entertainer to television actor came in 1972 when he landed a small role in Alan Bennett’s play A Day Out. Shown on BBC2 on Christmas Eve, the delightful story of a cycling club riding to Fountains Abbey, unaware that the spectre of the approaching First World War hangs over them, was Bennett’s first television play and his first collaboration with Stephen Frears.

There was a fashion in film-making for the small screen at this time to find “real people to play real people”, something begun by Ken Loach and Tony Garnett and used to great success through the 1960s and ’70s, particularly in Northern dramas. John Goldschmidt, who cast Shane in a small role in his Play for Today “Vampires” in 1979, recalled that “there was a huge agency in the North at this time and it was full of all these colourful characters, singers, magicians, pantomime dames, bingo callers, comics. You found some wonderful people there.”

Frears cast Shane again in another Bennett play, their masterpiece Sunset Across the Bay. Shane was popping up more and more, usually in plays that were well within his field of reference such as Pit Strike (1977) alongside Clifford Kershaw (a market trader-turned-actor who had been discovered by Mike Leigh) and Summer Season (1977) by actor and writer Brian Glover (originally a professional wrestler).

It was a small role in Coronation Street in 1979 that got him spotted by comedy writer Jimmy Perry, who with David Croft was devising a new sitcom based on his time working as a Butlin’s Redcoat after the war. As well as being a television success, a stage musical version of Hi-de-Hi! played summer seasons in Bournemouth and Blackpool and had a Christmas run at the Victoria Palace Theatre. The series theme song, “Holiday Rock”, sung by Shane, even made it to No 36 in the charts.

While enjoying the success of Hi-de-Hi!, Shane did turn in a straight role in the brilliant ITV serial Muck and Brass, one of the grittiest of Thatcher-era dramas, tellingly in a cast that also gave unsmiling roles to comedians Mel Smith and Jim Bowen. But it was a certain breed of sitcom that suited him best, and after Hi-de-Hi! he led in two more series, You Rang M’ Lord (1993) and Oh Doctor Beeching! (1996). Both used many of the same actors as Hi-de-Hi! and played like a mini-rep company, which added to the gentle tone of nostalgia. Oh Dr Beeching! was set in 1963 at a branch line station living in fear of the axe, and while the subject could have easily allowed some pathos to float into the proceedings, it instead went for broad buffoonery. The critics loathed it and it was probably too retro for the age in both subject matter and style, but it was all the same a fond celebration of a comedy squad that had won huge audiences over a 15-year prime-time reign.

Much better was Common as Muck (1997), with a great ensemble cast including Edward Woodward and Neil Dudgeon as dustbinmen. Shane’s final roles on television included short stints in Doctors (2000) and Emmerdale (2004). He continued to appear in panto until he underwent heart bypass surgery in 2009.

His career reminds one of how much offbeat talent was once born in clubs and concert halls, and how television once loved plucking it out. Like many of his contemporaries, Shane’s cough-and-spit roles in Play for Today led to him finding a niche, in his case in knockabout comedies. As casting becomes less daring and regional programming fades away, one wonders where such characters will come from in the future.

George Frederick Speight (Paul Shane), actor: born Rotherham 19 June 1940; married Dory (died 2001; three daughters); died Rotherham 16 May 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum