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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?