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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam