Tony Melody: Star of the TV series 'Rule Britannia'

The slightly sad-looking face and receding hairline of Tony Melody were familiar to television viewers in dozens of programmes over half a century, particularly sitcoms and soaps. He was a prolific character actor who provided the perfect foil to top comedy stars such as Hylda Baker, Eric Sykes and Harry Worth.

His breakthrough came during the heyday of radio comedy, in The Clitheroe Kid, the long-running show (1957-72) starring the diminutive, Lancashire-born, former music-hall performer Jimmy Clitheroe in the guise of a naughty schoolboy. Melody played Mr Higginbottom, a 6ft 4in taxi driver and Jimmy's arch-enemy, and he joined Clitheroe in the television version, Just Jimmy between 1964 and 1966.

Later, the actor was seen in sitcoms as one of Reg Varney's workmates, Len Peacock, in Down the Gate (1975-76), set in a fish market; as Sergeant Billy Machin, a policemen keeping an eye on a family of petty crooks, in The Nesbitts are Coming (1980); and as Archie, the owner of a seedy café, in The Incredible Mr Tanner (1981), alongside Brian Murphy as a street escapologist.

But he also had one starring role of his own, as the hapless George Bradshaw in Rule Britannia (1975), created by Vince Powell. A group of former shipmates arranged a reunion 25 years after going their separate ways, with George and his wife, Lil (Jo Warne), hosting the gathering. It lasted for an entire series, as George was led astray, into drinking and punch-ups, with Jock McGregor (Russell Hunter) from Scotland, Paddy O'Brien (Joe Lynch) from Ireland and Taffy Evans (Richard Davies) from Wales.

In between the sitcoms, Melody took four different roles in Coronation Street, playing a coach proprietor when residents went on a trip to the Blue John mines in the Peak District in 1965, a taxi driver (1965), Harold Eaton, a decorator working at the Rovers Return (1968), and, in 2000, the MC of a Blackpool ballroom dancing competition in which Norris Cole and Vera Duckworth took part.

Born in London in 1922, Melody was just a boy when his family moved to Leeds. When his parents ran the Station pub in Goole, East Yorkshire, he would sing with the resident pianist. On leaving school, he did National Service in the RAF, then furthered his theatrical ambitions by developing a stand-up comedy act in one of Ralph Reader's Gang Shows, which performed for British troops stationed in different countries and included future stars such as Tony Hancock in its cast.

After landing his role in The Clitheroe Kid following an audition at the BBC, Melody became the compère and singer, accompanied by the Northern Dance Orchestra, in another radio programme, The Straw Hat Club. His first television appearance was alongside Hylda Baker in the sitcom Be Soon (1957) and he was later in demand for both comedy and drama, in episodes of popular series such as Public Eye (1972), Z Cars (1973), Bergerac (1981, 1983), Last of the Summer Wine (1983, 2003), All Creatures Great and Small (1989) and Heartbeat (1995).

Many will remember him as the milkman who taught Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett) to dance in Steptoe and Son (1970) when the younger of the two rag-and-bone men was trying to win over a new girlfriend who was a ballroom-dancing enthusiast. He also took two roles in Emmerdale, as Nicholas Martin in 1983 and the farmer Jed Outhwaite in 1998, and had small parts in the films Yanks (1979) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980).

For more than 40 years, Melody lived in Bispham, Lancashire, the home town of his second wife, the former dancer Margaret Little (née Insole), whom he met in pantomime in Skegness.

Anthony Hayward

Anthony John Melody, actor: born London 18 December 1922; twice married (three sons, one daughter); died Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire 26 June 2008.

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