Trevor Bannister: Actor who made his name as the cheeky Mr Lucas in Are You Being Served?

Saturday 22 October 2011 21:26

Trevor Bannister was best known for playing the lecherous Mr Lucas in the sitcom Are You Being Served? but, though he was a popular television comedy actor, his range extended beyond that, into drama on both television and stage.

Bannister was the youngest of three children of a newsagent and attended The Modern School, Salisbury, which aimed to prepare its pupils for public school and commercial life. However, at the age of 15, Bannister left to join a repertory company in Folkestone, before going to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After two years in the army he returned to the stage with repertory companies throughout England.

A small uncredited role in the Douglas Bader biopic Reach for the Sky (1956) didn't lead to a cinema career: mostly he would work in the theatre and television. In 1960 he made his West End debut at the Cambridge Theatre in the premiere of Billy Liar, playing the hero's best friend, Arthur Crabtree, opposite Albert Finney. Finney left the production and Tom Courtenay stepped in, going on to star in the 1963 film version, when Bannister and director Lindsay Anderson were also replaced.

However, Bannister went on to develop a regular TV career. He starred as Peter Barry in the children's UFO drama Object Z (1965) and the following year's Object Z Returns. By 1968 he was playing the title role as a wartime spiv in the three-part television drama The War of Darkie Pilbeam. The following year saw him as Heavy Breathing in all three series of Jack Rosenthal's typically raw comedy The Dustbinmen (1969-70). Bannister's other early television work included a regular stream of appearances in single dramas and one-off episodes of series including The Avengers (1967), Dixon of Dock Green (1967) and The Saint (1969). He also played three different roles in Z-Cars (1962, 1965 and 1969).

In 1961 the BBC began broadcasting free-standing sitcoms, some effectively becoming pilots for long-running popular series, including Steptoe and Son and The Liver Birds. The 1972 series included Are You Being Served?, which was set in a department store. Bannister played Mr Lucas, the impecunious junior member of the menswear department who spent most of his time chafing against the shop's stuffy regime, complaining about his poverty and plotting his out-of-hours womanising and pursuit of his opposite number in ladieswear, Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard). A highlight was the innuendo-filled quiet sedition of Mr Lucas and his camp colleague Mr Humphreys (John Inman). "The joy of that particular show," Bannister later recalled, "was the fact that most of us had known each other before we came to do it." In fact, Arthur Brough, who played the alternately somnolent and snappy Mr Grainger, had given Bannister his first job in Folkestone.

The pilot was hobbled by being scheduled against Coronation Street, but the decision to develop it led to 69 episodes over 10 series, ending in 1985. However, Bannister left after seven series as he was appearing in a touring production of Middle Age Spread and the BBC would not change the recording date to accommodate him. He did appear in a stage version that was adapted, as were so many 1970s sitcoms, into an ultimately disappointing film version (1977). The spin-off Grace and Favour appeared in 1992, again without Bannister.

In 1972, when Are You Being Served? was being trialled, Bannister had taken the second of his three roles in Coronation Street: his first had been in 1967 and he would return for a third stint, as Mike Baldwin's solicitor in 2006.

Mr Lucas's lady-killing had been a popular part of his persona and in 1988 Bannister played Peter Pitt, a similarly focused burglar-alarm salesman, in Wyatt's Watchdogs, a comedy about an incompetent Neighbourhood Watch scheme. It was largely peopled by stock characters – Brian Wilde played the titular pompous busybody – but they made the stock characters work as well as possible. From 2001 Bannister appeared intermittently in Last of the Summer Wine, though it was only in 2009 that The Golf Captain was given a name – Toby Mulbery-Smith, a regular for the last two series.

Throughout, Bannister continued his theatrical career, including Ray Cooney's farce Move Over Mrs Markham (1969) and a revival of The Odd Couple (1996). Even broader comedy saw him playing the dame in pantomime 34 times. He took a traditionalist view of the part and did not regard it as female impersonation, saying, "It's just a fella in a frock." He did play Buttons once and enjoyed "one of the few real actor's roles in pantomime for a young actor."

John Riley

Trevor Gordon Bannister, actor: born Durrington, Wiltshire 14 August 1934; married firstly Kathleen Cavros (divorced, three sons), 1982 Pam Carson; died Thames Ditton, Surrey 14 April 2011.

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