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No 100 – Sir Richard Stilgoe

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WELCOME TO OUR COUNTDOWN OF a hundred actors, broadcasters, comedians and sundries who loosely shelter under the tarpaulin we’re calling The One Hundred Greatest Cream-Related People Of All Time.

We’re saluting those who we think have done a body of work during the official TV Cream era of 1967-97 (from the birth of Radio 1 to the death of Diana) that particularly merits acclaim. These placings have been decided by TV Cream alone and there’s absolutely nothing scientific about this. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Readers of TV Cream’s weekly mailout Creamguide will notice something familiar about this feature. Yup, we’re stealing the content outright and reproducing it here, tarted up with a few gestures towards multimedia and one or two gigantic colour snaps. But don’t worry, you’ll still get to read the latest chart placings in the mailout first. No “web-only exclusives” here.

Anyway, let’s clear our throat with…

LThe man who voted "don't know" in the election

This is going to be some ride, as you can tell. We start with the erstwhile High Sheriff of Surrey whose way with a witty lyric shuttled him to stardom in the seventies.

Footlights, cabaret and writing A Class By Himself starring John le Mesurier, surely the only sitcom ever made by HTV West, led RICHARD STILGOE to surely his most famous gig, joining the team of Nationwide. Stilgoe’s main role was to helm the Consumer Unit, where he’d fill us in on how much stamps had gone up (“Now someone may no longer be able to afford to send a letter to a loved one”), get people with six people on one hand a free calculator and basically document the collapse of the British economy through song.

His most notable ditty was A Statuary Right Of Entry To Your Home where a gaggle of Stilgoes, via the magic of CSO, explained exactly who you were obliged to let through your front door (“I am a police-maaan!”), though there was also I’ve Got To Stop You There, which featured contributions from all the regional pre senters (“But Stuart Hall in Manchester, he gets the whole thing wrong/He just says Shut up Minister, you’ve gone on far too long”). And Bowie and Jagger couldn’t get it together on Live Aid.

His ‘wide role saw him get gigs on a number of other shows, including an appearance on Swap Shop where he was challenged to write a song about that day’s show before it finished, and his memorable Election 79 appearance singing the results:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7juXEvyjT0

Next came his own teatime miscellany And Now The Good News which mixed gags and songs about only the nice bits of the week’s news, which must have been a tough job during the Winter of Discontent.

His whimsical approach was highly popular, though sending up the devolution campaign apparently attracted the ire of Scottish viewers. Sadly the revamped serious Nationwide had no space for a minstrel, though he came back for the last one, but Stilgoe still had plenty of gigs, especially on kids TV where he chaired (and performed the theme tune to, live) quiz game Finders Keepers and hobby miscellany Stilgoe’s On (a great name) including instructing the nation’s children how to tie a tie.

He also moonlighted with occasional stints as one of Esther’s nancies on That’s Life and as a particularly anagrammatic guardian of the dictionary on Countdown:

Life Stilgoe's on Giscard O'Hitler and chums

Later when the telly work dried up still further he went off on tour with another supplier of musical whimsy in Peter Skellern, and he’s still doing that today. He still pops up on radio from time to time, such as this memorable contribution to an edition of The Now Show in 2007, and he also gives half his earnings to charity, so hooray for him.

THE DEFINING ROLE: It’s got to be his role as guardian of the Nationwide postbag, including his role in solving the mystery of letters postmarked 1861. It was, er, just 1981 upside down.

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No 99 – Roy Kinnear

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In the latest edition of Word magazine, Rob Brydon said he always wanted to be Peter Sellers, but later started to worry that maybe he wasn’t going to reach such heights and instead be ROY KINNEAR, which was a decent enough job but not quite so glamorous.

It’s nothing to be sniffed at, of course, as television has long benefited from the unsung work of Roy Kinnear types, and the very best Roy Kinnear of all was, well, Roy Kinnear himself.

A discomfited Roy Kinnear, yesterday

Certainly the likeable character actor was never less than excellent in supporting roles in virtually every classic comedy of the seventies and eighties, with jobs in the likes of Till Death Us Do Part, George and Mildred and Ripping Yarns, and alongside Dick Emery.

"If yer want, I could do it so there's room for two!" "Ooh, George, did you hear that?" "Be pretty stupid if there was only room for one of your feet." "Oh George..." Dicking about

His starring roles were perhaps less memorable, including playing a greengrocer in long forgotten BBC1 sitcom No Appointment Necessary and the weird Roy Clarke-penned The Clairvoyant, but he gave his usual impeccable performance as the world-weary middle-aged man, expertly delivering the dialogue to the finest comic effect.

He also appeared as himself a few times as well, most obviously early in his career on That Was The Week That Was but also a number of appearance on Blankety Blank where he was a regular residence in the top left pissed-off-middle-aged-man chair and was great at the banter with Wogan and Dawson:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rymipjDxnGw

Kinnear’s last starring role, however, was the most notorious, as he was the headmaster at Hardwicke House, the mythical ITV sitcom that was abandoned after two shows as the public couldn’t handle it, something that very much upset Kinnear as he was very proud of the show. Sadly it was to be his last major role as in 1988 he died on the set of The Return of The Musketeers, but happily his work lives on as he was in absolutely every show on telly, and though he never really got the big breaks, he was always worth watching.

THE DEFINING ROLE: The epitome of the middle-aged, middle-class man was surely best served in the ultimate middle-aged, middle-class sitcom George and Mildred, where he regularly appearance alongside his old mate Brian Murphy.

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No 98 – Matthew Kelly

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Before Game For a Laugh began, someone high up at LWT said it was going to flop as you couldn’t have an entertainment show starring two men with beards.

In fact it was a huge success and one of those bearded blokes went on to become one of our most popular presenters.

Goading us, goading you, goading us, goading you

MATTHEW KELLY had actually started off as an actor, appearing alongside the likes of Julie Walters at the legendary Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, before a variety of jobs including a spell as Hylda Baker’s mute sidekick and a couple of sitcoms like Holding The Fort.

Here he stood out thanks to his camp manner and his massive height and appeared on Punchlines, impressing producer Alan Boyd so much he was invited to join the team on Game For a Laugh.

He certainly made an impact in series one as he broke his leg before it and spent the entire run in plaster, but his “naughty boy” approach was hugely popular with the audience and when he decided to leave in 1983, both Henry Kelly and Sarah Kennedy decided he was so important to the mix they didn’t want to do it without him.

His huge appeal among kids also saw him installed as the first presenter of Children’s ITV and a couple of other kids shows including Madabout:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mmn8sUOGQDI

Later in the eighties it got a bit quiet, however, but things perked up in the nineties, first when he replaced Brucie on You Bet, but then massively when he replaced Leslie Crowther on Stars in Their Eyes.

This was initially only a temporary measure as Crowther was in poor health but he was never well enough to return and Kelly got the gig full time – and he was brilliant at it. Why it worked was because of Kelly’s wonderfully warm manner, treating the contestants with absolute respect, always referring to them without irony as “star guests” and clearly being absolutely thrilled for them.

LWT board meetings were always much more entertaining on Greg Dyke's watch Ne'er a trace of irony to be seen

At a time when light entertainment was getting nastier, it was truly refreshing to see a man being really nice to people – a much underrated skill. Unfortunately for Matthew he was then investigated over some lurid allegations, of which he was found completely innocent, but the press coverage led to him getting a bit fed up with showbiz, so he gave up his light entertainment roles and went back to his first love of acting, where he’s landed some major roles in large productions and enjoyed much critical acclaim.

But with some of the “stars” of Saturday night telly at the moment, it’s a shame this thoroughly likeable man isn’t livening up a torpid format.

THE DEFINING ROLE: Game For a Laugh was a big hit, but we don’t think he’s ever topped Stars in Their Eyes because he was such a bloody nice bloke on it.

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No 97 – Moira Stuart

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When the world ends, we’d at least like to be told about it by MOIRA STUART, whose terribly reassuring manner would make us feel a bit better about it.

Queen of the Stuarts

Moira may seem a strange person to include in our countdown, but we think there are few other people who became such a familiar fixture on our screens over three decades. Also we need some more women in this chart.

Moira started on Radio 4, where she was the first black person ever to read the news on the station in 1978, combining it with other announcing work and occasional acting including, famously, a recurring role in The Adventure Game, one of the ultimate Creamy TV shows.

Her thespanism didn’t last long, though, because in 1981 she started reading the news on the telly, the first black woman ever to do so. Her incredible unflappable approach, matched with impeccable diction and huge hair, meant she soon stood out and, when Richard Baker retired at the end of 1982, she moved from the lunchtime slot to the teatime bulletin , establishing herself as one of the most trusted and popular newsreaders of them all.

You wouldn’t catch her being flustered by a lightbulb exploding over her like silly old Jan Leeming did, she would simply continue in her warm but authoritative manner, with no need for fripperies:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8ISL5D6gd8

Over the next two decades she read the news at all hours of the day on virtually every variant of news bulletin devised, and all her colleagues spoke of her exceptional coolness and expert pronunciation, always doing her homework to get those complicated foreign names right.

However, by the turn of the century the old idea of the simple newsreader was seen as old hat, with the trend now for multi-skilling journalists who could interview and report, rather than simply deliver a script, no matter how impeccably. Happily she found a new role as the newsreader on Breakfast for a while, before being dropped from that in 2007 and therefore having no regular BBC gigs, although the BBC were at pains to point out that although she was a middle-aged black woman it definitely wasn’t ageist, racist or sexist, honest.

But Moira bounced back, first in those tax ads, once more illustrating that if Moira tells up to jump in the fire, we’ll do it, and then as part of Chris Evans’ Radio 2 gang, where she again reads the news with her excellent diction and gets to do a few gags as well. And no matter how grim the news, everything always feel right with Moira to tell us about it.

THE DEFINING ROLE: Well, reading the news, obviously, although professionally she was probably at her peak in the Chinese lantern era of the mid-eighties, blazing a trail for women and black people in news broadcasting.

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No 96 – Mike Neville

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Better the Neville you knowOK, so the name might not mean much to 90% of the country, but for those from Whitby to Wallsend, MIKE NEVILLE was probably the most famous man on television.

Mike has to be the ultimate regional TV presenter, someone who loved their region and was loved back, and showed no interest in moving to London to further their career when they were so happy and successful on home ground.

Formerly an actor, Mike started off in the early days of Tyne Tees before moving over to BBC Newcastle in 1964 on the departure of Frank Bough.

He soon established himself as the perfect anchorman, being a proud Geordie with a innate feeling of what the viewers of north-east England were interested in, and forever able to switch between the serious and the silly.

For Mike, the latter meant endless editions of Larn Yerself Geordie with his mate George “Jarge Hoose” House, delighting in local slang that was completely incomprehensible to anyone outside the region.

But Mike’s real skill, which became vital, was his ability to ride out any technical cock-ups. With BBC Newcastle being based in an ancient nineteenth-century building held together with sellotape and hope, that was a skill he used most nights, not caring how daft he looked and carrying on regardless of the show falling apart around him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JvQLagHDwo

The most notable of all these moments came when they cocked up the timings and finished two minutes early, so Mike simply put his feet up on the desk, got the paper out and read it (“See the weather forecast’s no good… what are Newcastle United doing?”).

In 1988 the Beeb finally moved to the Pink Palace, a proper TV studio that was a quantum leap forward, although cock-ups still abounded and Mike was still clearly the star. In 1996, though, north-east England was shattered when he defected to Tyne Tees, where he stayed for a further decade before retiring due to ill health, conveniently just before the ITV regions went to crap, and thereby making him the longest serving daily presenter in British TV history.

When he left, not only did Tyne Tees devote the entire bulletin to him, but so did the Beeb. That’s how famous he was.

THE DEFINING ROLE: Although he occasionally came to London to do the odd stint on Nationwide, he was never better than when he was holding court in Newcastle, chuckling through the cock-ups.

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No 95 – Chris Evans

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This is possibly our first controversial choice, but don’t forget we’re covering the whole of the Cream Era here, and during the early 90s CHRIS EVANS was undoubtedly the most inventive, most likeable and most popular person on the box. Besides, in 1993 every kid in Britain was nuts about him.

Evans above

The Evans career path is well-known: born in Warrington, no qualifications, tarzan-o-grams, then the sack from Piccadilly Radio. It all came good at GLR at the turn of the 1990s, where he presented a fabulously exciting radio show crammed with humour, best illustrated by his feature Billy where he got people to ring in on their car phones (it was London, people had them there) and simply shout “Billy!” at passers-by, just to confuse them.

Presented in front of a studio audience, Evans’ show became cult listening in the capital and helped get him some telly work, including a daily show on BSB’s Power Station and a contract with TV-am, only for him to get immediately dropped by the latter when the company lost its franchise (though Evans still got paid for 35 unmade programmes).

His big break, though, came on 28 September 1992 when he presented the first episode of The Big Breakfast. Rarely had their been such an excellent combination of host and programme, as his quick wit and likeable personality made him the perfect host for two hours of utterly shambolic but captivating television.

It was Evans who brought with him the idea of getting the crew on camera, which was then ripped off by every other show on TV, while his encounters with Zig and Zag made it the first breakfast telly you’d ever actually set the video for.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1Adq9yCCdM

Evans seemed able to cope no matter what went wrong, and he quickly established himself as one of the TV stars of the decade, appealing to adults and kids alike with his charm and cheek.

Next came Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, another hugely influential show that made him millions and was packed with brilliant moments, whether it was Evans giving away his own car, getting an entire street to flash their lights on and off, or taking the entire audience off on holiday.

Ripped off by ever light entertainment show since, it’s amazing to think it lasted barely 12 months before Evans decided to end it as he was out of ideas.

Then there was the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, which was required listening for the first year, and even the first few months of TFI Friday were properly exciting.

Of course, it all went wrong later in the decade with a load of self-indulgent unpleasant rubbish, but for a few short years Chris Evans was the best person on television. And he’s OK now, isn’t he? [Speak for yourself – Ed.]

THE DEFINING ROLE: Whether it was helming Invention Corner, running The Birthday Dip or messing around with Zig and Zag, The Big Breakfast was Evans’ finest hour.

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No 94 – Jimmy Young

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OK, it all went a bit wrong at the end for JIMMY YOUNG when he left the Beeb in a rather undignified fashion, but before that he’d been a stalwart in showbusiness for some five decades.

Mobile commode not pictured

He began as a singer in the 1950s where he was undoubtedly one of the biggest names of his day. JY enjoyed two number one singles (and would probably have had more if the singles chart had been going earlier) but by the end of the decade, with his crooning falling out of fashion, he decided to broaden his horizons and start working as a broadcaster.

His instantly recognisable voice – with the Gloucestershire accent he never lost – saw him immediately get work on the Light Programme, most notably on Housewives’ Choice, and indeed that’s a label that went on to apply to JY for the rest of his career.

In 1967 he was in the launch line-up for Radio 1, hosting the mid-morning show for its first five years, representing the establishment side of the station alongside all those bloody hippies, and despite being already way older than most of the listeners he was hugely popular with his outside broadcasts from fish finger factories and recipes, heralded by his pet chipmunk Raymondo.

In 1973 he moved to Radio 2, and here he became even more celebrated… and, yes, hugely innovative. The JY Prog, as it was forever dubbed, saw Young mix music with news and current affairs, featuring regular phone-ins on the day’s events and interviews with a host of major names including every single prime minister.

Jim appears with a known bender One of the most influential policy-makers of recent decades... and Tony Blair

Moving seamlessly from light music to legal affairs, the Prog became a highly influential programme when people realised Jimmy was reaching an audience who wouldn’t normally watch Panorama. Despite being hugely respectful he clearly knew his stuff, and for 30 years he remained a stalwart of the station. For many years his handover from Terry Wogan became so amusing and important that it was even awarded its own Radio Times cover.

Sadly ill-health kept him off the air for much of his last few years, and although he was eager to carry on, the Beeb decided it was time to call it a day, and he rejected their offer of a weekly slot. He’s still about, writing for the Sunday Express, and he was back on the station the other week to celebrate his ninetieth. TTFN!

THE DEFINING ROLE: The JY Prog is imprinted in the memories of a generation of kids spending the holidays round at their grandparents’ house, though the first minute of the show when he bantered with Tel tended to overshadow the rest of it. “Begone, you whey-faced hypocrite!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMVlHDPkwsM

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No 93 – Vic Reeves

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When Channel Four’s Head of Comedy pointed out to Michael Grade that their new comedy series wasn’t really setting the BARB boxes alight, Grade replied: “If nobody is watching this, we should carry on doing it”. And he was – as usual – proved right, because Vic Reeves Big Night Out was one of the most influential comedy shows of all time, and cemented VIC REEVES himself as a bona fide comic icon.

Moir's the pity

Born as Jim Moir in Darlington, the former punk rocker (as was his mate Bob, who had a band with the brilliant name of Dog Dirt) had many jobs before arriving in London in the mid-1980s and running a comedy night in Deptford.

Not really knowing or caring about alternative comedy, Moir decided to do the whole show himself, bringing on his mates as the “acts”. The resulting show, which eventually became named Vic Reeves Big Night Out, became one of the hottest tickets in the capital.

Solicitor Bob Mortimer later joined the cast and a host of celebrities were regular visitors, including Jonathan Ross, who suggested putting the thing on the telly, with their cult status eventually leading to Alan Yentob and Michael Grade both attending the show one night.

Eventually they signed with Channel 4 and Big Night Out began in May 1990. At the time Reeves and Mortimer were virtual unknowns, with just a few appearances on Jonathan Ross’ shows and a quick turn on The Tube four years earlier the sub-total of their previous telly appearances. Bob hadn’t even left his job.

Big Night Out was certainly unlike anything else on telly, keeping much of the shambolic, home-made air of the live show, albeit 25 minutes instead of three hours.

Characters like The Stotts and Morrissey The Consumer Monkey made a virtue of their low budgets with gaffer-tape moustaches and papier mache heads. But it wasn’t all surrealism. There were proper jokes as well (“I put so much petrol in my car the other day, I couldn’t get in it!”) and some high quality light entertainment – or at least Bob dressed up as Rick Astley for the pensioners.

At this stage Vic was the main star with Bob turning up in a wig every few minutes as some character or other. Vic’s love of music also led to him releasing I Will Cure You, an utterly bizarre album from which spun off a number one hit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVF_Pui1lAs

Thanks to teatime repeats, every kid in Britain had seen Big Night Out and was crazy about it [speak for yourself – Ed.] Then, after two series, the pair went and signed for the BBC.

The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer ensued, an equally high quality show with the likes of Slade In Residence and Noel’s Addicts rating among the funniest sketches of the 1990s.

But it’s Big Night Out that became, as predicted by the NME, a cult of immense proportions.

THE DEFINING ROLE: Vic appearing on stage, brought on by the likes of Aled Jones (hawking burned shower caps now his voice had broken) or Isambard Kingdom Brunel, crooning the likes of I’m A Believer or Sheila Take A Bow, was a world away from the alternative comedy of the time. It’s about that time of night he liked to place a Caramac under a squirrel.

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No 92 – Tommy Boyd

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These days TOMMY BOYD seems to be forever turning up on fly-by-night internet radio “stations” to shout at people on the phone, but instead let’s remember his days as the friendly face of ITV children’s shows.

Answer: not much

Tommy’s pre-telly career seems to have included a dizzying amount of jobs including dolphin trainer, football coach at a US summer camp, journalist and redcoat, which perhaps explains why he appeared to have a rather wider frame of residence than most kids telly hosts when he turned up on Magpie in 1977.

Although Magpie was officially not as good as Blue Peter, Tommy made a good team with Mick Robertson and Jenny Hanley, able to shift seamlessly between the serious and the silly.

He always appeared a bit more literate and opinionated than your average kids’ show host, as best seen on the Magpie DVD where he earnestly reviews the entries to their Christmas card competition.

Boyd was apparently most pissed off when it ended in 1980 and cites politics as the reason, and in recent years he’s always gone into bat for the show, saying how cool all their viewers were.

After that Tommy went on to be something of a kids’ TV Red Adair, being parachuted into The Saturday Show at the last minute when Big Daddy legged it and then taking over from Timmy Mallett on The Wide Awake Club.

That’s where we most remember him, where he proved highly adept at marshalling two hours of shakily-conceived live television.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6M1MVuNUlw

Boyd was always able to get an interview out of anyone, even the most hungover and uncooperative of indie bands. He was clearly completely devoid of embarrassment, always happy to don a silly wig and put on a daft accent, but again he always seemed to have a life outside of kids’ telly and would regularly stick in several references to amuse the most grown-up viewers.

Boyd stuck with WAC through think and thin, including TV-am’s mammoth industrial dispute, and for a while was even producing the show, before he finally called it a day in 1990.

A year later he resurfaced as Children’s ITV’s linkman, where he illustrated plenty of enthusiasm and again a pleasingly thoughtful approach, talking sincerely about the messages in the programmes, but he seemed a bit old for it and sometimes came over as more embarrassing than entertaining.

That was about it for his telly career, apart from an aborted spell as Channel Five’s face of baseball – apparently packing it in after two weeks because he hated baseball, which you think he’d have mentioned before taking the job. He then became a familiar voice on the radio, although to be honest we find the kind of radio he does utterly unlistenable. Nevertheless, for a good decade or so Tommy was a consistently intelligent and likeable TV presenter who took kids telly seriously.

THE DEFINING ROLE: We’re going to opt for The Wide Awake Club, which from a modern perspective is a somewhat curious show with its tiny budget and some rather high-minded educational aspects, not least endless appearances by Prince Edward, but Boyd managed to hold it all together and ensured it all ran smoothly.

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No 91 – Jean Alexander

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There are TV shows, and then there’s Coronation Street, which seems to exist on a higher plane than anything else in the medium’s history – especially when considering its imperial phase in the 1960s and 70s.

There were many wonderful actors in the show portraying some hugely iconic characters, some of them incredible female performers like Violet Carson, Pat Phoenix and Doris Speed. But we’ve chosen the person behind surely the ultimate Coronation Street resident.

Alexander the great
Actually a Scouser, JEAN ALEXANDER first appeared on the cobbles in a minor role in 1961 before joining the cast full time in 1964 as Hilda Ogden.

She became the epitome of your classic Corrie character: one who could effortlessly switch from comedy to drama in the blink of an eye. Yet while Alexander portrayed Hilda as a busybody and battleaxe who had ideas above her station – most obviously with her muriel – it was always done with affection. It was an approach that helped Hilda become one of the best loved characters on television.

Most of her best scenes involved on-screen husband Stan, aka Bernard Youens – a posh Southerner in real life. But things got even better when Geoffrey Hughes joined the cast as the Odgen’s lodger Eddie Yeats, and a triumvirate of great performances of great comic characters took shape.

Corrie was in its pomp at this time. It was watched avidly by the likes of John Betjeman, who was thrilled to meet the cast when he visited the studio, and Laurence Olivier who wanted to be in it with Hilda but couldn’t make it at the last minute, much to his dismay.

Yet for all the comedy, both broad and subtle, Jean Alexander’s finest moment on Coronation Street came from tragedy. When Bernard Youens died, his character Stan was killed off. This led to Hilda appearing in some heartbreaking scenes that apparently had the entire crew in tears.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXhp1J0Usng

After that it was never going to be the same. Hilda was written out of the show at Alexander’s request in 1987, bowing out on Christmas Day in a nice storyline that happily got the show’s highest rating ever.

The Paul and Linda of the small screen Wish her luck as they wave her goodbye

Alexander went into semi-retirement. She made the odd appearance on TV and later became a semi-regular on that old actor’s home Last Of The Summer Wine, but she always refused to come back to Corrie. Being of a certain age and having certain views, she found the modern incarnation of the soap a bit too raucous for her liking.

There’s no doubt that, thanks to the hectic schedules and huge increase in episode numbers, present-day Coronation Street is not a patch on its earlier vintage.

Yet it’s still a cut above the rest and still enjoys huge affection, not least thanks to Jean Alexander’s fantastic warm, hilarious performance of one of the most famous women in Britain.

THE DEFINING ROLE: That’s right, it’s her role in Rich Tea and Sympathy. Er, no it’s not, it’s Hilda.

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No 90 – William G Stewart

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WILLIAM GLADSTONE STEWART has enjoyed a television career of two halves.

William, it was really nothing

Up until the mid-1980s he stayed firmly behind the scenes. Stewart produced and directed a huge number of light entertainment shows, including sitcoms like Bless This House and Father Dear Father (even directing the latter’s big screen spin-off, and we always like seeing him listed on IMDb as a proper film director).

He also oversaw quizzes, and became the first producer of Family Fortunes. In 1984 he brought The Price is Right to British screens, which was the first time many of the brash aspects of American game shows had been seen on UK television. A huge furore ensued, with the show being taken off air for a few weeks while Stewart and his team leavened proceedings with blandness. This didn’t stop him continuing to warm up the audience by rushing around in a pink bomber jacket while Land Of Hope And Glory blared from the studio speakers.

But aside from those lucky or misfortunate enough to witness such scenes, Stewart remained a complete unknown to the general public.

Then in 1988 a quiz idea was submitted to his company and he decided not just to produce it, but also step out from behind the camera to host.

Fifteen-to-One went on to run for, aptly, fifteen highly acclaimed years.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9vIGc9uPIQ

Much of the show’s success was doubtless down to William G, who was quite unlike any other quiz host. He brought a unique firm but fair manner to his role. He was not averse to the odd quip, but at the same time tolerated no messing about and always ensured the quiz was the star. He even sued a contestant who came back under an assumed name in contravention of the rules.

The format was certainly sturdy enough to provide brainteasing fun at teatime, but Stewart’s eccentricity made for some notable moments.

There were the elaborate classical artefacts given away as prizes, or the Senior Citizens Board charting the show’s oldest viewers, or the occasional bits of banter with some of the familiar returning contestants.

The best bit, however, was always when the quiz ran short and there was a bit of time to kill. On such occasions William G would either discuss his specialist subject, the Elgin Marbles, or chat about the show in general. This led to a special “Scrapbook” edition devoted to odds and sods that had arisen from viewers’ letters, including explaining how the team put the show together and even giving us a primer in the binary system.

In 2003 our man thought it was time to call it a day and Channel Four decided, rightly, Fifteen-to-One couldn’t carry on without him. And so this most amiable and consistent of quizzes sadly left our screens, with William G going into semi-retirement, occasionally popping up to talk about moments from his long TV career.

So go away, Bill, enjoy the summer holidays and come back and see us in the autumn. Or whenever’s good for you.

THE DEFINING ROLE: A man whose Wikipedia page announces that his catchphrases include “That’s it for today, we’ll be back tomorrow, see you then” has got to be worthy of a place in this list. Fifteen-to-One was ace, and it would have been rubbish without him.

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No 89 – Barry Davies

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“Interesting… very interesting!” It’s tempting just to fill this entry by just quoting loads of BARRY DAVIES‘ memorable commentary lines, of which there were umpteen over his 40 or so years as the voice of sport. “And Leeds will go mad! And they have every right to go mad!”

Baz Bangin' Boy

Davies, who was so concerned about impartiality that he refused to say where he was born during his entire career as a football commentator (it was London, and he’s a Spurs fan), qualified as a dentist. He started in forces broadcasting in the 1950s, making the odd contribution to BBC Radio and writing for the Times.

In 1966, however, ITV was about the cover the World Cup but only had one commentator on its books. Davies was hired and spent the following three years on the light channel.

When LWT started up, he was favourite to become the channel’s main commentator and hence the de facto voice of ITV football, but Jimmy Hill hired Brian Moore instead. So after a year biding his time at Granada, Davies defected to the Beeb in 1969. He enjoyed an auspicious debut when David Coleman fell ill and Davies found himself presenting Match of the Day that night as well as commentating.

It was at the BBC that our man really became regarded as a top football commentator. He had a wonderful voice, a deep knowledge of the game, the ability to get excited when the need arose (“Look at his face! Just look at HIS face!”) and the brilliant knack of finding just the right words for the occasion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMmQk2lK_Ks

But as well as his regular football work, Davies proved equally capable commentating on a number of other sports, turning his hand with great distinction to tennis, gymnastics, hockey (“Where were the Germans? But frankly, who cares!”), boxing (not much, though, because he didn’t like it), athletics, skating, rowing and virtually anything else the Beeb landed and about which they needed someone to sound authoritative.

It seems that this versatility stopped Davies becoming established as the corporation’s number one voice of football, as he only commentated on one World Cup Final and two FA Cup Finals during his 35 years as a regular on Match of the Day.

He did plenty of other big games, like the European Cup Final, but apparently some viewers felt he was a bit pompous and grumpy at points, especially in his later career.

Yet Davies always had class and style by the bucketload and brought a more thoughtful approach to commentary than many of the shouters who would follow in his footsteps.

He retired from working full-time work for the BBC in 2004, but has kept his hand in by virtue of broadcasts from Wimbledon. He’s also lined up to do his twelfth Olympics next year.

With one of the most distinctive voices on British television, it’ll always be a delight to hear him. “Terrible clearance by Corrigan, and Boyce said take that!”

THE DEFINING ROLE: Saturday nights in the seventies invariably meant Davies behind the mike at a mud-splattered Baseball Ground or Maine Road bringing a sense of decorum to proceedings. “And John Bond still wants to make a defensive point of cover!”

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No 88 – Patrick Allen

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You’d know him if you saw him, but you’d certainly know him if you heard him. For some four decades, the voice of PATRICK ALLEN was among the most well-known in Britain.

"Hey you!"

His booming, authoritative tones made him a natural choice for voiceover work and, if the worst had happened, he would indeed have been the last set of pipes we ever heard.

But reassuring though his toffee-brown tonsils were, we’re glad it wasn’t.

Allen was born in Malawi before being evacuated to Canada where he stayed during his formative years. He moved to the UK in the 1950s and became a hard-working character actor, excelling in square-jawed macho roles in tales of derring-do that were popular at the time, such as the adventure series Crane.

Though he continued to act as he got older, Allen increasingly picked up work from voiceovers.

He was blessed with fantastic diction and an ability to make even his shopping list sound authoritative – qualities that led ultimately to umpteen adverts, most famously Barratt Homes, and endless public information films.

But he wasn’t just hired for the quality of his voice. Of equal attraction was his immense professionalism. Simon Bates once recalled that he booked Allen to read the whole of Jurassic Park on the radio, only for the actor to rattle it off in an hour and a half, changing character throughout and not making a single fluff.

In later life Allen even set up his own voice-over studio, such was his skill at the form.

But one of his most famous roles was in something we weren’t even supposed to see. These were the uber-scary Protect and Survive films, intended to educate the nation about how to prepare for nuclear attack.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oVWUAbREq0

Thankfully they have never (yet) needed to be officially broadcast. However even Allen’s reassuring and authoritative tones couldn’t make the ideas of shitting in a bucket and wrapping a corpse in cellophane anything less than terrifying. Far more fun was the re-recorded version he did for Two Tribes.

In later life Allen was happy to send himself up. He narrated The Black Adder, provided voiceovers for The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and bellowed demented slogans for E4.

He died in 2006, since when a host of other people have tried to replicate his style. But for the nearest thing we’ve surely ever had to the voice of God, Patrick Allen demands respect.

THE DEFINING ROLE: Protect and Survive illustrates Patrick’s marvellous ability to deliver any line, no many how appalling; however a nicer example of his work remains his many years spent as the face, and voice, of Barratt Homes.

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