Sunday, 11 November 2007

Arthur Haynes

My friend blueboat reminded me of a great comedy program that was very popular during the 50's & 60's and I thought I would share some of it with you ...

Almost a forgotten figure in British comedy, Arthur Haynes (born in London in May 1914) was ITV's biggest star of the late 1950s through to the mid-1960s; indeed, he was the first star to be produced by the new independent channel.

As with many artists of the post-war generation, Haynes gained a foothold in variety through the armed forces entertainment units during World War Two. While serving in the Royal Engineers, he was recruited for the concert party troupe Stars in Battledress. It was here that he met the already established entertainer Charlie Chester.

Following the war, Haynes remained with Chester, appearing in the BBC radio show Stand Easy (1946-49), but he harboured ambitions for solo success and eventually went his own way. The separation, however, did not prevent Haynes appearing in The Charlie Chester Show on both television (BBC, tx. 12/1/1949) and radio (4/1/1955) .

Haynes struggled for a number of years trying to perfect his stage act, until a major television break finally came his way with the George and Alfred Black variety show for ITV, Strike a New Note (1956). Haynes began as just one among many on the bill, but such was his success with viewers, particularly with his character Oscar Pennyfeather, that he was soon headlining the show, now renamed Get Happy.

The Arthur Haynes Show (ITV, 1957-66) followed, a mixture of comedy sketches (largely scripted by Johnny Speight, who had first worked with Haynes on Get Happy) and musical interludes with guest artistes.

Haynes was noted for the unusual aggressiveness and belligerence of his comic characters, and for the emphasis on the class war in his sketches (Speight's influence was at its strongest here). These qualities were seen at their best in his most popular character, a bemedalled tramp, forever railing against society - particularly upper-class society - invariably in the form of his near-constant foil, Nicholas Parsons (another survivor from the Get Happy days).

Running to fifteen series, the shows were enormously successful, making Haynes one of the highest paid artists in variety, and winning him the Variety Club Award as ITV Personality of 1961. The same year he appeared on The Royal Variety Performance, (ITV, tx. 12/11/1961). The Arthur Haynes Show was also adapted for radio by Johnny Speight (BBC, 1962-65).

Haynes had a small role in the Rock Hudson/Gina Lollobrigida comedy Strange Bedfellows (US, 1965; filmed in London), and a larger one as an argumentative (what else?) patient in the comedy Doctor in Clover (d. Ralph Thomas, 1966). Haynes had recently returned from America, where he had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and was set to commence shooting on his sixteenth ITV television series, when he was struck down at the age of 52 by a heart attack.

He died on 19 November 1966.

John Oliver

This was a comedy favourite for ten years and brought fame and frustration to to one of Haynes's favourite foils: Nicholas Parsons - Patricia Hayes, Graham Stark, and Dermott Kelly were also present. The comedy skits are fondly remembered. The two most popular routines consisted of Arthur Haynes's famous tramp ("Up to me neck in muck and bullets!"), manipulating Parsons's bewildered officialdom and Haynes's tramp philosophising on a park bench with colleague Dermott Kelly. VIA:

The sketches involving Arthur and Dermot Kelly as the two tramps putting the world to rights was one of the funniest acts on TV - I remember overhearing my mother and a neighbour having a conversation and I could have sworn it was the two tramps in drag.

Here is a short audio clip of one of his shows but sadly too short like Arthur's life and I still do not understand why his shows have never been repeated - other than the possibility that they did not make recordings of them at the time (a gross oversight). 'Candlelight' would have been a pseudonym for the current affairs programme Spotlight, which was renowned for investigative journalism. The punch line of this clip is probably more of a visual thing.

More about Arthur here: with photos of Nicholas Parsons and Dermot Kelly.