as Mr Harman in
Are You Being Served?
|Born||Arthur Leslie Norman English
9 May 1919
Aldershot, Hampshire, England
|Died||16 April 1995
Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, England
|Occupation||Actor and comedian|
Arthur Leslie Norman English (9 May 1919 – 16 April 1995) was an English actor and comedian from the music hall tradition.
Life and career
English was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, the son of Walter Frederick English (1856-1948) and Ethel English (née Parsons) (1886–1975). After serving in the army in World War II, reaching the rank of sergeant, English worked as a painter and decorator in his native town. He polished up his comedy routines as an amateur at this time and eventually became resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre in London and did much other stage work.
His radio work began with the BBC series Variety Bandbox, using as always his own Aldershot accent. His usual persona was a stereotypical wartime "spiv", and he became known as "The Prince of the Wide Boys". His usual delivery was to tell a long rambling shaggy dog story at ever-increasing rapidity without losing clarity until, at top speed, he would end with the catch-phrase: "Play the music! Open the cage!" Another popular catch-phrase was "Mum. Mum. They're laughing at me!"
He began to appear on British television in mainly comedy roles in the 1970s, and was noticeable because of his manner and appearance. He is remembered for his character of the truculent and bolshy maintenance man, Mr. Harman, in Are You Being Served? which he played from 1976 to 1985, including the 1977 film adaptation. He played Arthur, Alf Garnett's mate, in In Sickness and in Health, a follow-up series to Till Death Us Do Part from 1985 to 1990. He also appeared in The Sweeney.
He had more likeable roles in two British children's TV series: The Ghosts of Motley Hall, which ran from 1976 to 1978 on ITV (produced by Granada Television), and as 'Slugger' in Follyfoot, which ran from 1971 to 1973, also on ITV (produced by Yorkshire Television). He was in several other films and Everyday Maths (1978), a British TV schools programme starring Jack Wild as English's grandson. In 1985 he appeared in an episode of the American TV series Magnum, P.I.
Following the death of his wife Ivy (who made his enormous kipper tie out of brightly coloured curtain material at the beginning of his stage career), later in life English married a young dancer, Teresa, whom he met during one of his stage shows, and had a child with her – Clare Louise English. The late John Inman and Jack Douglas were the child's godparents. The marriage was later dissolved.
Arthur English died in 1995 at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey as a result of complications from emphysema. His ashes were interred with those of his first wife in a plot at The Park Crematorium in Aldershot.
He had been president of Aldershot Town F.C. which had been formed out of the ashes of Aldershot F.C. The new club badge depicted a rising phoenix and was designed by English. He had also been a long-standing member of the showbusiness charity the Grand Order of Water Rats, which he joined in 1970.
Selected television appearances
- Comedy Playhouse (1967 & 1970)
- Dad's Army (1970)
- Doctor in the House (1970)
- Doctor At Large (1971)
- ITV Playhouse (1972)
- Doctor in Charge (1972 & 1973)
- Follyfoot (1971-1973)
- Armchair Theatre (1973 & 1974)
- Crown Court (1973, 1974, 1975 & 1977)
- The Ghosts of Motley Hall (1976-1978)
- Are You Being Served? (1976-1985)
- Play for Today (1983)
- High & Dry (1987)
- In Sickness and in Health (1985-1990)
- The Hi-Jackers (1963)
- Percy (1971)
- For the Love of Ada (1972)
- Love Thy Neighbour (1973)
- Malachi's Cove (1974)
- Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)
- Are You Being Served? (1977)
- The Boys in Blue (1982)
- English, Arthur (with Linton Mitchell) Through the Mill and Beyond The Basingstoke Press (1989) pg 166