Jack Douglas (actor)
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|Born||John Douglas Roberton
26 April 1927
Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom
|Died||18 December 2008
Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom
Douglas was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, into a theatrical family; his father was a theatre producer and his brother, Bill Roberton, became a theatre director. His mother was so keen that he be a Geordie that, according to Douglas, although they had settled in London,
Like his father, Jack wanted to work in theatre but his father forbade him, so at age 14, he got his things together and moved out into a place of his own. Going to the local Feldman's Theatre, he asked if they wanted a Line Boy, and they did since so many men had gone off to war. He was hired as an "Opposite Prompt Line Boy" for £1.5s (£1.25p) a week and paid for his "digs" and everything out of that, even saving some money.
His father found out where he was working and asked them to give him all the dirty jobs to try and discourage him but Jack did them all without any complaint, so come his fifteenth birthday, his father gave him a present. A script for a Cinderella pantomime, which he was to direct. Having seen his father direct 3 or 4 pantomimes, Jack knew what to do, and did 22 weeks at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland.
Later at the Kingston Empire, he was to direct a show only to have a lead character taken to hospital with a heart attack on the opening night before the show started. Joe Baker, who was also playing a lead, suggested he take over the role as he was the only other person who knew the lines (as he did all the lines of all the characters, being the director.) He so impressed a top agent in the audience that night that he visited Douglas and Baker afterwards. He was surprised to learn that they had only been a double act for two hours and thirty five minutes and immediately signed them up as such.
Jack Douglas and Joe Baker spent ten years touring the world, playing in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa amongst other places. Coming back to Britain again, they did a season at a Butlin's holiday camp and not liking the food served there, jack cooked in their chalet (which was forbidden) for both of them and another. One evening there was a knock on the door and Billy Butlin was standing there. He noticed the smell and asked if they had enough for four. They did and he ate with them.
Afterwards, they started up the popular children's TV show, Crackerjack, with Eamonn Andrews. They found themselves working on that from 9:30am to 2:30pm each day and their agent fitted in another two jobs, so that the pair made £100 a week (minus his 10%), a huge amount of money then.
From there they went onto the Windmill Theatre and later at the Glasgow Empire, where they found they could get laughs by merely putting on American accents (English actors "died" there.) After that, Joe Baker went off to America to try his luck there. On his own for the first time in so many years, Jack told his agent, Leslie Grade, that he wanted to be a comedian. Grade told him no chance as he did not have a funny face, so Jack left show business and as he loved cooking, he opened up a restaurant in Blackpool. It turned out to be too successful and he found he personally had nothing to do there, the staff doing everything.
One night he got a call as he was going up to his flat above the restaurant. It was Des O'Connor who had a contract with ATV for 13 shows, and he wanted Jack Douglas to star with him. Jack readily agreed, and Des O'Connor pretty much let him do what he liked. They did a Royal Variety Show together, with Des insisting to Bernard Delfont that Jack went with him, as he later insisted that after the show, they meet the Queen Mother together, or Des would not do so himself.
He worked with Des O'Connor for several years and in the theatre, developing a nervous character "Alf Ippititimus", notable for his "phwaay!" catchphrase and his apparent muscular tics. "Alf" was created one night at Butlin's, Clacton, when Douglas's co-star, Joe Baker failed to appear having been locked out of the theatre, and Douglas began to improvise based on a band leader he knew.
His agent later phoned him and said he had a part in a "Carry On" film, but the bad news was that he would not be paid (Peter Rodgers it was said would give his actors anything but money). He accepted the small part and in return, a black Rolls Royce pulled up outside his house one morning and there was a box from Peter Rodgers. It contained a dozen bottles of Dom Perignon champagne. His payment for the film.
Jack Douglas appeared in the last seven Carry On films of the original series, Carry On Matron, Carry On Abroad, Carry On Girls, Carry On Dick, Carry On Behind, Carry On England, and Carry On Emmannuelle. His Carry On roles progressed from a cameo with one line of dialogue in Matron to a slightly larger but still inconspicuous cameo appearance in Abroad, after which he appeared in increasingly larger supporting roles, and ultimately a leading role in Emmanuelle. During this period he also appeared in the Carry on Christmas specials in 1972, and 1973, and the Carry On Laughing television series. He appeared in the revival film Carry On Columbus (1992).
After the "Carry On" films, the cast with Jack went to the Victoria Palace Theatre where they played to packed houses for the next 12 months in the stage show: "Carry on London".
In December 2001, he appeared on the BBC radio show "That Reminds Me" (Series 3, episode 4, repeated 27th May 2014 on BBC Radio 4 Extra) where he talked about his life. Much of the information for this article comes from his own words in that show.
On 26 April 2007, Douglas celebrated his 80th birthday. There was a special celebration arranged at Pinewood Studios, to coincide with his anniversary, which was attended by his family and friends. These included actors that Douglas had worked with, amongst them were Fenella Fielding, Jacki Piper, Lance Percival and Valerie Leon.
- Nearly a Nasty Accident (1961)
- Carry On Matron (1972)
- Carry On Abroad (1972)
- Carry On Girls (1973)
- Carry On Dick (1974)
- Carry On Behind (1975)
- Carry On England (1976)
- What's Up Nurse! (1977)
- Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)
- Bloody Kids (1980)
- The Shillingbury Blowers (1980)
- The Boys in Blue (1982)
- Carry On Columbus (1992)
- Norbert Smith – a Life (1989)
- "Carry On star Jack Douglas dies". BBC News (BBC). 2008-12-18. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
- Burton, Paul (2008-12-18). "Jack Douglas: 1927–2008". Borehamwood & Elstree Times (Newsquest Media Group). Retrieved 2008-12-18.
- Hutchinson, Lisa (19 December 2008). "Farewell to a Geordie-born Carry On favourite". Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 2001-01-14.
- Carry On Dick Special Edition DVD – Jack Douglas, Audio Commentary, 12 February 2003, Carlton Television
- "Carry On comedy legend Jack Douglas dies". Evening Chronicle, Newcastle. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
- "Funnyman Jack Douglas dies aged 81". The Press Association (PA Group). 2008-12-18. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
- "That Reminds Me", a December 2001 BBC radio show where Jack Douglas talked of his life in show business.