Arthur English

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For the British hangman in Canada, see Arthur B. English.
Arthur English
as Mr Harman in
Are You Being Served?
Born Arthur Leslie Norman English
(1919-05-09)9 May 1919
Aldershot, Hampshire, England
Died 16 April 1995(1995-04-16) (aged 75)
Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, England
Occupation Actor and comedian
Years active 1949-1990

Arthur Leslie Norman English (9 May 1919 – 16 April 1995) was an English television, film and stage actor and comedian from the music hall tradition.

Early life[edit]

English was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, the son of Walter Frederick English (1856–1948)[1] and Ethel English (née Parsons) (1886–1975).[2] He attended West End Boys School in Aldershot from the age of 5 to 14.[3] On leaving school in 1933 he briefly worked at Fisher's Hotel in nearby Farnham before becoming an errand boy in a local grocery store.[4] After serving in the army in World War II, reaching the rank of sergeant,[5] English worked as a painter and decorator in his native town.[6] He married Ivy Ruth Martin in 1941;[7] it was she who made his enormous kipper ties out of brightly coloured curtain material at the beginning of his stage career.[6] They had two children, Ann (born 1942) and Anthony (born 1947). English polished up his comedy routines as an amateur after the war and in 1949 became resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre in London and performed much other stage work.

Acting career[edit]

Arthur English as his "Spiv" character

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".[6] 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!".[6]

He began to appear on British television in mainly comedy roles in the 1970s, and is probably best remembered for playing 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.[6] He also appeared in The Sweeney.[8]

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 1978 he was the subject in This Is Your Life,[9][10] while in May 1983 he was a guest on Desert Island Discs with Roy Plomley.[11] Also in 1983 he played Frosch in Die Fliedermaus with English National Opera at the London Coliseum. In 1985 he appeared in an episode of the American TV series Magnum, P.I..[8]

English appeared in the Royal Variety Performance in 1951[6] and 1980.[12] He had been president of Aldershot Town F.C.[13][14] 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,[15] a Freeman of the City of London and an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Rushmoor.

Personal life[edit]

Memorial to Arthur English at the Park Crematorium in Aldershot

Following the death of his wife Ivy (1919–75), in 1977 English married a young dancer, Teresa Mann[16] (born 1955), whom he met while they were performing in a pantomime together at Wimbledon, and in 1981 the couple had a child – Clare Louise English. The performers John Inman and Jack Douglas were the child's godparents. The couple separated in 1986 and the marriage was dissolved in 1987.

Arthur English died in 1995 at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey as a result of complications from emphysema.[17] After a funeral service at St Michael's church at which fellow Water Rat Jimmy Perry read the oration[18] his body was cremated at the Park Crematorium in Aldershot where his ashes were later interred in a plot with those of his first wife.

Selected television appearances[edit]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ - Walter Frederick English on - pay to view
  2. ^ Ethel Parsons on - pay to view
  3. ^ English, Arthur (with Linton Mitchell) Through the Mill and Beyond The Basingstoke Press (1989) pg 18
  4. ^ English, pg 24
  5. ^ English, pg 36
  6. ^ a b c d e f - Denis Gifford - Obituary: Arthur English - The Independent - 23 October 2011
  7. ^ Arthur N L English in the England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916-2005 - pay to view
  8. ^ a b English on the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ English on This Is Your Life (1978) -
  10. ^ English on This Is Your Life (1978) - Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ English on the Desert Island Discs website
  12. ^ The 1980 Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium - The Royal Variety Charity website
  13. ^ English, pg 49
  14. ^ - Message from the Chairman - Aldershot Town F.C. website
  15. ^ English, pg 166
  16. ^ England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916-2005 for Arthur Ln English - - pay to view
  17. ^ Arthur Leslie N English in the England & Wales, Death Index, 1916-2007 - - pay to view
  18. ^ Funeral Service card for Arthur Leslie Norman English at the Church of St Michael the Archangel, Aldershot - Glenn Christodoulou Collection

External links[edit]