Arthur English

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Arthur English
as Mr Harman in
Are You Being Served?
Arthur Leslie Norman English

(1919-05-09)9 May 1919
Aldershot, Hampshire, England
Died16 April 1995(1995-04-16) (aged 75)
Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, England
OccupationActor and comedian
Years active1949–1990

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]

The house where English was born in 1919

English was born at 22 Lysons Road in Aldershot,[1][2] Hampshire, the son of Walter Frederick English (1856–1948)[3] and Ethel English (née Parsons) (1886–1975), who married at Holy Trinity church in Aldershot in 1909. Arthur English had two older brothers: Walter (born 1910) and John Edgar (born 1912). All three boys were born in their parents' bedroom in Lysons Road and all three were baptised at Holy Trinity church.[2][4] He attended West End Boys School in Aldershot (now the West End Centre) from the age of 5 to 14.[5] His first stage appearance was aged 10 when he joined a group from Gale & Polden called the 'Five O'clock Follies' as an acrobat.[6] On leaving school in 1933 he briefly worked at Fisher's Hotel in nearby Farnham before becoming an errand boy in a local grocery shop.[7]

After serving in the British Army in World War II with the Hampshire Regiment and the Royal Armoured Corps, reaching the rank of sergeant,[8] English worked as a painter and decorator in his native town and in the evenings worked as a semi-professional entertainer in various local venues polishing up his comedy routines.[6][9] He married Ivy Ruth Martin in 1941;[10] it was she who made his enormous kipper ties out of brightly coloured curtain material at the beginning of his stage career.[9] They had two children, Ann Faith (1942–1999) and Anthony (born 1947).

In 1949, while still employed in Aldershot as a painter and decorator, English and his then stage partner Jonny Carrol unsuccessfully auditioned at the Windmill Theatre in London. On a second, and this time solo audition with Vivian Van Damm, English became resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre at the same time compering a show for Bob Potter. English stayed at the Windmill as the principal comic until August 1950.[6]

His early professional career was as a stand-up comic in the persona of a stereotypical wartime "spiv", and he became known as "The Prince of the Wide Boys"[9] dressed in a trilby hat, a white jacket and padded shoulders with a pencil-thin moustache set off with a flamboyant kipper tie four feet wide.[6]

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 but in the persona of a Cockney spiv. 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!".[9]

He began to appear on British television in mainly comedy roles in the 1970s, and is probably best remembered for playing the truculent and somewhat bolshy (though not entirely unsympathetic) 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.[9] He also appeared in The Sweeney.[11]

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,[12][13] while in May 1983 he was a guest on Desert Island Discs with Roy Plomley.[14] 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..[11]

English appeared in the Royal Variety Performance in 1951[9] and 1980.[15] He had been president of Aldershot Town F.C.[16][17] 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,[18] 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
The blue plaque on the house in Lysons Road in Aldershot where English was born

Following the death of his wife Ivy (1919–75) English began to drink heavily. In 1977 English married a young dancer, Teresa Mann[19] (born 1955), whom he met while they were performing in a pantomime together at Wimbledon, and in 1981 the couple had a daughter – Clare-Louise English, the partially deaf actress who runs the Hot Coals Theatre which specialises in plays for the deaf. The performers John Inman and Jack Douglas were the child's godparents.[20] The couple separated in 1986 and the marriage was dissolved in 1987. The last four years of his life were spent in Devereux House, a care home in Farnborough.

Arthur English died in 1995 at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey as a result of complications from emphysema.[21] After a funeral service at St Michael's church at which fellow Water Rat Jimmy Perry read the oration[22] 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.


An Aldershot Civic Society blue plaque was unveiled by actor and singer Jess Conrad OBE on 15 July 2017 at 22 Lysons Road where English was born in 1919.[23][24][25][26]

Selected television appearances[edit]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ English, Arthur (with Linton Mitchell) Through the Mill and Beyond The Basingstoke Press (1989) pg 16
  2. ^ a b 'Arthur English, Aldershot Historical & Archaeological Society (AHAS), Yearbook 23 (2010) pg7
  3. ^ – Walter Frederick English on – pay to view
  4. ^ Ethel Parsons on – pay to view
  5. ^ English, pg18
  6. ^ a b c d AHAS, pg8
  7. ^ English, pg 24
  8. ^ English, pg 36
  9. ^ a b c d e f Denis Gifford – Obituary: Arthur English – The Independent – 23 October 2011
  10. ^ Arthur N L English in the England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916–2005 – pay to view
  11. ^ a b English on the Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ English on This Is Your Life (1978) –
  13. ^ English on This Is Your Life (1978) – Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ English on the Desert Island Discs website
  15. ^ "The 1980 Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium – The Royal Variety Charity website". Archived from the original on 28 November 2009. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  16. ^ English, pg 49
  17. ^ – Message from the Chairman – Aldershot Town F.C. website
  18. ^ English, pg 166
  19. ^ England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916–2005 for Arthur Ln English – – pay to view
  20. ^ Biography of Arthur English on the Radio Sounds Familiar website
  21. ^ Arthur Leslie N English in the England & Wales, Death Index, 1916–2007 – – pay to view
  22. ^ Funeral Service card for Arthur Leslie Norman English at the Church of St Michael the Archangel, Aldershot – Glenn Christodoulou Collection
  23. ^ Blue Plaque for Arthur English – Aldershot Civic Society website
  24. ^ 'Are You Being Served? actor Arthur English honoured with blue plaque' – BBC News Online – 15 July 2017
  25. ^ 'Blue plaque unveiled for Aldershot's Arthur English' – Eagle Radio – 15 July 2017
  26. ^ Arthur English Honoured – Grand Order of Water Rats website

External links[edit]