Don Estelle as 'Lofty' in It Ain't Half Hot Mum
22 May 1933
Crumpsall, Manchester, England
|Died||2 August 2003
Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England
|Television||It Ain't Half Hot Mum|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Birkett (née Heywood), m 1955(divorced)
Elizabeth Amy Brent (née Bickell) (m. 1974–2003)
Born Ronald Edwards  in Crumpsall, Manchester, he was brought up in a house on Russell Street, Crumpsall. During World War II, at the age of eight, he was evacuated to Darwen, Lancashire, twenty miles away from his home, to escape the German bombing of the city. It was there he found his voice as a treble at the local Holy Trinity Parish Church (now called St Peter's), and on returning home after the war, he continued singing at St Mary's Church, Crumpsall. He later joined a charity group, the Manchester Kentucky Minstrels, and performed with them the Mario Lanza hit "Granada" in the talent show What Makes a Star? in 1954 at BBC Radio's northern studios in Manchester.
Estelle gained experience by singing one song 12 times a week in the show The Backyard Kids at the Hulme Hippodrome in Manchester. He later toured the northern club circuit, where he met the comedy actor Windsor Davies whom he teamed with and toured for four years. Estelle had cameo roles in Dad's Army (playing a Pickfords man in one episode (1969) and an ARP Warden called Gerald in three more (1970)). He eventually landed the role of Gunner "Lofty" Sugden in the British sitcom, It Ain't Half Hot Mum which was first broadcast in 1974 and ran until 1981. The character was given the ironic nickname of "Lofty" because of Estelle's stature (4 ft 9in). He had a powerful tenor voice and as a spin-off from the series, he and co-star Windsor Davies had a Number 1 hit in the UK Singles Chart in 1975 with a semi-comic version of "Whispering Grass". Estelle also acted in the films Not Now, Comrade (1976), A Private Function (1984) and Santa Claus: The Movie (1984). Estelle and Davies also recorded an LP called Sing Lofty (1976), a top ten hit in the UK Albums Chart.
In the first series of The League of Gentlemen, he made brief appearances in two episodes as Little Don, the keeper of the Roundabout Zoo (a zoo on the island of a roundabout). In 2001, he appeared in an episode of Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting as "Little Don" of the "East End Art Mafia".
In his autobiography Sing Lofty: Thoughts Of A Gemini, Estelle was extremely bitter about modern-day entertainment, attacking those who refused to rerun It Ain't Half Hot Mum as "tight-crutched, white-trousered morons". According to his obituary in The Independent, "in recent years Estelle cut a slightly sorry figure, dressed in his "Lofty" outfit, setting out a stall of his tapes and singing to passers-by in shopping centres. He played a dirty old man in the promotional video for The Sun Page Three Girl Jo Hicks's single "Yakety Sax" (2001) (The Benny Hill Show theme)." One of the stalls he performed at for a time was in the Boston, Lincolnshire branch of Woolworths. He could also be seen performing in Cwmbran town centre in South Wales.
Estelle's last years were in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he spent countless hours working with the founder of 10-piece blues band, Blutopia. Says Malcolm Bishop, "Lofty was looking for someone to believe in and bless in their own career and he picked me! He was extremely generous with time and resources." Bishop recalls sitting with Estelle until 4am the night before he returned to the UK, as Estelle gave him invaluable advice.
Estelle returned to the UK weeks before his death. He died in Rochdale Infirmary, on 2 August 2003 and was buried in Rochdale, with the oversized pith helmet he wore as Gunner "Lofty" Sugden. He was survived by his second wife Elizabeth.
- Estelle, Don (1999). Sing Lofty: Thoughts of a Gemini. London: Don Estelle Music Publishing. p. 98. ISBN 0-9537377-1-3.
- Byrne, Michael (5 August 2003). "Farewell to screen star 'Lofty' Don". Rochdale Observer (M.E.N. Media).
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 187. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Independent obituary
- "Actor Don Estelle buried". BBC News. 19 August 2003.
- Barker, Dennis (4 August 2003). "Don Estelle". The Guardian (London).