Pat Coombs

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Pat Coombs
Born Patricia Doreen Coombs
(1926-08-27)27 August 1926
Camberwell, London, England
Died 25 May 2002(2002-05-25) (aged 75)
Northwood, Greater London, England
Cause of death Emphysema
Occupation Actress

Patricia Doreen "Pat" Coombs (27 August 1926 – 25 May 2002) was an English actress. She specialised in the portrayal of the eternal downtrodden female, comically under the thumb of stronger personalities. She was known for many roles on radio, film and television sitcoms.

Early life[edit]

Born in Camberwell, south London, Coombs was one of three children; her father worked in insurance for the Employers' Liability, the forerunner of Commercial Union.

Coombs attended the County School for Girls in Beckenham, Kent. After leaving school she began her working life as a student kindergarten teacher, but soon a keenness to act prompted her to take drama lessons during the Second World War with her friend and neighbour Vivien Merchant.[1] At the age of 19 she won a scholarship to train as an actress at LAMDA, where she subsequently taught dialect.[2]

Career[edit]

Radio[edit]

She first made her name in the post-war era of radio variety as 'Nola', the dim and put-upon daughter of Irene Handl in Arthur Askey's Hello Playmates; their double-act had started as a guest spot on Bob Monkhouse's show. Coombs also gained experience as a comedy stooge in radio shows alongside Ted Ray and Charlie Chester.

Television[edit]

An early television break came when she appeared with Tony Hancock in an episode of his series Hancock's Half Hour (1957). She followed this with regular appearances in The Cyril Fletcher Show (1959) and later she became a regular performer in the 1963 series of The Dick Emery Show. She also starred in the sitcoms Barney Is My Darling (1965–66) alongside Irene Handl and Wild, Wild Women (1969) alongside Barbara Windsor.

After a relatively unsuccessful partnership with Peggy Mount in the television series Lollipop Loves Mr Mole (ITV, 1971), the two found a better platform for their talents when they were reunited in Yorkshire TV's You're Only Young Twice (1977–1981), set in a home for the elderly; the two actresses were to become close friends.

During her long career Coombs made two memorable contributions to Dad's Army. In 1970 she played Mrs Hall in the first film adaptation, and in 1975 she played the dual part of Marie and the Clippie in the radio adaptation of "A Soldier's Farewell".

Her other television work included Beggar My Neighbour (1967), Don't Drink the Water (1974–75), Up Pompeii! (1969), Till Death Us Do Part (1966–75) and its sequel In Sickness and in Health (1990, 1992) and The Lady is a Tramp (1983), in the last of which she co-starred with Patricia Hayes in a series set among 'down-and-outs'. Coombs was also the subject of This is Your Life in 1978, and appeared regularly as a guest on Noel Edmonds's Saturday night entertainment show Noel's House Party (1992–95) and on the game shows Blankety Blank and Celebrity Squares (1975–79), returning for its revival in 1993–94.

In 1989 she appeared in the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders. For a year she played Marge Green, Brown Owl of the Walford Brownies' pack, where she worked closely with EastEnders stalwarts June Brown, Edna Doré and Gretchen Franklin. Coombs's character was introduced as part of a deliberate attempt to bring humour into the programme, which had come under attack for being too depressing. However many viewers felt that the comic storylines stretched the programme's credibility. The character subsequently became one of many to be axed in 1990 following the introduction of new executive producer Michael Ferguson. Coombs was said to be extremely upset that the character of Marge only lasted for one year, but the producers felt there was no place in the programme's new plan for a character "whose prime function was to be comic relief".[3]

Following her stint in EastEnders Coombs went on to guest in the BBC comedy Birds of a Feather, Boon and the BBC medical drama Doctors in 2001, which was her last appearance on screen.

According to The Guinness Book of Records she holds the record for the largest number of takes for a TV commercial. According to Coombs: "I just couldn't remember the name of the product."

Children's TV[edit]

Coombs was a regular on children's television. Hers was one of the voices heard in the children's series Ragdolly Anna (1982–87), she played Policewoman Pat in Mooncat and Co (1984–85) and voiced one of the puppets in the children's show Playbox (1988) alongside Keith Chegwin. She was seen in Rainbow (1981–82), The Basil Brush Show (1977–79) and Supergran, and joined Stanley Baxter to play Miss Flavia Jelly in the first two series of Mr Majeika (1988–89), among many others.

Film[edit]

Pat Coombs also appeared in many films, including A Stitch in Time (1963), Carry On Doctor (1968), Carry On Again Doctor (1969), Cucumber Castle (1970) starring the Bee Gees, Ooh... You Are Awful (1972) with Dick Emery, and Spike Milligan's Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (1972), as well as the movie versions of Till Death Us Do Part (1969), On the Buses (1971) and Dad's Army (1971). She also had a minor uncredited role as Henrietta Salt in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Coombs never married. She said that twice she came close to doing so, but was not sure enough to proceed.[1] She once remarked: "I've never been wildly ambitious; I think if I'd been married, my career would have gone out of the window."[4]

Illness and death[edit]

Coombs was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1995, and became an active campaigner for the National Osteoporosis Society. Her Christmas appeal letter raised £100,000 for the charity's research.

She had just completed a role for Radio 4 alongside June Whitfield in Like They've Never Been Gone when she died on 25 May 2002, aged 75, from emphysema in Denville Hall actors' home, a west London nursing home to which she had moved to be close to her friend Peggy Mount, who had died six months earlier.[1]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1959 Follow a Star Simpering Girl in Theatre Uncredited
1962 She'll Have to Go Lady On Station Platform Uncredited
1963 A Stitch in Time Nurse Uncredited
1968 Carry On Doctor Anxious Patient Uncredited
Till Death Us Do Part Neighbour
1969 Cry Wolf Mrs. Blades
Carry On Again Doctor New Matron
1970 Cucumber Castle Nurse Sarah Charles Bottom
1971 Dad's Army Mrs. Hall
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Henrietta Salt Uncredited
On the Buses Vera
1972 Ooh... You Are Awful Libby Niven
1973 Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall Spike's Mother
1980 High Rise Donkey Lady attending Donkey Derby

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Pat Coombs", The Guardian, last accessed on 15 February 2007
  2. ^ "Obituary: Pat Coombs", The Independent, last accessed on 15 February 2007
  3. ^ Brake, Colin (1995). EastEnders: The First 10 Years: A Celebration. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-37057-2. 
  4. ^ "Pat Coombs", The Telegraph, last accessed on 15 February 2007

External links[edit]