Carrying on from one perfectly personal recollection to the next, the next natural surge of Perry and Croft overload came in the form of another, smooth riding venture. From Army anecdotes to hapless, hey day enlightening of Perry's Summer Holidays as a Butlins Redcoat, the next installment could only be Eighties miracle, 'Hi-De-Hi!'
Filmed out of season at 'Warner's' holiday camp at Dovercourt, Essex, the set appeared credible enough to pass as a 1959 fictional 'Maplins,' at the even more fiction postcard town of Crimpton-on-Sea. Due to the desertion of such a camp out of season (a phrase now as long gone as the show), the camp, in itself, needed no finery and plumpness to bring it into the Fifties era. The chalets needed no down treading and the swimming pool look just as uninviting - even the fictitious Hawaiian Ballroom eerily needed no plastic palm trees. What was needed now was a strong cast and more importantly - a believable one.
Head of the crew was bumbling, bored academic, Professor Jeffery Fairbrother, played by actor and Croft's son in law, Simon Cadell, had grown tired of the pen pushers of his sullen world. He found himself curious with the world of 'amateur light entertainment,' and proceeded to contact his straight faced manner with the gushy crowds who appeared every Summer at Maplin's. Entertainments manager and aging teddy boy, Ted Bovis held on to his stirring resentment after being pipped to the post by the inexperienced Fairbrother. Instead, the over weight, Northern funny man stand back in his proud position of 'entertainments manager.' His hapless right hand man and general dogsbody was the tall, lanky Spike Dixon who dreamed of being a real star. Perhaps the only yellow coat to take each performance seriously, his usual first laugh of each episode was so enter the scene dressed up in some weird, heavy costume of either a six foot duck or a policeman. His face, almost as long as his inside leg measurement meant that Ted was usually pulling the wool over this young lad's eyes. This fairly mediocre father figure would encourage great spirit in Spike only to have him drop from a great height by the end of the episode.
The next failing character was the memorable Peggy Ollerenshaw - the high hop chalet maid who constant knockdown came usually from Gladys, the 'commander-ess of the Yellowcoats. Peggy's one wish was to become a Yellowcoat and although she came so close on a couple of occasions, her dream was sadly, never to be fulfilled. Her guardian in all her dreams and wishes was Ted. He felt a responsibility over her in order for her dreams to stay alive. He would encourage her in much the same way as he would Spike, yet mildly in the knowledge that it was only his name and his pocket he was interested in. He would dish out sympathy to Peggy like tonic, when she had been trodden on. The saddest character in the show, she was guaranteed to get the sighs of sympathy from the audience. Eager, excitable and ready to please anyone dressed in a canary color, she was unduly the only character, it would seem, would be really wanted to be there.
Peggy's greatest nemesis was Gladys Pugh. Short haired, overly made up and with a Welsh accent that even the other side of Cardiff were none the wiser, she had a heart on fire for the idiot, Fairbrother. Thrusting herself in his general direction when alone in the office, she used every inch of her colorful face to tease him into submission. Fairbrother - far from appetized, he was already in the throws of a divorce himself, stayed wary of the temptress's charms and generally tried to avoid her from every angle. Her main duty was to open the morning's events over the tannoy to the inmates of the day's arrangements. This usually came in the form of a stimulating knobbly knees competition, 'chuck your granite in the pool' contest and possibly rounded off with some bathing beauties. These freezing cold mothers and sisters were parked out next to the icy pool in all the latest in Fifties swim wear, and if you have any recollection as to what that may have entailed, then check out some outlandishly patterned nylon number. Somewhere along the line, someone had told Gladys that she could sing - in the dreamiest of poses, she would start to warle precariously over the speakers, (cut to shots of buckets being thrown over the outdoor camp speakers ...)
The tight lipped, middle class Barry and Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves (Dianne Holland, sister in law of Perry,) had danced their way around the Ballroom every night in the hope of keeping their wilting career from going completely down the pan. From their youngger days as award winning dance instructors, they never feel quite at rest in amongst the working class masses on their cheap and cheeky holidays. Sicked and disgusted with anyone from a lower class than them with a pulse, they prided themselves in having the only teas maid and net curtain chalet of the lot. Twinkle toed they still were, they were, treading water so fast to keep them away from the clutches of the panto season outside the camp. They facilitated themselves, especially on lowering their eyes onto the innocent Peggy.
There came a list of characters who played timely key supporting roles; miserable, whiskey swilling and child hater, Mr Partridge, the Punch and Judy man spent most of his time avoiding the little brats and propping up the bar. Somehow, the darlings would always find him, stinking of booze with a face waiting for conscription to make a comeback. One would like to think that behind every squeaky voiced Punch and Judy show, there is a sullen Mr Partridge just living for the moment that the kids go home.
Fred Quilly is the typical jockey who is more in love with his animals that anything else. Giving out rides to ungrateful children, he too wears a face as long as a wet June having to subject himself and his horses to such a motley bunch of miserable holidaymakers. He too, an aging professional in bright yellow and white silks, he waves his whip at the slightest point he makes and never smiles. It is these wretches to society who make us laugh even more. The big gag here being the fact that these ex pro's end up in a holiday camp at the end of their career's and are, in their eyes, living an eternal Hell for it ...
After the showing of the first couple of series, the cast seemed to grow into more Yellowcoats of both male and female. We can vaguely remember the Webb Twins who just about strung a sentence between them in an episode and girlie entrants, April and Dawn - obviously thrown in to keep the forty something Sylvia company - the only other leg showing, pretty face, threat to Gladys. During Series 5 and onwards, the cast bigger even more until almost a complete camp staff list was made. Even Carry On veteran, Kenneth Connor made a brief appearance as entertainer, 'Uncle Sammy,' (as well as also turning his hand to other sit com's such as '' Allo, 'Allo.')
Each episode was fairly predictable; Gladys' would inevitably find a dead end on the road to true love with the deflated Fairbrother who dead pan face would not even twitch over the microphone when jeering the audience into shouting 'Hi De Hi,' louder. Spike, in whatever ever costume took precedence that day would have a custard pie in his face or be either thrown or fall into the 'Olympic Sized' pool (not surprisingly, Spike, played by Jeffrey Holland came down with hyperthermia one year that the series had to be shot in September instead,) Peggy would do her level best to sing / dance / crack a joke loud enough so someone would take notice - inevitably, it would have had to have been the masterful Joe Maplin, who, although never appeared , his presence was felt every week. Ted would take center stage and conduct the audience into something along the lines of the entertainment that they had come from the East End to see, and everyone else fell in around the main cast. However blunt this synopsis may seem, the gags were loud, original and most of all, believable. To a vastly faithful audience of forty to fifty something's, this was exactly how the cheaper end of holiday camps were to them as children. In the days after the war, people were not exactly loaded. Many things were actually still rationed and no one was venturing abroad just yet. For the working class man and his large family, the Essex / Sussex / Kent week away was the only thing he could afford. Hopping was considered to be what the very lower classes did for a week each year, just to get of South London. Those with a tiny amount more of cash, went to a holiday camp.
So 'Hi-De-Hi!' grown into a fan club all of it's own - the very people who had been to such places. The show was only the side step of the British, holiday revolution swamped in nostalgia. As a part of vital social history, this show, which ran for an incredible nine years was the key to parents finally showing, through the laughter of a good, all round comedy, what they got up to when they were children too. Showing real life clips each week, at the ending credits, we are given a true taste of the great British holiday camp - boating contests and 'eat as much pie and mash as you can,' may seem to us now as corny, lower class , cheap and somehow unbelievable, yet this was how the British loved to relax - doing all the things that they could not have even dreamt about ten years before.
The show came with it's own tragedies as all lengthy sit com's do. Leslie Dwyer, the most miserable of the entertainers, Mr Partridge was seriously ill, and not unlike Michael Bates, in 'It' Is not 'Arf Hot, Mum,' he decided to keep going through filming as long as he could. Yet unlike Bates, Dwyer's death was written in, most disturbingly eighteen months before he actually died. Becoming one the most watched episodes in the shows entire run, the 'Who Killed Mr Partridge?' was seen to be a classic in series six. Towards the end of series five, it was written in that Jeffery Fairbrother was to leave as Cadell wanted to go back into the theater. At the start of series six, and from one extreme to another, Squadron Leader Clive Dempster rolls into town in an open top Morgan and steals Gladys's heart leaving no room for wistful memories for Fairbrother. However, in a cold twist of fate, it is Gladys who finds herself no longer the temptress but the tempested where she finds her undying love a mockery in a tragic situation of Dempster's ability to charm any woman, leaving Gladys out in the cold. On reflection of the excellence of Cadell's straight manner and quick timing, David Griffin, who played gung ho Dempster, said he felt that the strength of Cadell's presence had taken a great deal of the show away with him. In respect of his predecessor, Griffin said he could never fill Cadell's shoes ...
As with all Croft and Perry stories, the show was brought to it's natural end in true pathos style. The camp is to be shut down and it's employees are given the boot. In the last tear jerking episode shown the day before New Years Eve in 1988, it leaves us with a lump in our throat. We suddenly realize how important these characters had become - like a Croft and Perry ending we are used to, 'Hi-De-Hi,' left us with something to mull over. These characters whom we had taken for granted were now departing from our screens. Although the show was never seen as being as immensely successful as it's predecessors, it was the characters at Maplin's who we find ourselves remembering the most. It was years gone by before I realized that no one was going Peggy impressions anymore, yet no one had ever talked about 'Dad's Army' in the same way.
That was what appeared to us the most about 'Hi-De-Hi,' each character reached out to a bit of us who dreamed about something better, like a small part of our own inner lives wanted to loved, noticed or just plain recognized as we find all the characters in this show wanted for themselves. Perhaps the most memorable scene was the show's very last, where Peggy stands alone in the camp and shouts at the top of her voice as her words echo around the vast, empty site.
Since 'Dad's Army,' and 'It' Is not 'Arf Hot, Mum' were of their time and had shown us a piece of history that has long gone before, 'Hi-De-Hi' gave us something that is still with us - the good old British holiday camp ....
I still have memories of dunking for apples with my hands tied behind my back .....
'Hi-De-Hi - The Holiday Musical' enjoyed a short run at three venues North and South in 1983/84.
First shown on BBC 1 1980 to 1988
Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
Amazon.com - series one and two on DVD - new £ 11.97
Series three and four - new £ 11.97
Series five and six - new £ 16.99
BBC shop - 1 & 2 + 3 & 4 - £ 46.98
5 & 6 at HMV - £ 24.99
© Michelle Hatcher (sam1942 on ciao and dooyoo) 2007