Obituary: Geoffrey Hughes, actor
Born: 2 February, 1944, in Wallasey, Merseyside. Died: 27 July, 2012, on the Isle of Wight, aged 68
In a remarkable career, Geoffrey Hughes – although playing major roles in many of television’s most popular programmes – never became typecast. After playing Eddie Yeats, the delightfully roguish binman, in Coronation Street for a decade, Hughes assumed equally oddball characters such as Twiggy in The Royale Family, Vernon Scripps in Heartbeat and, perhaps most memorably, the down-at-heel Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances.
The latter role was opposite the stately-as-a-galleon portrayal of Patricia Routledge’s Hyacinth Bucket (“the lady of the house”).
Throughout this list of hits Hughes was able to create an individual character and was never thought of by the public as purely a soap actor or particularly associated with one role. Somehow, he made all the characters his own and very personal.
Hughes had long-standing connections with Scotland. At the start of his career, he toured many of the theatres. He also visited relatives on Shetland where his mother’s family had originated. Since 2003 he and his wife had lived on the Isle of Wight and in 2009 Hughes was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant for the county.
Geoffrey Hughes attended Abbotsford Secondary Modern School in Liverpool and then started acting with various repertory companies, including his local theatre in Stoke-in-Trent. In 1964 he got a major break when he made his West End debut in Lionel Bart’s musical Maggie May. But Hughes was finding work in numerous television dramas of the era. He had parts in Z-Cars, The Likely Lads, Doctor Who, Casualty and Boon. Hughes was also the voice of Paul McCartney in The Beatles film The Yellow Submarine.
It was the decade from 1974 when he played the petty scoundrel Eddie Yeats in Coronation Street that brought him national renown. In fact, Hughes had appeared in Coronation Street in 1965 when he played a brickie who beat up another stalwart of the soap, the moaning old Albert Tatlock.
The Yeats character grew in popularity and lodged with the redoubtable Hilda (Jean Alexander) and Stanley Ogden (Bernard Youens). He helped out with Stan’s window-cleaning business and the two got into many scrapes with their wayward operations. They were the subject of Hilda’s wrath when they tried to rent out rooms when she was away and then brewed beer in the bath.
He was involved in two classic story lines. One when he and Stan painted the interior of the house with some surplus pots of paint. The trouble was there was not enough of the same colour to paint the walls.
Worse was the famous “muriel” (mural) they created in Hilda’s front room. The cheap wallpaper was faded and Hilda was on the rampage. Hughes bluffed with some typical bravado. “Mrs O” Hughes weakly remonstrated, “it’s your muriel feature scenic panorama contrast wall. It’s dead trendy.”
The antics and crazy goings-on of the trio became central to the mounting success of the soap and many of their storylines are now considered classics.
In 1983, Hughes felt he was too associated with Coronation Street and wanted to take on new professional challenges. While continuing to appear in television dramas and becoming a regular in pantomimes opposite Roy Hudd, Hughes also managed his substantial farm in the Nene valley in Northamptonshire.
Hughes was cast, in 1995, as Onslow the slob that created havoc in the upper-crust life of Hyacinth Bucket. He was always dressed in a dirty vest, watching horse racing and eating chips. Worse, in the front garden of his dilapidated council was a rusty car, which his sister-in-law crawled over indecorously. Hughes gave the character a certain lovable quality that endeared him to the public but, most certainly never, to the grand Mrs Bucket.
In 1998 Hughes joined The Royale Family where once again he was a ne’er-do-well. He was Twiggy, a good-natured slob who earned his living by selling items that had fallen off the back of a lorry or, hilariously, bottles of spirits with the optics still attached.
Hughes final major role was in the Sunday evening police drama Heartbeat. In it he played the likeable scallywag Vernon Scripps, who was always on the make for a quick buck. He dabbled in used cars, set up a security service for the laird and tried to bottle spring water from the Dales: all without success.
Hughes was a keen sportsman and played golf until cancer was diagnosed two years ago. Also a noted sailor, he was an enthusiastic member of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club at Cowes. He was an active supporter of many national and local charities.
Hughes is survived by his wife Susan, whom he met in a Manchester pub called the Navigation Inn, then owned by Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street).
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