Obituary: Paul Shane, actor

Paul Shane as Ted Bovis in TV comedy series Hi-de-Hi. Picture: PA
Paul Shane as Ted Bovis in TV comedy series Hi-de-Hi. Picture: PA
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Born: 19 June, 1940, in Rotherham, Yorkshire. Died: 16 May, 2013, in Rotherham, aged 72

It was only when an accident forced Paul Shane to give up his job as a miner that he decided to try to earn a full-time living as an entertainer. But Shane went on to become one of the most familiar faces in British sitcom as Ted Bovis, the burly, uncouth, untrustworthy holiday camp entertainer in the classic comedy series Hi-de-Hi!

The show provided him with a regular income and high profile throughout most of the 1980s and the character and series proved so popular that its creators David Croft and Jimmy Perry went on to reunite Shane with co-stars Su Pollard and Jeffrey Holland in You Rang, M’Lord?

As the shady butler Alf Stokes, Shane was essentially playing a variation on his Hi-de-Hi! character. He had top billing and You Rang, M’Lord? was another hit.

A third sitcom starring Shane, Pollard and Holland, Oh Doctor Beeching!, proved a bridge too far. Set against the backdrop of impending railway closures (not an inherently funny subject), it was widely regarded as one of British television’s worst sitcoms before Ricky Gervais’s recent efforts to set the bar at a new low.

Paul Shane was previously George Frederick Speight, born in the Rotherham area of south Yorkshire, in 1940. He worked as a miner after leaving school, appearing in the evenings as an entertainer in local pubs and clubs, mainly as a singer at this point.

He had to give up his job down the mines, seemingly not because of any dramatic underground incident, but because, in true comedy fashion, he slipped and fell at the pithead baths. He developed his act to include jokes as well and found they went down better than the songs. What proved especially popular was his combination of humour and songs, including a send-up of Green, Green Grass of Home.

A gloriously over-the-top, gravelly voiced rendition of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, performed years later on Pebble Mill, featured in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Funny Moments in 2006.

A larger-than-life character, Paul Shane (as he now was) began landing the occasional role on television. One of his earliest was as a cyclist in Alan Bennett’s television play A Day Out in 1972. “All I had to say was, ‘My bum’s numb!’” he recalled. He made several appearances on Play for Today and played a couple of characters on Coronation Street.

Jimmy Perry, who had enjoyed great success with Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, saw him on Corrie as Frank Roper, Alf Roberts’ boss from the GPO. He visits Roberts when he is off after an accident and suggests he should be back at work.

Perry offered Shane one of the lead roles in Hi-de-Hi!, the new sitcom he was making with his regular collaborator David Croft. Set in the fictional English holiday camp of Maplin’s, it mined a similar sort of nostalgic vein to their earlier hits.

Shane appeared in all 58 episodes of the sitcom, which ran from 1980 to 1988, playing “camp host” Ted Bovis. A rough individual, forever on the make, he had hoped to be promoted to entertainment manager, but finds himself serving under Jeffrey Fairbrother (Simon Cadell), a Cambridge archaeology professor who has become disillusioned with academic life.

The clash between the two, in culture, personality and values, was one of the elements that ran throughout the series. Su Pollard was the enthusiastic chalet maid, with aspirations of becoming a yellowcoat, and Jeffrey Holland was Ted’s friend Spike, the “camp comic”, even though he is no natural wit.

When Hi-de-Hi! finished, Shane, Pollard and Holland went more or less straight into Croft and Perry’s next sitcom You Rang, M’Lord. A pilot show was made in 1988 and the series ran from 1990 to 1993.

It was a sort of comic spin on Upstairs, Downstairs, with longer 50-minute episodes and an ongoing storyline. It began with Shane and Holland as soldiers in the First World War, who come across the body of an officer. Shane’s character Alf Stokes prepares to strip him of his possessions. It turns out he is alive and they get the credit for rescuing him.

After the war Holland’s character James Twelvetrees is employed as a footman in the officer’s aristocratic Mayfair household. Stokes (Shane) ends up getting the job of butler that Twelvetrees had coveted. Pollard played the maid Ivy, who is also secretly Stokes’s daughter.

Oh Doctor Beeching! ran for two series, despite dreadful reviews, and by that time Shane was well established and turning up on celebrity on shows such as Celebrity Squares.

During the 1990s and 2000s he had recurring roles in a string of other series. He was health care assistant Stan Ashleigh on Holby City. And on Emmerdale he played the black sheep of the Dingle family who arrives in the village after a spell in prison, but does not stick around for long.

Shane also appeared regularly in theatre and pantomime. His wife, Dory, predeceased him. He is survived by three daughters.