Obituary: Trevor Peacock,  actor and songwriter who found fame in The Vicar of Dibley

Trevor Peacock actor and songwriter. Born: May 19, 1931 in London. Died: March 8 2021, aged 89

Trevor Peacock’s appeal crossed generations due to endless repeaats of The Vicar of Dibley
Trevor Peacock’s appeal crossed generations due to endless repeaats of The Vicar of Dibley

Trevor Peacock achieved lasting fame as the shambolic, stuttering, oddly lascivious parishioner Jim Trott in The Vicar of Dibley, one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, ranking third in a massive BBC poll in 2003-04.

With endless repeats, Peacock’s appeal crossed the generations. He recalled on one occasion being approached on holiday on a beach in Devon by some teenagers who insisted on hearing his catchphrase of “No… no… no… no… no…”, which was generally followed by a belated “Yes”.

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So pleased were they with the rendition that one girl insisted that he wait there while she got her mother. Eventually the girl reappeared and urged him to do it again. “No… no… no… no… no…” And the puzzled mother turned to her daughter and asked “What is he? A lunatic?”

But long before The Vicar of Dibley hit British TV screens in 1994 Peacock enjoyed considerable success as a writer of pop songs and rather less success as a would-be pop idol singing them.

One of his most successful songs was Mrs Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter. It was originally sung by Tom Courtenay in The Lads, a 1963 television drama about soldiers in Cyprus, in which Peacock was initially involved as an actor.

The song was subsequently covered by Herman’s Hermits and, much to Peacock’s surprise, was a huge international hit, selling over 10 million copies worldwide and knocking Elvis Presley off the No 1 spot in the US.

With the Hermits at the height of their transatlantic popularity, MGM then built an entire film around the song, in which the said Mrs Brown turned out to be a greyhound. Strange days indeed.

A man of many talents, Peacock might also have become a professional footballer. As a 17-year-old he had a trial for Tottenham Hotspur, his local club. In later years he lived in a village in Somerset and was a passionate fan of Yeovil Town.

He was born Trevor Edward Peacock in London in 1931. His father was a salesman, Baptist lay preacher and church organist, with Peacock at the pump. Peacock loved the theatricality of the church and simply watching the faces of the congregation. Early years in the church also taught him about music. During the Second World War he put on little street shows and raised money for the Red Cross.

His father would not give him money to go to the cinema, because it was sinful, but he managed to find a way to sneak in through an emergency exit and was enchanted by it.

He went to grammar school, and acted in and wrote school theatre productions. After National Service in the Army, he trained as a teacher before beginning his showbiz career as one half of a comedy act, with Jack Good, who became a television and record producer.

By the late 1950s Peacock and Good were both involved in the music scene and Peacock presented the BBC pop music show Drumbeat. “Me and my mate Jack Good co-discovered these fellows called Cliff Richard and Adam Faith,” he told one interviewer. “And we laboriously taught them how to sing and gyrate.”

Peacock wrote comedy sketches for Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock and songs for Adam Faith, Billy Fury and Joe Brown. Another memorable song was Bernard Cribbins’ Gossip Calypso, a ditty that might now be judged guilty of sexism, racism and cultural appropriation.

Although Peacock also recorded himself, he lacked the looks of a Cliff or Adam Faith and his career took him in different directions. He wrote several musicals, including collaborating with John Barry on the 1965 West End production Passion Flower Hotel, with a cast that included a young Jane Birkin and Pauline Collins.

Stand-up comedy led in turn to comic acting roles in theatre, including several Shakespeare plays. In 1967 Peacock played Estragon in Waiting for Godot in Manchester, where he was later heavily involved with the Royal Exchange theatre company.

He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1970s. Many of his Shakespearean appearances were either in comic parts or supporting roles, including that of Horatio in Hamlet at the Edinburgh Festival in 1968 and the gravedigger in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 film of Hamlet, which shot largely in Scotland with Mel Gibson in the lead.

However in 1985 Peacock did play the title role in Titus Andronicus, the final instalment in the BBC’s massive undertaking to film all the Shakespeare plays. He also appeared in several of the earlier films.

He was best-known for The Vicar of Dibley, playing one of the dim-witted locals in a parish that is shocked to discover its new minister is a woman, and a rather smug, self-righteously modern one at that – some might even say insufferable, though the viewing public seemed to like her.

It began at a time when women clergy was still a controversial issue in the Church of England.

Peacock did however have more than 100 credits in a screen career stretching from the late 1950s to 2015 when he appeared in a Vicar of Dibley Comic Relief special. He played Quilp in the BBC adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop and Father Christmas’s father in the Hollywood movie Fred Claus.

One of his last credits was for the 2012 film Quartet, which was set in a home for retired musicians. Peacock was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease the following year.

His first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife Tilly and four children.

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