Friday, September 19, 2008

6 Degrees of Separation, British Comedy Style

Isn't it funny how people cross paths in real life as well as in television land? I had been mulling this over for quite some time after I learned that Josephine Tewson was John Inman's cousin. And after I had first seen Tewson on Last of the Summer Wine.

It has been noted before that Tewson and Inman were cousins, and I presume that they were first cousins, but the exact nature of their relation to one another remains unclear to me. But in any case, they were four years apart in age and in one interview posted online, Tewson seemed very fond of her cousin. While John Inman is famous in the US for portraying Mr. Wilberforce Humphries so brilliantly in Are You Being Served, his cousin is famous here for her turn as nervous neighbor [only in Hyacinth's home] Mrs. Elizabeth Warden in Keeping Up Appearances. These two series happen to be two of my ultimate favorites when it comes to British comedy.

In 2003, Josephine Tewson was cast in Last of the Summer Wine, which was created by the same man who created Keeping Up Appearances - Roy Clarke. As romance-starved librarian Miss Lucinda Davenport, she often shares scenes with Frank Thornton, who many might remember as Captain Steven Peacock opposite John Inman's Mr. Humphries in Are You Being Served. Inman and Thornton's co-star on Are You Being Served Trevor Bannister [Mr. Dick Lucas] made a few appearances on Last of the Summer Wine beginning in 2001. Bannister also guess-starred in an episode of Keeping Up Appearances.

The television drama Coronation Street connected many of these actors as well, which isn't surprising based on its extensive cast list spanning over four decades. Being an EastEnders fan, I unfortunately never felt the need to watch Coronation Street. I actually even stopped watching EastEnders nearly ten years ago. Methinks I need to rectify the situation and rent dvds of both series pronto if they're available, starting from the very beginning.

Anyway Patricia Routledge, the star of Keeping Up Appearances, made her appearance on Coronation Street in 1961. Just a year later Last of the Summer Wine's money-loving Auntie Wainwright, played by Jean Alexander, made her first appearance on the soap opera as landlady Mrs. Webb, and then returned two years later to begin her illustrious turn as Hilda Ogden in 1964. Josephine Tewson herself made a very short appearance on Coronation Street as Peggy Phillips in 1994, which was 7 years after Jean Alexander's final scene on that show.

Keeping Up Appearances' Geoffrey Hughes, Hyacinth Bucket's bone idle brother-in-law Onslow, worked on the serial from 1974 to 1983 as Eddie Yeats. He most likely crossed paths at some point with Jean Alexander's Hilda Ogden character. Last of the Summer Wine's Keith Clifford, who played wanna-be Robin Hood descendent Billy Hardcastle, started out on Coronation Street in 1975 with a bit part in one episode before returning in the late 1990s and again in 2007. Shirley Stelfox, the first actress to play Rose in Keeping Up Appearances, also played Shirley Henderson on Coronation Street starting in 1983. And Are You Being Served's Molly Sugden, the inimitable Mrs. Slocombe, took on the character of Nellie Harvey on Coronation Street in just a few episodes starting in 1965.

The Coronation Street web includes Joanna Lumley as she worked on the serial in 1973 portraying Elaine Perkins. A young Joanna Lumley made two guest cameos on Are You Being Served in the seventies. In fact, her first marriage was to Are You Being Served's writer Jeremy Lloyd. Lumley went on to co-star in the wild comedy Absolutely Fabulous with Jennifer Saunders, and worked alongside June Whitfield, who played Edina Monsoon's Mother, in the process. In Last of the Summer Wine, June Whitfield, a very youthful-looking 82 year old, and Josephine Tewson's characters cross paths occasionally.

There are so so many more connections to be made but alas my stomach grumbles for breakfast. But it is ridiculously fun to discover the patterns and connections of actors to film or television work. Take for example Coronation Street - actors who crossed the Big Pond to Hollywood like Ben Kingsley appeared on the series during his early acting career, while Ian McKellan portrayed a character there in 2005 or thereabouts, purely for fun I imagine and perhaps because he has always been a fan of the soap opera.

Several Doctor Who companions appeared on Coronation Street during its earlier years including Frazer Hines [Jamie], Elisabeth Sladen [Sarah Jane Smith], and Mary Tamm [Romana I]. Doctor Who itself is a hotbed for actor cameos. Clive Swift [Richard Bucket], Judy Cornwell [Daisy], and David Griffin [Emmet Hawksworth] of Keeping Up Appearances appeared on Doctor Who, albeit during different years with different actors portraying the Doctor. Last of the Summer Wine's Burt Kwouk a.k.a. Cato of the Pink Panther films made a guest stint in Doctor Who's episode Four to Doomsday.

And there are tons more that I can't seem to think of at the moment. Because I'm getting hungrier. And can't think straight anymore...I wonder if anyone can come up with 6 degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and John Inman. I would love to see that!

[Photo of John Inman is from The Daily Mail, photo of Jean Alexander is from The Sun, the photo of Joanna Lumley is from Southbank Centre, and the photo of June Whitfield is from The Reckless Gardener]

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