Anyone familiar with British Comedy is familiar with David Croft who was the mastermind behind many of the best sit-coms in British TV history. Jeffrey Holland starred in no less than three of David Crofts hit shows (Hi-De-Hi, You Rang M’Lord and Oh, Dr Beeching!) and even had a guest appearance in some others, including Dad’s Army. Away from the TV screen, Jeffrey Holland has also enjoyed a long and successful career as a stage actor. Kieran Kinsella recently had a chance to speak with Jeffrey about his career.
How Did you first get into acting?
“I first decided that acting was for me when I joined an under-21 amateur drama group aged 15. I was sitting round in a circle reading a play with the others, not quite knowing what I was even doing there, when after one of my lines, I heard laughter! I liked it! The bug bit there and then! I continued with my amateur acting until I was 19 and then decided as there was nothing else I enjoyed doing anyway, I would take it up professionally. I successfully applied for a drama school course and never looked back!”
Your first TV appearance was in the classic police series Dixon of Dock Green. What was that experience like?
“My first ever speaking role on TV – ( I had done some walk-on silent work while I was a student ) – was a daunting experience! I somehow
imagined the camera was like a Dalek about to kill me! I didn’t have a great deal to do in that episode of Dixon of Dock Green and meeting the great Jack Warner was a wonderful experience. He was such a charming gentleman.”
You are probably best known for playing Spike in Hi-De-Hi. How did you land that role? and did you have any idea at the time that the show would be such a big hit?
“My first encounter with Perry and Croft was when I auditioned for the West End stage production of Dad’s Army in 1975. You can read more about that day in detail on my website but suffice it to say, I got the job! I was to be playing in the ensemble and understudy Pike and Walker. After the 6 months in London, the show went on a national tour in the UK and I was asked to take over the role of Private Walker as the actor playing it wanted to leave. It was one of the proudest moments in my career when I appeared with Captain Mainwaring and his platoon! After the tour ended in late 1976, I was asked over the next couple of years to play guest roles for David Croft in both It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum and Are You Being Served? and also in an episode of the final series of Dad’s Army as well! They had got to know me quite well by then and when they wrote Hi De Hi in 1979 they wrote Spike with me in mind! We made the pilot episode in October 79 and we all felt that we could be on the brink of another Perry and Croft success story! We were right!”
What are you favorite memories of filming Hi-De-Hi?
“My memories of making the show are many and varied. They had me wear some amazing costumes as Spike! Some were memorable for being terribly uncomfortable but most were great on laughs! I have to confess that I never enjoyed being thrown in the swimming pool which was always freezing as we filmed on location at the camp in October/November when their season was over!”
After Hi-De-Hi finished you went to work on another show called You Rang M’Lord? that was also written by David Croft and Jimmy Perry. You were also reunited with Paul Shane and Su Pollard. What was it like working with the same crew of people but on an entirely different show?
“Su Pollard, Paul Shane and myself were told by Perry and Croft that 1987 would the last series of Hi De Hi and that in 88 we would be together
again in You Rang M’Lord?. It was a great honour to be kept together and we loved it! They liked us because we worked so well together even in different character roles, but the chemistry between the 3 of us was fantastically strong. We had a lot of fun too and everyone enjoyed that aspect of our work together. They always said that You Rang M’Lord? was the creme de la creme of their shows!”
You have worked with Kenny Everett, Russ Abbott and Jim Davidson to name just a few but which comics and comic actors do you most admire?
“I have been very lucky to have worked with so many great comics and actors but the main influences on my own comic performing were two people I never met: Laurel and Hardy. Probably the greatest comedy double act of all time!”
In 1995 you started work on Oh, Dr Beeching!, along with many of the people who had been involved in Hi-De-Hi and You Rang M’Lord? What was that like?
“Yes, we were lucky enough to be cast together for a third show in Oh, Dr. Beeching! and again we loved to work together. Sadly though, the BBC bosses at that time were in favour of change and the series was axed after two seasons. A great shame as we all thought there was much more to be had from that particular time in British history.”
You have always been heavily involved in stage shows including pantomines but where are you most at home, on stage or screen?
“I haven’t worked on TV since that last series and my work has been largely in the theatre since. I have to be honest and say that, although I love TV and radio, I think like most actors would say that my first love is the live theatre. You have the adrenalin rush and you’re out there doing it live! There’s nothing like hearing an audience laughing and the more you give, the more you get back! Long may it continue!”
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