Roy Hudd: a charming star immediately embraced by audiences | Michael Billington

A versatile master of stage, radio and TV, Hudd survived changes in popular taste through his good-hearted skill

I last saw Roy Hudd, who has died at the age of 83, at a lunch organised by the British Music Hall Society to honour Ken Dodd. Roy was the society’s president and the perfect man for the job. Apart from being a wonderful comic, fine actor and versatile TV and radio performer, Roy was a mine of information about variety and music hall. He was a valuable historian of popular entertainment and, like Doddy, often seemed one of the last links between the mythical past and the multimedia present.

I once applied to Roy the words that Max Beerbohm said of Dan Leno: that he possessed “the indefinable quality of being sympathetic”. The moment he appeared on stage – whether as himself or in the guise of his hero, Max Miller, or as a Shakespearean clown – the audience instantly warmed to him. He also was a thoroughly decent man, as I can testify.

Many years ago, he asked a TV producer, John Duncan, who had worked with him on Ned Sherrin’s satire programmes in the 60s, and me to write him a script for a star spot on a David Frost Sunday night TV show. John and I came up with a faintly surreal monologue that was wrong for the occasion and died a bit of a death. But Roy never blamed us or said a harsh word and remained as imperturbably cheerful as ever.

Roy Hudd in Mother Goose at Wilton’s Music Hall, London, in 2016.
Roy Hudd in Mother Goose at Wilton’s Music Hall, London, in 2016. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Roy was infinitely adaptable. Having started out working the halls, he quickly became part of the world of TV comedy in the sketch shows of the mid-60s and went on to have a long-running radio hit, from 1975 to 2001, in The News Huddlines. He was smart enough to do topical gags based on the week’s top stories without losing his likability.

He was also, like many comics, able to bring his intuitive sense of timing to straight plays and musicals. He was a vital part of Frank Dunlop’s early seasons at the Young Vic – “It was just like working the clubs,” he told me “because you feel in touch with the audience” – and went to play Fagin in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! in the West End, Pseudolus in Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in Regent’s Park and Bud Flanagan in Underneath the Arches at Chichester and, later, the Prince of Wales.

Two memories of Roy stand out for me. One was of interviewing him backstage at Bournemouth for a book about comedy I never got round to writing. Looking back at my notes, I am struck by his shrewdness about show business. “Ted Ray,” he told me, “says that it takes you till you’re 45 to build up your own personal style.” And Roy claimed that double acts “need to be built around a professional tension”, citing the example of Jewel and Warriss.

My other happy memory is of him seeing him play the Dame in two pantomimes that he and his wife, Debbie Flitcroft, wrote for Wilton’s Music Hall. They were richly traditional shows full of classic routines and tried and trusted gags. In Dick Whittington there was a number, which in the music-hall heyday used to be known as Cleaning Windows, in which everyone repeats a counterpointed physical action. In Mother Goose when Roy’s ample-bosomed Dame was told, “I do like your dress,” he instantly replied “I bought it for a ridiculous figure.” Boom-boom.

It was cheering to see youngsters and oldsters coming together in celebration of a showbiz octogenarian who had seen it all and who had survived changing popular tastes through his good-hearted skill.


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

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