Wales

Obituary: Windsor Davies, star of It Ain't Half Hot Mum

Pictured in 1981 with Don Estelle and Melvyn Hayes in It Ain't Half Hot Mum
Image caption Pictured in 1981 with Don Estelle and Melvyn Hayes in It Ain't Half Hot Mum

Comedy actor Windsor Davies, who was immortalised as the sergeant major in TV series It Ain't Half Hot Mum, has died aged 88.

Davies, who also topped the pop charts with sitcom partner Don Estelle in 1975, had modelled the role on men he knew on National Service.

"Apart from the brilliance of the writing, I think It Ain't Half Hot Mum was brilliant because that is how it really was," he told BBC Wales in 2012.

"Sergeant majors had these recognisable forms of expression and all that stuff. A lot came from [writers] David Croft and Jimmy Perry who were both ex-Army."

Born in August 1930 in Canning Town, east London, Windsor Davies returned home to his father's home village, Nant-y-Moel in the Ogmore valley, when World War Two broke out.

He was educated at Ogmore Grammar School and also worked as a miner, like his father, before National Service with the Army in north Africa.

After training to be a teacher in Bangor, Davies taught English and Maths for four years in the 1950s at Leek in Staffordshire, where he was known as a joker and making his pupils laugh.

But he was also involved in amateur dramatics and was persuaded by his wife Lynne to answer an advert for a short drama course run by the Kew theatre company in London.

"Lynne said to me, 'you'll never be really happy unless you have a go at this, will you?'" he recalled to BBC Wales in 2012.

But he had a false-start to his acting career when he was cast in a TV series called Probation Officer. "It was a terrible mistake to have taken that job because I didn't know one end of a TV camera from the other and I didn't know how to tackle the job properly," he recalled.

He was given roles in uniform in police series from Z Cars to Callan and more bit-part work, not always easy with a growing family.

"I worked with virtually every comedian the BBC employed as a feed man - I'd go along and do the one scene, working with people like Dick Emery, Norman Wisdom and Charlie Drake," he said.

And it was a comedy which was to propel him from jobbing actor to stardom and make him a familiar face to millions in the 1970s.

Image caption The It Ain't Half Hot Mum cast in 1976

Davies had first teamed up with singer Don Estelle on the northern club circuit.

In 1973, they were cast together in It Ain't Half Hot Mum, the follow-up comedy for Dad's Army creators Perry and Croft.

It was set in a Royal Artillery concert party in the last few months of World War Two in India - although the series ran for eight years.

Davies played Battery Sergeant Major Williams - nicknamed Sgt Major "Shut Up!" - a no-nonsense, bellowing platoon leader with a love-hate relationship with the theatrical troupe.

Frustrated in his endeavours to drill them as a fighting unit, he had little time for the artistic pursuits of his charges - always happier in costume than Army uniform - or the upper class twits who were his commanding officers. His authority was further subtly undermined by the camp's Indian servants.

Battery Sergeant Major Williams was originally written as a Londoner and lined up for Rising Damp star Leonard Rossiter. But thankfully it was re-written for Davies as a Welshman - who made the part very much his own, even adding his own "lovely boys" catchphrase.

"David Croft and Jimmy Perry had auditioned a number of people and they were fed up with some of them telling them how to play the sergeant major," said Davies about his call to read for the role.

"I did my old Cockney bit but they said, 'hang on a minute, you're a Welshman - do it as a Welshman' and I remember thinking about a bloke I knew from the south Wales valleys, who talked this certain way, and they laughed and when I got home, my agent had called to say they wanted me.

"I thought, it's a series! Which was lovely, with me having a wife and five children."

With Davies alongside 4ft 9 ins tall Estelle as Gunner "Lofty" Sugden, It Ain't Half Hot Mum at its peak it attracted 15 million viewers a week and ran for eight series.

The pair also enjoyed a number one hit in 1975 when they recorded a version of Whispering Grass in character, a novelty hit which nevertheless sold more than a million copies.

Image caption Davies pictured with Don Estelle and Max Boyce - the pair took the characters out into the wider world of light entertainment in the late 1970s

The partnership spilled over into more stage and screen appearances and TV commercials.

'Something else'

Another "chalk and cheese" partnership saw Davies star as Oliver Smallbridge, alongside Donald Sinden as two rival antique dealers in the long-running ITV sitcom Never The Twain.

Although overshadowed by It Ain't Half Hot Mum, it ran for more than 60 episodes.

Back in Wales, Davies also starred in a one-off BBC production which gained cult status and was still fondly remembered years later - gaining a new lease of life with a DVD release.

Image caption Windsor Davies in 1978's Grand Slam - his personal favourite

Grand Slam was a 1978 comedy about the exploits of a group of Welsh fans who travelled to Paris for a rugby weekend.

It was shot on location during the weekend of an actual France v Wales match - with the cast even flying over with the Wales team.

Davies - a self-confessed "low grade" rugby player in his youth - was cast as Mog Jones, the leader of the travelling group, who ends up behind bars after an incident at a strip club. He appeared alongside Welsh comic talents Hugh Griffith, Sion Probert and Dewi "Pws" Morris, who all were encouraged to improvise.

"That was probably the one I enjoyed most of all," Davies recalled.

"I enjoyed my work a lot but that was something else."

Davies was also the voice of Sergeant Major Zero in the 1980s sci-fi series Terrahawks. As well as stage appearances, there were parts in more than 20 films, including two later Carry Ons.

He retired from acting in his 70s to live in the south of France, near Toulouse, with his wife of 62 years Eluned who died in September. They had five children.

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