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1st February 2019

The Late, Great Windsor Davies

It seems that 2019 has continued in the same vein as 2018 ended in taking some of our most beloved TV faces from the golden era of Light Entertainment and as this generation slowly fades away, it’s a tidy reminder of the laughter and excitement that these stars brought into our living rooms. On the 17th January 2019 sitcom fans all over Britain woke to the sad news that comedy actor Windsor Davies had passed away at the age of 88 leaving a legacy of laughter in his wake. Born in Canning Town, Essex on 28th August 1930 to Welsh parents, when he was 10 years old, he was sent to live with relatives at Nant-y-Moel in the Ogmore Valley of south Wales. This was where he honed his deep welsh tones which helped to define him as a character actor.

Serving in the British army in North Africa in the early 1950’s, Windsor would gain invaluable insight which would prove vital in his later life as an actor. In 1961 he was encouraged by his wife Lyn to take a drama course at Richmond College which gave him the desire to follow this dream. His first professional role came when he enrolled at Cheltenham repertory company and was introduced to John Dexter, associate director of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court in London which resulted in his stage debut as the Tramp in the company’s production of Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen and Wallace Morton in Gwyn Thomas’s The Keep. Making his screen debut in Dexter’s TV movie The Keep in 1962, Davies was quick to be at home on the small screen. A variety of small television roles followed in popular drama of the day including Dixon Of Dock Green and Z Cars. Offers of TV movies kept coming and in 1964 Windsor starred in the TV drama Ring Out an Alibi alongside Eynon Evans and Patricia Mort before a career defining role came in 1974.

His general size and stature naturally made him the perfect candidate to portray the stereotypical figure of authority and that’s exactly what sitcom giants David Croft and Jimmy Perry required when gathering the perfect cast for their new sitcom surrounding the regiment of the Royal Artillery based in India in the Second World War. Having been in the Royal Artillery concert party himself, writer Jimmy Perry required an experienced ensemble cast to give his story the justice it rightly deserved. Cast as the extremely power hungry Battery Sergeant Major Williams, Windsor was an integral part of the show and his character perfectly contrasted with the effeminate inclinations of Melvyn Hayes’ Gloria which became one of the most loved aspects of the series.

Over nine years and eight series, Sergeant Major Williams struggled to maintain power with an ensemble cast of perfectly drawn quintessentially British characters from the genial minds of Perry and Croft. Like all great comedy, it was the bizarre interactions between the characters that really made the series. Michael Bates’s sublime performance as the native bearer Rangi Ram who frequently had the ability to stun the straight talking Sergeant Major with one of his useless and irrelevant ideas. There is always something universally funny about someone who is obviously totally out of their depth being absolutely bewildered as to the madcap events which are unfolding and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum had this in bucketloads.

Apart from making him into a household name, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum also gave Windsor a Top ten hit in 1975 with his co-star Don Estelle as they covered the wartime song Whispering Grass. This prompted the pair to be asked to appear on Top Of The Pops dressed as their characters in full uniform surrounded by the biggest music acts of the day. In the era of the novelty record, fans were delighted to see their favourite stars cross the entertainment border into other genres and this collaboration epitomises the experimental mood of the time. Nowadays novelty records tend to be seen as corny and slightly desperate but in 1975 it was a way for fans to feel closer to their favourite television faces. It might not be a musical classic but it did go some way to extending Windsor’s universal appeal.

Beyond sitcom, Davies also enjoyed significant roles on the big screen with a whole range of classic comedy movies. In 1973 unafraid of being typecast, he played a sergeant in the Highland Regiment in the film adaptation of Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall alongside Jim Dale. Joining the celebrated comedy franchise in 1975 he played Fred Ramsden in Gerald Thomas’s Carry On Behind followed by Carry On England just a year later. Like all great television comedy actors, the big screen was something which Windsor could add to a varied CV yet lacked the intimacy of television that character actors thrive upon.

Returning to sitcom in 1981 alongside Donald Sinden for the ITV series Never The Twain, Davies was cast as the canny antique dealer Oliver Smallbridge who finds himself in a bitter rivalry with his next door neighbour Simon Peel (played by Sinden). Never The Twain ran for sixty seven episodes on ITV for a decade before Windsor contemplated retirement. By this time he was associated with yet another successful sitcom playing the part of George Vance, the curator of Aylesbury Museum, who much to his surprise inherits the Earldom of Ynys Enlli in Marks and Gran’s political comedy The New Statesman starring the late Rik Mayall. It was clear that the now veteran actor wasn’t scared to move with the times and reinvent himself for a new generation of audience.

Davies returned to the world of music in 1984 voicing many characters in Paul McCartney’s Rupert and the Frog Chorus. He also narrated the audiobook for the Ladybird children’s classic Treasure Island.Throughout the 1990’s, Davies was a regular on LWT’s Audience With shows and famously acted as one of Freddie Starr’s backing vocalists in an improvisational sketch paying homage to Elvis Presley’s band The Jordaneers. Sadly, this was one of his last major appearances before retiring to France with his wife Eluned who sadly passed away in September 2018, just four months before him.

Windsor Davies death at the ripe old age of 88 has been met by outpourings of love from millions of British sitcom fans all over the world.  Immortalised as the flawed Sergeant Major in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Davies might be gone but never forgotten.

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