The entertainment industry is a world like no other with its fair share of gruelling schedules, unwanted press attention and the constant inability to remain anonymous from the public eye. Yet showbiz can also play a dominant role in bringing two people together in a world where they wouldn’t otherwise meet. Such a circumstance took place in 1995 when actress Linda Regan married the legendary comedy actor Brian Murphy and began their own showbiz fairytale. However, prior to this, the pair had separately enjoyed success on a whole host of different mediums and both their cvs read like a definitive history of British entertainment.
Watch the zoom interview from YouTube, below
Brian Murphy was one of the most successful graduates of Joan Littlewood’s legendary theatrical company sharing the stage with the likes of Barbara Windsor and Harry H Corbett. To be involved in such a prestigious repertory company remains something special for Brian and like so many of her graduates, he has only admiration and appreciation for the woman who helped to launch the careers of so many of Britain’s best loved actors. In 1963 Littlewood directed the cockney based comedy movie Sparrows Can’t Jump in which a sailor returns from overseas to discover that his wife is missing and eventually realises she’s pregnant and is living with a bus driver. This culminated in the 1964 performance of Oh What a Lovely War on Broadway following successful runs on the West End and Stratford. Such grounding proved vital to the young Brian for a life on stage. Cameos in Dixon of Dock Green followed as Brian began to attract attention from producers as a supporting actor.
Then in 1973 Brian secured arguably his most celebrated role as the downtrodden George Roper in ITV’s domestic sitcom Man About The House alongside the legendary Yootha Joyce. As merely supporting actors to the main characters Robin and Chrissy played by Richard O’Sullivan and Paula Wilcox, it was never intended for the characters of George and Mildred to be anything other than transient within the series. Yet such was the chemistry between Brian and Yootha that the audience fell in love with George and Mildred and they gradually played more of a substantial role within the series. Fans of the show became fascinated with the connection between the forthright Mildred and the downtrodden George in their dysfunctional relationship which was slowly becoming one of the most popular aspects of the show. Writers spotted this and created a spin off of the series.
In 1976 Brian reunited with Yootha Joyce as they reprised their popular roles of George and Mildred Roper for their own self titled sitcom. George and Mildred ran for five series on ITV until 1979, giving the network one of their biggest sitcoms of the 1970’s. But sadly just a year later, Yootha Joyce passed away from liver failure as a result of a secret battle with alcoholism. This sent shockwaves throughout the comedy fraternity but for Brian he had lost a dear friend and his much loved co-star. There’s no doubt Yootha’s death was mourned by millions of comedy fans around the world but for Brian this was a devastating time and the end of a wonderful era of his career.
Meanwhile a young Linda Regan enjoyed a glowing introduction to British comedy, starring in the 1970 television special Carry On Christmas alongside Carry On veterans Sid James, Charles Hawtrey and Barbara Windsor in a spoof of Treasure Island. To be associated with such a legendary film franchise really meant a lot to Linda and just six years later was honoured when she secured a role in Carry On England alongside Joan Simms, Kenneth Connor and Windsor Davies. Tragically by this time, the Carry On cast had already begun to dwindle, yet for Linda to be associated with such a beloved British institution is among one of her greatest achievements.
Cameos in the film adaptation of Spike Milligan’s wartime memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall and Dixon of Dock Green followed Linda into the mid 1970’s. Yet in 1984 she secured arguably one of her most celebrated roles as the glamorous April Wingate in Perry and Croft’s holiday camp sitcom Hi De Hi alongside Paul Shane, Jeffrey Holland and Su Pollard. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to talk about this but I would really love to know what it was like to work on such an iconic sitcom of the 1980’s and hope that one day I get to discover the answers. April became a firm fixture of the series right up until its conclusion in 1988 yet the series remains a comedy classic and therefore April Wingate has been immortalised in the sitcom hall of fame resulting in Linda being synonymous with those Yellowcoats from Maplins Holiday Camp.
Beyond acting, Linda is also an award winning writer and novelist, penning over ten best selling crime novels. Creating a series of books surrounding the mysterious cases of DCI Barnham has proven successful and such an idea occurred to her whilst starring in a pantomime when she had a sadistic thought about what would happen if there was a murder on set. This concept was able to grow organically until Linda managed to transfer it to paper and the rest is history. There’s an old saying in the writing fraternity “Write about what you know” and thankfully Linda hasn’t been involved in any dramatic murders but as a veteran of the pantomime season, she’s somewhat of an authority when it comes to panto. Therefore arguably Linda was in a unique position to create this story and unbeknown to both Linda and her audience, this was the start of a successful relationship. Her new novels Staged Death and The Terror Within move the story on and with the latest instalment set to grace the book shops later this year, it’s clear that we haven’t seen the last of DCI Barnham. What originally began as merely an idea has now created a literary crime franchise and Linda couldn’t be more proud.
Brian and Linda met when they were cast as husband and wife in Ray Cooney’s romantic comedy Wife Begins at 40. The pair married in 1995 and over a quarter of a century later they are still very happy in their home in Kent. Yet this didn’t halt their love for entertainment and in 1999 Brian returned to the sitcom format as the eccentric next door neighbour Arthur Capstick in Caroline Ahearne’s bittersweet comedy Mrs Merton and Malcolm. To work alongside such a contemporary comedy powerhouse was a fantastic thrill for Brian who remains saddened by Ahearne’s tragic loss to the comedy fraternity. It’s obvious from Brian’s fond memories of her that Ahearne may be gone but never forgotten.
For a generation of actors in their twilight years, a role in Roy Clarke’s Last of the Summer Wine was the ultimate sign of national treasure status. Such an accolade came in 2008 when Brian was cast as the gormless Alvin Smedley in the long running sitcom. This was a dream role for Brian as he was surrounded by so many old friends who had all worked together in various carnations over the years. Thus it became a successful reunion of so many comedy actors and was a privilege to have worked on. In collaboration with fellow comedy legends Russ Abbot, Burt Kwock and Peter Sallis, Brian was able to remain on the long running sitcom right up until its finale in 2010 which reignited his passions within the world of sitcom.
Having two of the most varied careers in showbusiness, it would be easy for Linda and Brian to lay back and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Yet Linda remains a successful author whose audience constantly demands more stories of crime escapism. As for what’s next for Brian – in his words “I’m looking forward to my tea!” It was a fantastic pleasure to interview the great Brian Murphy and Linda Regan and with such an extensive repertoire behind them, they most certainly have both invested themselves in the British television hall of fame.