In a career spanning half a century, star of stage and screen Jeffrey Holland went from supporting actor roles in television drama to becoming one of Britain’s beloved sitcom stars. Making his television debut in the serial drama Crossroads in 1964, Jeffrey made brief cameos in television dramas of the day before cameos in Perry and Croft’s two greatest sitcom triumphs of the 1970’s came calling when he secured supporting actor roles in both Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum respectively in 1977 and 1978. This introduced the young actor to the legendary sitcom writing duo who would help define the rest of his career.
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By 1978 Jeffrey was starting to become a familiar face on TV and auditioned for the part of Jack Boot in the Christmas pantomime of Robinson Crusoe alongside the legendary Frankie Howerd. Yet unfortunately merely a few days into the Christmas run, Howerd broke his leg forcing him to pull out of the production which automatically promoted Jeffrey to the top of the bill. Such an opportunity promptly put him centre stage and attracted attention from TV executives who could now consider him as a leading man.
Just a year previously, the young actor had taken part in a pilot sitcom episode written by Perry and Croft surrounding the bizarre goings on of a fictional holiday camp during the 1950’s. The inspiration behind the premise of the show derived from Jimmy Perry’s brief time as a red coat at Butlins before going on to being a jobbing actor. Having delighted BBC executives with the pilot, it would be another two years before a full six part series was broadcast. Hi-De-Hi became an instant success and made stars of the major cast including Jeffrey, Paul Shane and Su Pollard. Jeffrey was cast as camp comic Spike Dixon who had decided to cast aside a career in income tax to follow his dream to become an entertainer. With the help of lifelong friend Ted Bovis (played by Paul Shane), he gets a job at Maplins which is currently under new management.
Over nine series and fifty three episodes, Hi-De-Hi followed the lives of the yellow coats at Maplins holiday camp as they welcomed guests with their unique brand of entertainment. Jeffrey had never met Paul Shane prior to their casting but as soon as they met, the pair instantly knew that they had obvious chemistry. Just as Ted and Spike seemed inseparable in the show, Jeffrey and Paul were quick to develop a great friendship off screen which had a very positive effect on their chemistry on screen. As camp entertainer, Spike usually became the butt of Ted’s jokes which often resulted in him being picked up and thrown into the large swimming pool. Quintessentially a straight man, Perry and Croft used the character of Spike as a device in which all other characters bounced off and in certain situations, he became the voice of reason to the madness that was unfolding.
Hi-De-Hi came to an end in 1988 but David Croft had already started working on another comedy masterpiece which would ultimately reunite the major cast members. An irreverent take on the British class structure of the 1920’s would pit stars of Hi-De-Hi alongside Michael Knowles and Donald Hewlett from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum in an ensemble cast of best loved sitcom faces. Dad’s Army stars Frank Williams and Bill Pertwee also joined the stellar cast as Lord Bishop Charles and constable Wilson who brought similar chemistry to the show as they had in their previous roles. First broadcast on the 29th December 1988 You Rang M’Lord toiled with the very foundations of sitcom which had been in place for the last thirty years. Instead of relying on the standard thirty minute sitcom slot, Perry and Croft extended each episode to fifty minutes to capture the feel of a big budget period drama.
Jeffrey was cast as pompous Footman James Twelvetrees who had illusions of grandeur that he should belong among the upper class elite and struggled with knowing his position as a noble servant. Forever being kept grounded by scheming butler Alf Stokes (played by Paul Shane), the pair enjoyed a love hate relationship throughout all four series and once again were able to hone their innate chemistry which transcended the screen. Over four series and twenty-six episodes spanning from 1988 to 1993 You Rang M’Lord became a Sunday night teatime favourite which harped back to the golden years of British comedy and over a quarter of a century on, it’s still being discovered by new audiences. Despite his vast accomplishments Jeffrey remains extremely proud of You Rang M’Lord yet he, Paul and Su weren’t done with sitcom yet..
In 1995 David Croft reunited the cast for one last time in his historical sitcom surrounding the railway strike of the 1960’s in Oh Doctor Beeching. Jeffrey was cast as pompous station master Cecil Parkin brought in to save the failing station but is shocked to find his old flame May now marred to the station porter Jack Skinner, played by Paul Shane. This adds to the rivalrous tension between Jack and Cecil and formed the backbone of the series. There was always a mysterious black cloud over the identity of the father of May’s daughter Gloria which was never answered which became yet another contentious issue between the two men. It was the first time that Jeffrey had played a figure of authority and thrived upon the newfound responsibility that it spawned. In the previous two sitcom outings, he had always been subservient to a higher authority but it was refreshing to play a character who was in charge.
Oh Doctor Beeching proved to be the last outing for David Croft’s unique repertory company and ran for two series from 8 July 1996, with the last episode being broadcast on 28 September 1997. As always the traditional trio of Paul Shane, Su Pollard and Jeffrey Holland were joined by familiar sitcom faces including Stephen Lewis,Julia Deakin and Perry Benson who made up the stellar supporting cast which helped to make Oh Doctor Beeching a nineties family favourite. Surviving for just two series, the show possibly marked the end of an era for the traditional sitcom being the last ever David Croft production. Yet this repertory company was unique in delivering three separate sitcom triumphs with the same main cast. Something that Jeffrey remains extremely proud of.
Beyond sitcom success, Jeffrey’s passions lay in the heroes of comedy itself which has dominated the latter part of his career. In 2001 he joined forces with Andrew Secombe and Jon Glover for a live broadcast of a very special stage show commemorating fifty years of The Goon Show. Performing those legendary scripts in front of a live studio audience was a very special achievement for Jeffrey and he was taken aback by the fantastic reception it received. For the great Spike Milligan to be alive long enough to heat a 21st century take on his 1950’s masterpiece was a great feeling and witnessing Andrew Secombe getting overcome with emotion made it all the more meaningful. In short this was the best night that Jeffrey has ever spent in a theatre.
His other comedy hero is Stan Laurel who he recalls watching in cinemas as a boy alongside his long term partner Oliver Hardy. It was here he realised the simple power of comedy and fell in love with the art. In 2013 Jeffrey fulfilled a lifetime ambition when he wrote and performed a one man show entitled And This is My Friend Mr Laurel surrounding the relationship between Laurel and Hardy. He was able to play both parts which he received critical acclaim for. This remains his true passion and despite unparalleled sitcom success, this remains his greatest achievement to date.
Slowly becoming the elder statesmen of comedy, Jeffrey Holland shows no signs of slowing down and is looking forward to embarking on a stage tour alongside his wife the actress Judy Buxton. This is promptly followed by reuniting with old friend Su Pollard for the 2019 production of Dick Whittington at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. It was a great pleasure to meet and interview the legendary Jeffrey Holland and wish him all the very best for the rest of his remarkable career in entertainment.