There are just some figures in the pantheon of entertainment for whom one podcast simply isn’t enough to encapsulate their vast contributions to their art form. Writer, actor and certified sitcom legend Jeffrey Holland indulged my passion for the golden age of the British situation comedy when he agreed to appear on Beyond The Title back in 2019. For this, we predominantly celebrated his vast contributions to the David Croft franchise which resulted in three career defining roles in Hi-De-Hi, You Rang M’Lord and Oh Doctor Beaching. Yet what is possibly less known is his formidable contribution to preserving British comedy’s rich and diverse heritage which has become something of a passion project for Jeff in recent years. Therefore in light of the tragic passing of Barry Cryer, we decided to reconnect for what promised to be a fascinating podcast.
Press play, below, to listen to the full interview
Or watch the unedited zoom call on YouTube here;
As a lifelong fan of Laurel and Hardy, in 2010 Jeff fulfilled a lifetime ambition when he wrote and performed a one man show celebrating the lives of the internationally beloved double act. For this he undertook meticulous research into both of their lives as he attempted to understand the people behind the laughter and discovered the enormous bond between both of them. Stan Laurel obviously holds extra significance for British audiences given his birthplace of Ulverston in Cumbria which makes Laurel and Hardy an integral part of the story of British comedy. Yet their on screen relationship was so potent that it would be impossible to imagine one without the other and indeed when Oliver Hardy passed away in 1957, Stan Laurel retired and rarely made a public appearance. Jeff wanted to convey such a special bond of loyalty and friendship within the play which proved difficult when playing both protagonists but remains a constant theme throughout.
The show was a great success and in 2011 Jeff embarked upon a tour of his one man show ‘….And this is my friend Mr Laurel’ co-written by the award-winning playwright Gail Louw. Following a successful tour, the show made it to the Pleasance Theatre at the heart of the Edinburgh Festival in 2014 which was a major thrill for Jeff. For the next seven years, he continued to tour the show around the UK until February 2020 when the pandemic put severe restrictions on all areas of our lives. However, Jeff is determined to reprise his roles as both Laurel and Hardy for a live theatre audience once again and is already aiming for the Edinburgh Festival 2023 as the perfect setting for its relaunch. Irrespective of pandemics, restrictions or the future of live theatre, Jeff’s passion for this great Hollywood era has helped preserve the legacy of these two cinematic pioneers and has helped to celebrate their careers in the rightful manner.
Laurel and Hardy aren’t the only comedy pioneers which Jeff has helped to champion during his long and distinguished career. In 2001 he joined forces with Andrew Secombe and Jon Glover for BBC Radio 2’s Goon Again celebrating the 50th anniversary of the influential comedy series. For Jeff, this was the best night he’d ever spent in a theatre and the emotional attachment which all contributors held for the show was palpable. This was down to meticulous casting from the BBC: Wayne Ellington provided the musical interludes just like his father Ray, Christopher Timothy stepped into his late father Andrew’s role as BBC announcer and Andrew Secombe perfectly fitted the role of Neddy Seagoon in tribute to his father Harry. It was obvious that this was so much more than merely an anniversary radio show and Jeff thrived upon such a strong emotional attachment.
Playing the role of Peter Sellers, Jeff was required to perfect the range of voices which equated to Sellers’ contribution to The Goons. It was here that Jeffrey realised the true dexterity and versatility of the late comedy icon’s work. Portraying an array of some of the show’s most memorable characters including; Major Bloodknock, Bluebottle, Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister, Jeff obtained a unique insight into the gruelling effort which went into making these moments of radio comedy magic. Unfortunately Peter Sellers was, by then, no longer around to appreciate Jeff’s tribute but in a star studded theatre audience, he became overwhelmed when the late Barry Cryer waxed lyrical about his flawless performance. This was the ultimate accolade from a figure who became a contemporary of the Goons and meant a great deal to Jeff.
Our interview was just days following the sad death of the heavyweight comedy legend Barry Cryer whom both myself and Jeff had enjoyed many occasions with over the years. To Jeff, Cryer had been an ever-present figure in the annals of British comedy and no charity lunch or blue plaque unveiling was ever complete without an appearance from the smoothed tongued comedy legend. The fact that he was able to continue working right up until the beginning of the pandemic was a shining example to performers including Jeff who admired his stoicism. Jeff had the enormous pleasure of sitting beside him at the recording of a BBC Radio 4 panel show and witnessed firsthand his famous sharp wit. This was something which Jeff shall forever cherish and it was at this moment when he realised that he was in the presence of one of the all time greats. This proves that Barry Cryer may be gone but the aura of respect which surrounded him shall forever remain.
The ongoing fascination with the golden era of the British situation comedy has maintained Jeffrey Holland’s prominence amongst theatre audiences over the last decade which has been a complete revelation to the one-time jobbing actor. Jeff remains completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and laughter from an audience each and every time he steps out on a stage and despite retiring from panto in 2019, shall never tire of hearing laughter from an audience. Having such a formidable career in British sitcom together with his unrivalled reverence and insight into the pioneers of entertainment continues to make him one of the most in demand performers on the circuit. It’s always a pleasure to interview the legendary Jeffrey Holland and I’m already looking forward to the next time!