Actor and star of 'Allo, 'Allo
Actor and star of 'Allo, 'Allo
Born: December 19, 1943; Died: June 14, 2014.
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Sam Kelly, who has died of cancer aged 70, was best known as the rather unenthusiastic Nazi officer Captain Hans Geering in the sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo in the 1980s, although in later years he turned up in everything from My Family (2010) to The Bill (1992-2007) and any number of Dickens adaptations.
He looked a little like a mole emerging, blinking, into daylight. His features had an air of slight eccentricity and befuddlement and seemed perfect for Dickens, or the Shakespearean comic roles he played on stage, or indeed for classic British sitcom, rooted in reality, but with the characters cranked up a notch. Before 'Allo, 'Allo, he had been in Porridge and a couple of Carry On films.
It was, in fact, a mole that inspired Kelly to become an actor in the first place. "When I saw The Wind in the Willows at the Liverpool Playhouse at the age of eight, I said to myself, That's what I'm going to do," he recalled in an interview a few years ago.
He was born in Manchester in 1943, but grew up in Liverpool. He loved performing, whether singing (he was in the Liverpool Cathedral choir), reciting or acting. However, when he left school he joined the civil service and spent a few years behind a desk before deciding to follow his dream and heading off to drama school in London.
He worked in repertory theatre in the second half of the 1960s, joined the Young Vic Company and appeared at the 1971 Edinburgh Festival in The Comedy of Errors, with Shakespeare's story relocated in modern Edinburgh. The production, staged at Haymarket Ice Rink, was a great success.
He began getting small roles in films and television, with appearances in The Liver Birds (1972), The World of Cilla (1973), Carry on Dick (1974) and Carry on Behind (1975).
But it was Porridge that provided Kelly with his breakthrough role. He played Bunny Warren in 12 episodes of the prison sitcom between 1974 and 1977 and reprised the role in the film version in 1979. A petty thief, rather than a ruthless, criminal mastermind, Bunny was none too bright, once claiming that the nearest star to the sun was in Johannesburg.
Kelly went on to play a publican in Alan Bleasdale's landmark mini-series Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) and appeared in a couple of episodes of Coronation Street (1983) before taking on the role of Captain Geering. It ran from 1984 to 1992 and Kelly left in 1987, but by that point he had made an indelible impression.
'Allo, 'Allo was set in a French café where German officers hung out and where the Resistance were hiding two British airmen. Captain Geering was noted for his rather casual Hitler salute and his loyalties always seemed a little doubtful - he was known to remark "German swine" when he heard of some particularly nasty incident.
Geering could muck up the simplest task and yet, in one of the series's classic scenes, he was able to explain the most elaborate assassination plot to café owner Rene Artois (Gorden Kaye) in all its tongue-twisting intricacy involving a pill in the till, a drug in the jug, a bomb in the gateau from the chateau and a fuse in the candle with the handle.
Geering was written out of the series when Kelly went off to do other work. It was explained that Geering had been mistaken for a British airman, rescued by the Resistance and sent back to Britain. Kelly returned to the series for one episode in 1991, when it transpired that Geering had readily embraced the British way of life and was working for British Intelligence as an interpreter.
Kelly played regular characters in the later sitcoms Haggard (1990-92), On the Up (1990-92) and Barbara (1995-2003).
He was also in huge demand for guest star roles, with more than a few offers to play German officers. He donned Nazi uniform again for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1993) and even got to play Hitler himself in the TV comedy movie Stalag Luft (1993), with Stephen Fry and Nicholas Lindhurst.
He reached a younger audience as the title character in Magic Grandad (1993), teaching children about history.
Although best known for television comedy, he was also an accomplished singer. He played the role of Sir Joseph Porter in the D'Oyly Carte production of Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore (2002) and sang with a barbershop quartet called The Gay Blades.
His greatest love remained theatre though. He played everything from Pinter to pantomime, appeared at the National Theatre, Royal Court and Old Vic and got good reviews at the Edinburgh Festival in 1992 in the vintage play The Madras House. There was even a stage version of 'Allo, 'Allo.
Most recently he was the Wizard of Oz in the West End musical Wicked, while his final screen credits included guest appearances on Outnumbered (2011) and Poirot (2013) and he had a small role in Mike Leigh's new film Mr Turner.
He once said that if he had not been a professional actor, he would have liked to have made a full-time living from singing, or playing cricket for England, or running a little village post office in the countryside. He had no immediate family.