Whatever happened to...?
Discovering what became of personalities from the past
Geoff Clinton from Newick, near Lewes in Sussex, enquired about Gillie Potter. Famous on the radio during the Thirties and the Second World War, he survived into the Forties and early Fifties before his style of humour evaporated.
Born Hugh William Peel at Bedford in 1887 he became involved in music hall after he left Oxford, and in 1915 understudied George Robey. After wartime service he returned to the theatre and music hall, and spoke to his audience in a sarcastic deadpan tone about all kinds of silly themes which he mocked mercilessly but in an assumed serious manner. He also alluded to historical facts, including the Classics so he was not always easy to follow unless you were extremely well- educated.
Nevertheless, he was very popular and appeared in the 1930 Royal Command Performance after which he became known as “The man who made the Queen laugh”. He is also remembered for invariably introducing himself with the phrase “Good evening England. This is Gillie Potter speaking to you in English”. He also pretended to broadcast from the mythical village of Hogsnorton, reputedly based in Oxfordshire, “where hogs played on the organ”. When the BBC took over Wood Norton Hall near Evesham in Worcestershire during the Second World War, however, it was mockingly referred to as Hogsnorton.
Always of the opinion that moral standards were declining, especially those of the BBC, in later life he campaigned for an independent television channel and even contemplated standing for Parliament as an independent.
Unashamedly patriotic, Potter had a huge library and was an expert on heraldry, church history and genealogy. He died in 1975, only six years before his son, J. H. B. Peel, the author and journalist who wrote about the countryside for The Daily Telegraph.
Although his esoteric and cool witticisms eventually left him high and dry they have by no means
disappeared altogether. A few contemporary comedians stand apart from the raucous and often crude common stand- ups, together with some older well- educated comics such as Michael Palin whose way with words would have pleased Gillie Potter.
One of his successors who overlapped briefly was Arthur Marshall ( 1910- 1989), right, who wanted to be an actor but could not initially find enough work so he went into teaching instead. In later life, however, he became a well- known raconteur and broadcaster in a similar mould to Potter, his throwaway lines amusing not just the public but those he worked with as well. In particular, he was in his element as a team captain on television’s Call My Bluff where he worked with Frank Muir and Robert Robinson, also clever wordsmiths.
Ann Basford of Willaston, near Nantwich in Cheshire, asked about the character actress Rosemary Leach. Born in 1935 at Much Wenlock in Shropshire, she played several important roles on television, stage and screen, including Queen Victoria in the television series Disraeli. She also played Queen Elizabeth II on stage several times.
Other credits included the tipsy mother of Zoë Wanamaker in My Family as well as key roles in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Charmer, Berkeley Square, A Room With a View and the scatterbrained Aunt Fenny in The Jewel in the Crown. The latter gave her a special interest in India which she revisited several times before her death in 2017, aged 81.
Rosemary Leach ( left) was a fine character actress who won two BAFTA awards.