I missed the early editions of 'Hi-De-Hi!'. I think it must have been the title that put me off. In those days, the Welsh language editions of 'The Radio Times' only used to print titles of certain shows without imparting information as to what they were actually about. 'Hi-De-Hi!' suggested to me a bad quiz show hosted by Leslie Crowther or some inane U.S. import. I caught up with it eventually, and was surprised to find the names Jimmy Perry and David Croft attached. As was the case with 'Dad's Army' and 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum', Perry based it on personal experience, in this case his time as a Redcoat at a Butlins' holiday camp. Before cheap air travel came along in the '60's, camps such as these sprang up along British coastlines, providing entertainment for working class families and earning millions for their owners. ( As a matter of interest, I worked in one such camp in the '80's as a chef - Barry Island, South Wales - known to all and sundry as 'Shag Land' for reasons I won't go into! )The premise is this: in 1959, archaeology professor 'Jeffrey Fairbrother' ( Simon Cadell ) becomes bored with stuffy Cambridge and applies for a job as entertainments manager of Maplin's Crimpton-On-Sea camp, a post he is ill equipped to handle. Life is one long round of spaghetti eating contests and people in silly costumes being thrown in swimming pools. His staff includes resident comic 'Ted Bovis' ( Paul Shane ), his out-upon sidekick 'Spike Dixon' ( Jeffrey Holland ), miserable Punch and Judy man 'Mr.Partridge' ( Leslie Dwyer ), snobby ballroom dancers 'Barry' ( Barry Howard ) and 'Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves' ( Diane Holland ), and the unforgettable 'Gladys Pugh' ( Ruth Madoc ), a fiery Welsh woman who lusted after Fairbrother at every opportunity. Bubbly Su Pollard stole the show though as cleaner 'Peggy Ollerenshaw', whose driving ambition was to be a 'Yellowcoat' ( all the important staff members wore them ). A number of sexy girls occupied these coats too, most notably Nikki Kelly's long-legged 'Sylvia Garnsey' and statuesque Rikki Howard's 'Betty Whistler'. We never saw Joe Maplin. He communicated to his staff in the form of ungrammatical missives, which poor Jeffrey was forced to read aloud. "Hi-De-Hi!" was the campers' greeting, usually met with the equally inane 'Ho-De-Ho!. One fan was the late Sir Fred Pontin.I always found Bovis the most convincing of these as well as the most tragic, like Archie Rice he was the comedian whose big break never came, reduced to cracking corny gags for the amusement of drunken late-night audiences. He took advantage of his position to indulge in a few perks, and in one memorable episode Fairbrother's patience snapped and he sounded him out: "Lies! Lies! Lies! Lies!". A father and son type relationship developed between Ted and Spike over the course of the series.As with every other Perry/Croft production, the cast were excellent, particularly Cadell, Holland and Shane. Ruth Madoc's prissy 'Gladys' was much imitated in school playgrounds, while Leslie Dwyer's misanthropic 'Mr.Partridge' and Felix Bowness' jockey 'Fred Qulley' also proved popular. The visual gag everyone remembers came in the episode 'Charity Begins At Home' as drunken Mr.Partridge spots a pantomime horse riding a real one along the beach. Looking at the bottle of whiskey in his hand, he decides to stick with it and instead throws away the banana he had been eating! With its frothy blend of '50's nostalgia and saucy postcard gags, 'Hi-De'Hi' was a big hit for B.B.C.-1 in the '80's, resulting in a massive upturn in bookings for Butlins and Pontins. John Le Mesurier made a guest appearance, as did satirist John Fortune. Cadell left after the fifth series to return to the theatre. His replacement was David Griffin's 'Squadron Leader Clive Dempster', a war hero reduced to living off borrowed money and with a liking for fast cars. Leslie Dwyer's death in 1986 robbed the show of one of its funniest characters. 'Carry On' star Kenneth Connor was brought in to replace him as 'Uncle Sammy'. Barry Howard was dropped, and Ben Aris stepped into his dancing shoes to play posh pig farmer 'Julian Dalrymple-Sykes'. The period setting occasionally caused problems; in one episode, Sylvia and Betty had to dive into the pool to rescue Peggy who for some reason was dressed as a shark. The revealing costumes they wore were wrong for that era. Still they looked great in them so who's complaining? In another, Ted sang the Tom Jones hit 'Delilah' to campers. It was not composed ( by Les Reed and Barry Mason, incidentally ) until 1968.Maplins closed its doors for good in 1988 - the camp decided to go upmarket, and the staff were told by Alec Foster ( Ewan Hooper ) that their services were no longer needed - and the last shot was that of Peggy ( now a Yellowcoat ) all alone, jumping into the air, and shouting the show's title one final time. I don't rate it as highly as Perry and Croft's other shows, but its popularity is undeniable. It was probably one of the last British sitcoms to generate tremendous public affection, mainly because it featured likable characters in a recognisable setting. Goodnight campers! Hi-de-Hi!
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