Sunday 4 December 2016

Programme of the week: Hattie

Paul Whitington

Published 15/01/2011 | 05:00

The British are sentimental about their comedians, and over the past few years the BBC has mined this public interest in a series of quality dramas investigating the often complex private lives of comics.

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Tony Hancock, Kenneth Williams and, most recently, Morecambe and Wise have been the subjects of revealing and insightful feature-length dramas, and 'Hattie' tells the story of much-loved TV and film actress Hattie Jacques.

A member of the 'Carry On' team, Jacques formed a successful small-screen partnership with Eric Sykes in a long-running 1970s sitcom, and there was much sadness when she died prematurely in 1980 at the age of 58.

Hattie's ample girth and jolly on-screen demeanor endeared her to the British public, but, as is so often the case with comedians, things were not so jolly behind the scenes. In the mid-1960s, Hattie Jacques' private life hit the headlines after a disastrous episode that ended her marriage and could have threatened her career.

In 1963, Jacques had been happily married to comic actor John Le Mesurier for 10 years. But during the filming of 'Carry On Cabby' in 1963, she began a secret affair with a younger man called John Schofield. A sometime car dealer and chauffeur, Schofield was a dashing cockney charmer who seduced the older Jacques while driving her to and from the set.

At the time such an affair could have been a career-threatening scandal, but when shooting on the film ended the actress couldn't bring herself to end the relationship. Instead, and in a bizarre twist, Hattie moved Schofield into the attic of her family home.

Thereafter a bizarre domestic triangle developed, with the long-suffering John Le Mesurier eventually retreating to the attic himself, while Schofield joined Jacques in the master bedroom.

Breakfast must have been a tense time in the household, but Hattie Jacques' charm held the situation together for a surprisingly long time. But when she went to Rome to shoot a film, Schofield came out to join her and promptly ran off with an Italian heiress.

When a devastated Jacques began comfort eating, her weight ballooned to 280 pounds and would remain a problem for the rest of her life.

John Le Mesurier sounds like a real gentleman. When news of their marriage break-up finally hit the papers, reports blamed him for having played around and he said nothing to contradict this. In taking the blame he saved Jacques' career, and the truth didn't emerge until long after her death.

He and Jacques remained on good terms for the rest of her life, and Le Mesurier became a big TV star in the 1970s playing Sergeant Wilson in the hit sitcom 'Dad's Army'.

Jacques continued a hectic work schedule and was appearing in a stage version of the TV comedy 'Sykes' when she died of a heart attack in October of 1980.

This stylish and touching drama stars Ruth Jones as Jacques, Robert Bathurst as John Le Mesurier, Aidan Turner as John Schofield and Jeany Spark plays Le Mesurier's third wife, Joan Malin.

Irish broadcaster Eamonn Andrews also makes an appearance, played by Lewis Mcleod.

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