Thursday 13 December 2018

Obituary: Bill Maynard

Actor and comedian who was best known as a lovable rogue in Heartbeat

Bill Maynard
Bill Maynard

Bill Maynard, the comedy actor, who has died aged 89, first came to public notice in the 1950s when he teamed up with Terry Scott in the popular television comedy series Great Scott, It's Maynard! (1955-56); he survived several reversals of fortune before re-emerging in the title role of Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt (1974-78) and subsequently as the lovable rogue Claude Jeremiah Greengrass in Heartbeat (1992-2010).

Maynard was still in his early 20s when he made his stage debut with Terry Scott in 1951, subsequently forming a touring partnership with him. In Great Scott, It's Maynard! the pair were heralded as the new young blades of television comedy when they starred in a sketch-based show for the BBC set in the flat they supposedly shared.

Almost 20 years later, Maynard earned top billing in Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt, a sitcom written for ITV by the distinguished television playwright Alan Plater. The role was specially created for Maynard, who had hit on the idea of an uncouth yet oddly cultured bachelor who worked as a disaster-prone labourer for his local council, digging holes in the ground by day and running his village's working men's club in the evenings.

A spin-off series, called simply Selwyn, misfired, but before long Maynard was back on screen in the title role of The Gaffer (1981-83) as the boss of his own light engineering firm.

The only son of a soldier, he was born Walter Frederick George Williams on October 8, 1928 at Farnham, Surrey. He made a name for himself as a child entertainer, but on leaving Kibworth Beauchamp Grammar School outside Leicester, he became a professional footballer with Kettering Town. When injury put an end to his playing career, he found a job at Butlin's holiday camp in Skegness.

It was there, under the name Billy Williams, that he teamed up with the comedian Terry Scott in 1951. The pair moved to another Butlin's, at Filey, the following year and after touring as a double act called Scott and Maynard (he had seen a sign advertising Maynard's Wine Gums) were offered their own television comedy sketch series Great Scott, It's Maynard! in 1955.

Chancing his hand at straight acting, Maynard went into weekly repertory, a move that proved a financial disaster. A huge drop in salary was exacerbated by a bill from the Inland Revenue of £17,000 in unpaid tax, and he was declared bankrupt. Further trouble ensued when he walked out of a production of Lock Up Your Daughters at Bournemouth in 1966, claiming he could not work with his amateur co-star Ann Sidney.

But in 1968, as Maynard was contemplating emigrating to the United States to work as an English butler, he was offered a part in the film version of Till Death Us Do Part (1969), playing a friend of the Cockney loudmouth Alf Garnett. Television roles as a clapped-out journalist in Dennis Potter's Fleet Street satire Paper Roses (1971) and as a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis in Colin Welland's Kisses at Fifty (1973) cemented his reputation as a fine character actor, and led to him being cast in the title role of The Life of Riley (1975), an ITV sitcom written by HV Kershaw. Although this withered after only a single series, a year later he landed Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt.

Bill Maynard's first wife Muriel Linnett, whom he married in 1949, died in 1983. In 1989 he married Tonia Bern-Campbell, but the marriage was later dissolved.

He is survived by a son and a daughter of his first marriage. Bill Maynard died last Friday.

© Telegraph

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