Tuesday 12 December 2017

Obituary: Gorden Kaye

Actor who played cowardly but amorous French cafe owner Rene Artois in the hit TV comedy 'Allo 'Allo

MON DIEU: Gorden Kaye as cafe owner Rene, with Kim Hartman, as Helga (left), and Vicki Michelle as Yvette
MON DIEU: Gorden Kaye as cafe owner Rene, with Kim Hartman, as Helga (left), and Vicki Michelle as Yvette

Gorden KAYE, the actor, who died last Monday aged 75, was almost universally known as Rene Artois, the bumbling cafe owner and frustrated philanderer in the enormously popular television comedy series 'Allo 'Allo, which was watched in more than 30 countries by an audience of some 200 million viewers.

Besides playing the character in the television studios, Kaye also starred in record-breaking stage runs in London's West End at the Palladium and the Prince of Wales, as well as in America, Australia and New Zealand.

The character of Rene, a cowardly Frenchman who only wants a quiet life during the Nazi occupation, was a supremely unlikely sex symbol.

Large, fat and balding with a Gallic moustache and habitually clad in a far-from-clean white apron, he seemed to be constantly wiping sweat from his brow and hands and spoke in an excruciating "franglais" accent.

Rene was plagued by members of the Resistance who tried to involve him in heroic deeds, which he sought in vain to wriggle out of.

In the spoof saga of the "secret army", Rene's cafe was the HQ for the local Maquis but was also a popular haunt of German officers, who took a close interest in the pretty waitresses - with the exception of the outrageously camp Herr Gruber who only had eyes for Rene.

One of the long-running jokes was Rene's lusting after the delectable waitress Yvette Carte-Blanche, with whom he was often caught in compromising positions by his long-suffering wife Edith (Carmen Silvera).

Rene's elaborate, and extremely unlikely, excuses to Edith (a passionate embrace, for example, was merely an attempt to ease Yvette's toothache) was usually met with resigned acceptance. They would be prefixed by his catchphrase: "You stupid woman!"

Kaye managed to make the best possible comic use of the bizarre situations in which Rene found himself - whether manacled to a pillar attired in scarlet lady's corset and hose; wearing a false nose and looking passably like General de Gaulle; or donning heavy spectacles in the guise of an Abbe.

Kaye built up a vast following of devotees but only realised the extent of their support when in 1988 he was subjected to a series of "revelations" in the tabloid press concerning his homosexuality.

The next day, as the curtain went up at the Palladium, the actor received a tremendous ovation from the audience. In response, he happily admitted that he was gay.

The following year he published a personal memoir called Rene and Me (1989).

Kaye's enormous popularity was again demonstrated by the public's enthusiastic response after he suffered serious head injuries during the Burns Day storm of January 25, 1990, caused by a piece of wooden advertising hoarding that smashed through his car windscreen.

Well-wishers sent thousands of cards and messages to his hospital.

Kaye made a remarkably quick recovery, and 24 weeks after the accident was back on stage.

An engineer's son, he was born Gordon Kaye at Huddersfield on April 7, 1941.

At the age of three he suffered permanent damage to his left eye after a severe coughing fit.

He began work in a tractor factory at 16 and was later employed at a wine merchant's and Burtons, the tailors, before becoming a textile mill sales clerk.

After amusing his office colleagues with imitations of the boss, he joined a Bradford amateur dramatic club and at the age of 27 turned professional.

A typing error at Equity, the actors' union, gave his Christian name as "Gorden" and so it remained.

He used to say that his stage name was "the result of a misspelt youth".

His first break came soon afterwards when the actress Pat Phoenix saw him on stage at Bolton and ensured his recruitment to the cast of Granada Television's Coronation Street as Elsie Tanner's hobbledehoy nephew Bernard.

Subsequently, Kaye gained useful stage experience at Sheffield, Stratford East and the Royal Court and played small Shakespearean roles on a National Theatre tour of North America.

On television he cropped up in such programmes as Minder, All Creatures Great and Small, Born and Bred, Fame is the Spur and It Ain't Half Hot Mum. His film credits included Escape From the Dark, Porridge, Jabberwocky and Brazil.

An appearance as a Scots photographer in the department-store comedy Are You Being Served? (written by the same team as 'Allo 'Allo) led to Kaye being cast as what he himself described as "this cowardly, cunning, randy man who makes you laugh when you shouldn't".

So as not to disappoint his younger admirers Kaye would greet them at the stage door in his "Rene" voice: "'Allo, what eez your nom?"

Kaye was unmarried.



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