THE JOHN HANNAM INTERVIEW – Brian Murphy

John spoke to the TV star about his love for the Island and his career on screen

Back in 1974, when I first began interviewing, I made up my mind to track down as many famous Island-born people as I could.

One of the greatest pleasures of my life has always been to see Islanders enjoy success. I already knew popstar Craig Douglas as a personal friend and I had others in mind. One of these was Ventnor-born Brian Murphy and I finally met him on the end of Bournemouth Pier in 1977.
By then, Brian had become one of the most famous characters on British television. Millions knew him as the hapless George Roper in Man About The House and then the spin-off series of George and Mildred, which became the most watched programme in Britain.
We have kept in regular touch over the years and, recently, I went to his home in Kent to enjoy a few hours with him and his lovely wife, Linda Regan, who was a regular in Hi-de-Hi! and is now a very successful crime writer. I found out she also has Island connections. More of that later.
Brian spent the first few years of his life in Ventnor and, after moving to the mainland, he still made regular visits here to see aunts in both Ventnor and St Helens. Even now, both he and Linda enjoy relaxing short breaks back on the Island. He’s still got so many vivid memories from his early life.
“I can still remember those old Island steam trains that went so slow you could almost pick bluebells. There was a huge steep hill up to Ventnor railway station. I used to run down it. On one of my visits back home, I remember seeing a wonderful drama by a professional company in the Ventnor Town Hall. That made a big impression on me,” said Brian.
His love for the theatre came at a very early age. During the war, in air raid shelters, which he often improvised into a make-believe theatre, he entertained family and friends. After the bombing finally ended he moved into the basement of the family home and charged a halfpenny to sit on the floor for one of his shows and one penny to sit in the circle, which was a Welsh dresser. He could never have dreamed of being regularly watched by over 20 million people a few years later.

 

I can still remember those old Island steam trains that went

so slow you could almost pick bluebells

Brian’s parents had little money but the encouragement they gave him was far more rewarding. They loved performing in amateur productions and that was his initial entry into the business. After his RAF service, that included an extra year, he managed to accumulate enough money to spend some time at RADA. Initially, he wanted to become a serious straight actor and some of his earliest television appearances were in shows like The Avengers, Z Cars and Probation Officer.
Joining the legendary Joan Littlewood’s company at the Stratford East theatre was to change his life forever. He initially didn’t impress her that much and was all set for a job outside of the business. Almost overnight, he was suddenly asked to join her company and never looked back. Among the other unknowns he worked with there was Yootha Joyce. They later became the hottest TV stars in the business.
They were given supporting roles in Man About The House, with about three scenes per show, until Thames Television realised the potential for the spin-off show George and Mildred. Suddenly, they could not go anywhere in public. They were mobbed and never left alone in pubs or restaurants. Some viewers even thought they were really married.
“Once, I was in a pub and a guy came up to me and asked if I could help him. He told me he had a similar problem to mine and could not do ‘you know what’. He thought it was real life. He was worried his wife was at home waiting for him to come in. I told him to stay with me and have a couple more drinks before he left.”
Brian went on to enjoy success in L For Lester, Brookside, Mrs Merton and Malcolm and 11 years as Alvin in Last Of The Summer Wine. More recently, he’s been seen in Casualty, The Cafe, Benidorm and Plebs. I still think his funniest television appearance was in the third episode of The Booze Cruise. Priceless!
“I’ve managed to not be taken over by the business,” He said.
“I’ve been in some wonderful series and been allowed to have a say in what I’ve done.”
Linda, who met Brian in an Eastbourne summer season play, was so popular as April in Hi-di-Hi! Her other series have included The Knock, Fools Gold, London’s Burning, Doctors and the movie Quadrophenia. Now she’s also a crime writer and her ninth book, The Terror Within, is due out later this year. Her novels are set in South London and feature DCI Paul Banham and DS Alison Granger.
During her school holidays, Linda always came to the Yelland’s Chalet Hotel in Bembridge, where her father, Peter Regan, was an all-round entertainer. This is now Warner’s Bembridge Coast Hotel.
Both Brian and Linda enjoy their regular visits back to the Island. They love finding their old haunts. It would be great if they could do a joint show here.

 

 

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