Sunday, November 30, 2014

Remembering Charles Hawtrey

Charles Hawtrey was born George Frederick Joffe Hartree on November 30, 1914 in Hounslow, Middlesex, England. He was one of  that select group of comics who quite simply looked funny. He had a unique combination of little boy, with his tiny frame, spectacles, and slightly weird old man look, somehow ageless and prematurely aged at the same time.
The the son of a motor mechanic, he was a child actor, a boy soprano good enough to release records, and an early graduate of Italia Conti's stage school.
By the end of the 1930s he had already made more than 30 films, most of which have been lost to the ravages of time.
No one believed he had made a film with Errol Flynn, “Murder At Monte Carlo” (1934), until a still turned up, with Errol in a hat looking like a film star, and Hawtrey looking unmistakably Hawtrey.
Some suggest his early success was actually the ruin of him. Hawtrey believed to the end that he should have been a big star, and that the ‘Carry On’ silliness was beneath him. Self-awareness may not have been his strongest suit. Youth, of course, is a time to get things done. During the war Hawtrey, a conscientious objector, entertained the troops, often in drag.
In 1945, in a radio version of ‘Just William’, he got his first catchphrase: 'How's yer mother off for drippin'?. All looked hopeful, but his career didn't progress.
Too old to play juveniles (except on radio), and looking out of his depth whenever given a serious role, he produced and directed plays on the London stage and inundated BBC producers with begging letters for work.
Many of them have been found in BBC archives, with many written on hotel notepaper: half a century later they still reek of desperation. What saved Hawtrey, for a while at least, was his talent and his professionalism.
Norman Rossington, a co-star in “The Army Game”, said “He was one of the strangest people I have ever met, in dress, speech, stature and personality. Utterly bizarre in every way.” But he was never one of the gang, and was sacked at the end of series two because he wanted star billing and more money.
“He was rather like a character that you read in a comic,” said the TV producer Ernest Maxin, “a drawing rather than a real life person.”
Hawtrey became a star in his 50s thanks to the Carry On film series, but his beloved mother's decline and death increased his reliance on drink. His last ten years or so were lonely, mad and blotto. “Hawtrey's life wasn't just bad,” said Wes Butters, “it was disastrous.”
Charles appeared in only one Euro-western: “Carry on Cowboy” (1965) as Chief Big Heap.
Hawtrey died in Deal, Kent, England on October 27, 1988.
Today we remember Charles Hawtrey on what would have been his 100th birthday.

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