Tuesday, 7 June 2011

You Rang M'Lord? Star Donald Hewlett Dies Aged 90

I am for better or worse, a product of my age.

Had I have been younger than my 28 years, I would quite likely never have known of the actor Donald Hewlett. Had I on the other hand been of an older generation, then I would surely have known of him in the acting role that mad him famous - that of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Reynolds in the 1970s smash-hit British sitcom 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum'.

But no. I was born in 1982 and I was therefore 6 years old when the David Croft and Jimmy Perry comedy You Rang M'Lord? was launched on the BBC at Christmas 1988. It ran for 4 series until 1993 and was therefore a running theme through the formative years of my youth.

A Perry/Croft Collaboration
Perry and Croft are up there with the finest of double act comedy writers in British television history. They wrote Dad's Army, Hi-de-Hi! and It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Croft also wrote, along with Jeremy Lloyd, Are You Being Served? and 'Allo 'Allo!

But all of these were originally screened before I can remember so all I would catch of them were the repeats through the years. As it turns out, as a big fan of British situation comedy, I have become a fan of them all apart from one of them - It Ain't Half Hot Mum. I don't know why, but I've never sat through an entire episode of the series so when I heard that Donald Hewlett had passed away over the weekend, it was news to me that he was a member of the cast.

Lord Meldrum
I shouldn't have been surprised however because the key to much of David Croft's success is his use of well known actors for various roles in his different works throughout the years. They may have been typecast as a result but the likes of Paul Shane, Jeffrey Holland and Su Pollard who all appeared in You Rang M'Lord? can all thank the pen of David Croft for their success.

As well as these leading characters, Frank Williams and Bill Pertwee from Dad's Army fame both made occasional appearances in this 1990s Perry/Croft conception.

So of course did Donald Hewlett and for me, it was this latter role as Lord Meldrum that stays with me.

It was not a huge ratings success and it is often a forgotten link in the Perry/Croft works catalogue - Dad's Army and Hi-de-Hi towering above the rest. But I can recall looking forward to every new episode of You Rang M'Lord? (on a Sunday night if I recall correctly?) and that Bob Monkhouse dittie of an opening tune which heralded in a 50 minute period of enjoyment.

Was it the reflection on social history in the era between the Two World Wars that enticed me? Maybe so. But just as much for me was the comic acting of our heroes. Yet, this was a darker comedy than those that Perry and Croft had previously written and I have always felt that it is an under-rated hit. The fact that none of the main characters were necessarily very likeable probably worked against the series in the long-term. Alf (played by Paul Shane) had a dark side to him whilst James (played by Jeffrey Holland) was rather snooty.

Meldrum, played so well by Hewlett, came across as an affable and pleasant enough character but was nevertheless a bit of an upper class hypocritic rogue - chastising his younger brother's sexual pecadillos whilst himself having an illicit affair and also prone to paying his staff very poorly.

Whilst it may not have been a fashionable hit then and probably because of its longer than normal 50 minute episodes is rarely repeated today, it was still a firm childhood favourite of mine and unlike many others that were the same, did not deteriorate when I watched them for the first time in years having bought the series 1 and 2 DVDs a few years ago. Unlike programmes like Last of the Summer Wine, The Brittas Empire and another David Croft production, Oh Dr Beeching!, it has remained fresh.

Here is an all-cast clip from the show.

I intend to purchase series 3 and 4 on DVD to complete the collection that I have already started. I will do so now in memory of Donald Hewlett.


  1. I never really saw You Rang M'Lud as those were the years I was at Poly and therefore enjoying myself.

    I did enjoy It Ain't Half Hot Mum initially, but it was one of those series that went on beyond its sell by date. Maybe You Rang M'Lud did as well?

  2. Inexplicably, this show--which happens to be a personal favorite of mine as well--has done exceedingly well in Hungary. Hungarians, for some reason, love it so much I can barely think of another country where this show is so widely known, broadcast, rerun and talked about. Perhaps it is the wry sense of humor, the lifelike (not too good and not too bad but always fully fleshed) characters that they identify with.

  3. I never knew that! What a wonderfully quirky fact!