Jack Douglas (actor)
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John Douglas Roberton
26 April 1927
|Died||18 December 2008 (aged 81)|
Isle of Wight, England
Douglas was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, into a theatrical family; his father was a theatre producer and his brother, Bill Roberton, became a theatre director. His mother was so keen that he be a Geordie that, according to Douglas, although they had settled in London,
Like his father, Jack wanted to work in theatre but his father forbade him, so at the age of 14, he got his things together and moved out into a place of his own. Going to the local Feldman's Theatre, he asked if they wanted a Lime Boy, and they did since so many men had gone off to war. He was hired as an "Opposite Prompt Lime Boy" for £1.5s a week and paid for his "digs" and everything out of that, even saving some money.
His father found out where he was working and asked them to give him all the dirty jobs to try and discourage him but Jack did them all without any complaint, so come his fifteenth birthday, his father gave him a present. A script for a Cinderella pantomime, which he was to direct. Having seen his father direct three or four pantomimes, Jack knew what to do, and did 22 weeks at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland.
Later, he was to direct a show at the Kingston Empire, only to have a lead actor taken to hospital with a heart attack on the opening night before the show started. Joe Baker, who was also playing a lead role, suggested Douglas take over the role as he was the only other person who knew the lines (as he did all the lines of all the characters, being the director). A top agent in the audience that night was so impressed that he visited Douglas and Baker after the show; he was surprised to learn that they had only been a double act for two hours and thirty-five minutes, and immediately signed them up as such.
Douglas and Baker spent ten years touring the world, playing in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa amongst other places. Coming back to Britain again, they did a season at a Butlins holiday camp and not liking the food served there, Douglas cooked in their chalet (which was forbidden) for both of them and a guest. One evening there was a knock on the door and Billy Butlin was standing there. He noticed the smell and asked if they had enough for four. They did, and he ate with them.
From there they went to the BBC to begin the popular children's TV show Crackerjack, with Eamonn Andrews as host. They found themselves working on it from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm each day; their agent fitted in another two jobs, so that the pair made £100 a week (minus his 10%), a huge amount of money then.
Following this, they moved on to the Windmill Theatre and later at the Glasgow Empire, where they found they could get laughs by merely putting on American accents (English actors "died" there). After that, Joe Baker went to America to try his luck there. On his own for the first time in so many years, Douglas told his agent, Leslie Grade, that he wanted to be a comedian. Grade told him no chance as he did not have a funny face, so Douglas left show business and as he loved cooking, he opened up a restaurant in Blackpool. It turned out to be too successful and he found he personally had nothing to do there, the staff doing everything.
One night, he got a call as he was going up to his flat above the restaurant; it was Des O'Connor, who had a contract with ATV for 13 shows, and he wanted Douglas to star with him. He readily agreed, and O'Connor pretty much let him do what he liked. They did a Royal Variety Show together, O'Connor insisting to Bernard Delfont that Douglas went with him, as he later insisted that after the show, they meet the Queen Mother together, or O'Connor would not do so himself.
He worked with O'Connor for several years and in the theatre, developing a nervous character "Alf Ippititimus", notable for his "phwaay!" catchphrase and his apparent muscular tics. "Alf" was created one night at Butlins in Clacton, when Douglas's co-star, Joe Baker failed to appear having been locked out of the theatre, and Douglas began to improvise based on a band leader he knew.
His agent later phoned him and said he had a part in a Carry On film, but the bad news was that he would not be paid (Peter Rogers, it was said, would give his actors anything but money). He accepted the small part; in return, a black Rolls Royce pulled up outside his house one morning, bringing a box from Peter Rogers. It contained a dozen bottles of Dom Pérignon champagne, as his payment for the film.
Douglas appeared in the last seven Carry On films of the original series—Carry On Matron, Carry On Abroad, Carry On Girls, Carry On Dick, Carry On Behind, Carry On England and Carry On Emmannuelle. His Carry On roles progressed from a cameo with one line of dialogue in Matron to a slightly larger but still inconspicuous cameo appearance in Abroad, after which he appeared in increasingly larger supporting roles, and ultimately a leading role in Emmanuelle. During this period he also appeared in the Carry on Christmas specials in 1972, and 1973 and the Carry On Laughing television series. He appeared in the revival film Carry On Columbus (1992).
After the Carry On films, the cast with Douglas went to the Victoria Palace Theatre where they played to packed houses for the next 12 months in the stage show Carry On London.
In December 2001, he appeared on the BBC radio show That Reminds Me (Series 3, episode 4, repeated 27 May 2014 on BBC Radio 4 Extra) where he talked about his life.
On 26 April 2007, Douglas celebrated his 80th birthday. There was a special celebration arranged at Pinewood Studios, to coincide with his anniversary, which was attended by his family and friends. These included actors that Douglas had worked with, amongst them were Fenella Fielding, Jacki Piper, Lance Percival and Valerie Leon.
- Nearly a Nasty Accident (1961) - Balmer
- Carry On Matron (1972) - Twitching Father
- Carry On Abroad (1972) - Harry
- Carry On Girls (1973) - William
- Carry On Dick (1974) - Sergeant Jock Strapp
- Carry On Behind ([1975) - Ernie Bragg
- Carry On England (1976) - Bombardier Ready
- What's Up Nurse! (1977) - Constable
- Carry On Emmannuelle (1978) - Lyons
- The Shillingbury Blowers (1980) - Jake
- Bloody Kids (1980) - Senior Police Officer
- The Boys in Blue (1982) - Chief Superintendent
- Norbert Smith – a Life (1989) - Greenham guard
- Carry On Columbus (1992) - Marco the Cereal Killer (final film role)
- "Carry On star Jack Douglas dies". BBC News. BBC. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- Burton, Paul (18 December 2008). "Jack Douglas: 1927–2008". Borehamwood & Elstree Times. Newsquest Media Group. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- Hutchinson, Lisa (19 December 2008). "Farewell to a Geordie-born Carry On favourite". Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
- Carry On Dick Special Edition DVD – Jack Douglas, Audio Commentary, 12 February 2003, Carlton Television
- "Carry On comedy legend Jack Douglas dies". Evening Chronicle, Newcastle. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- "Funnyman Jack Douglas dies aged 81". The Press Association. PA Group. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
- That Reminds Me, a December 2001 BBC radio show in which Douglas talked of his life in show business