Bernard Spear May 22, 2010 12:12:56 GMT 1
Post by Laurence on May 22, 2010 12:12:56 GMT 1
Cyril Shaps, Jeremy Steyn and Bernard Spear in Bar Mitzvah Boy
Bernard Spear enjoyed a long and varied career in showbiz appearing on television, films and in variety. He starred in the BAFTA TV Award winning television play Bar Mitzvah Boy, and appeared in the films Bedazzled and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1968, he played the dual roles of Cervantes's manservant and Sancho Panza in the London stage version of Man of La Mancha. When Barbra Streisand came to the UK to film Yentl (1983) she booked Bernard to play the tailor who shared all her scenes.
Born September 11, 1919 in Croydon, Surrey, Bernard was the son of a Polish-Jewish father and Russian mother. When he was seven, his father died and the family moved to Bethnal Green, in the East End of London. He was educated at the Central Federation School, London. His first job after leaving school was for R & J Hills of Shoreditch, tobacco and cigarette manufacturers, as an invoice clerk. When they found he could speak German and French he was duly promoted to exports manager and earned an extra ten shillings a week, bringing his weekly wage to thirty-five shillings.
During World War II he served in the Royal Artillery and upon his premature discharge, following a motorcycle accident, entered the world of showbiz as a comedian. In 1943 he got a booking at the infamous Windmill Theatre, the notorious graveyard for comics. This was followed by twelve years in variety until 1955 when he started in the West End in Wonderful Town with Pat Kirkwood, Shani Wallis and Sid James, followed by Plain and Fancy at Drury Lane. He made his television debut at Alexander Palace in 1950 in Rooftop Rendezvous. From 1955 he began playing a number of straight roles in Quatermass, Mother Courage (with Flora Robson) and Maigret. In 1960 he was present when the new Rediffusion Studios opened and starred in The Arabian Nights with Stanley Holloway.
Bernard worked with Van Johnson in The Music Man (1960-1961), How To Succeed in Business (1962-1963) and Little Me with Bruce Forsyth (1964-1965). He enjoyed a season of Moliere plays at the Mermaid for Bernard Miles (1965-1966), then Vandergelder in Hello Dolly (1966-1967) at Drury Lane. He had seven years in Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width and following this Vince Powell wrote a series for him, My Son Reuben. He took the role of Mike and Bernie Winters's agent, Lionel Ross, "The Lew Grade of Lewisham", in Powell and Driver's Mike and Bernie (1971-72). His role of the father, Victor Green, in Bar Mitzvah Boy won him a BAFTA in 1977. In 1978 he was invited by the author David Mamet to appear in his one-act comedy Duck Variations at the Regent Poly Theatre. He then worked for Jonathan Lynn in Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, this for the Cambridge Theatre tour, which proved so successful that it transferred to Her Majesty’s in the Haymarket. He did a number of successful television commercial campaigns including a two-year stint as the White Tide Man (1962-1963) and the Breville Toaster Man in 1970.
He appeared in many films including Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD (1966), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), where he played one of the spies and worked with Tony Curtis in Drop Dead Darling, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore in Bedazzled, Barry Humphries in Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Frances de la Tour in Wombling Free and Not Quite Jerusalem for Lewis Gilbert. Altogether Bernard made over 300 feature and guest appearances on television spanning fifty years. For services to Charity he was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1982.
He said of his life: "I've been a lucky lad and I know it. A wonderful marriage to ex-dancer Mary Logan, (great-niece of the famous Marie Lloyd). We met in a Summer Show at Hunstanton, Norfolk in 1948, run by Carroll Gibbons. We developed a double-act ‘Bernard Spear and Mary, To Say Nothing of the Dog’, a reference to the pet which shared the stage with us. We married in 1949 and have never looked back."
In 1985 Bernard took the role of Morris Ransome, the chairman of the Market Traders' Association, in the shortlived soap opera Albion Market. He could draw from his experience of relatives who had stalls in Romford, Essex. "My uncles and aunts were all involved in market trading," said the actor, "and, as a three-year-old, I was sometimes pushed to market in a pram and put under the stall."
Bernard's last TV appearance was in a 2003 episode of the sitcom My Family starring Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker. He passed away on May 9, 2003 aged 83 years.