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Mike Berry: Touring with The Beatles and The Stones, Mr. Spooner in Are you being served? Buddy Holly and The Crickets and More…

Exclusive interview by Karen Beishuizen

We all know Mike Berry from the legendary comedy show “Are you being served?” where he played Mr. Spooner in the last three seasons. But did you know he is also a Rock n Roll singer who toured with The Beatles and The Stones back in the sixties? He is 75 now, lives in London and still does Live gigs.

KB: We all know you best as Mr. Spooner in “Are You Being Served?”: How did you get this great role and where you surprised that the show became such a hit?

A couple months before offered the role I was lucky, courtesy to Jon Pertwee (Dr Who) who I got to work with. I told him that my agent was keeping my money and he told me he would have a word with his agent, who happened to be the biggest agent in London at that time called Richard Stone, to see if he could take me on as a client. I signed up with Richard Stone and I also had a hit record at the time. Within a month or so David Croft, who wrote “Are you being served?” with Jeremy Lloyd, and who was also a client of Richard Stone, he rang Richard and said that Trevor Bannister (Mr. Lucas) couldn’t do the next show and asked him if he had someone suitable who could play that kind of character. Although I only have been with the agency for only a few months, Richard said that he had just the man for him: Me! I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I went to see David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, I read a bit for them and that was it. I got the role of Mr. Spooner. He is a bit of a nerd. I enjoyed doing him, I must say.

KB: It must have been loads of fun working with the likes of Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richard, and Frank Thornton?

It was brilliant. I was terrified when I joined. So, I watched all the previous series. I was a fan. I loved the show. It was hilarious. My favourite character was Captain Peacock. He is such a snob. He always gets shot down in flames. I took to him. Obviously, Molly was wonderful. Wendy was very attractive. She had this lovely raw Cockney accent. They were all great. The good thing is when I started the rehearsal stuff John Inman said to Wendy Richard on the side, because they were watching me like a hawk, to see if I was any good: “He’s got it! He’s got it.” That was a big compliment. Wendy told me that later. I thought Wow!”. I became one of the crowd. At lunch time I went with John Inman and Wendy Richard to the pub to have a drink and a chat. So, we all became very friendly. We got on like a house on fire.

KB: How long did you play the role of Mr. Spooner and how different is he from you?

I played Mr. Spooner for 3 series. The last three: Series 8, 9 and 10. And it was 6 episodes each series. I think we did at least one Christmas Special. Mr. Spooner is a bit of an extension from me. I grew up in the East End of London which was a very rough place. It is much posher now. I went to school in East London. My family was poor. So, I mixed with all these Mr. Spooner type kids. I suppose the language, I was a bit of a Cockney and probably still am as I can put it on if I need to. So, it was easy for me to play Mr. Spooner as I knew the kind of guy he was. He was a guy in his twenties. I was late thirties when I took the role. I looked young for my years. And I was skinny. So, I got into the suits alright. I remember the first day of shooting and we were doing the rehearsal for the first shot and David Croft came up to me and said “That’s perfect, keep it like that” The thing is with David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, when they wrote the script they study the actors and they would use the actor’s natural ability and personality and put it into the character so the script would become a second nature because it was actually written for you as a person. That’s why it worked so well. Characters were well written for.

KB: You are known for your songs ” Don’t you think it’s time ” and ” The sunshine of your smile ” which were big hits: What is the story behind these songs?

I started as a singer. I had a hit before “Don’t you think it’s time” but it was only a top 20. It was a tribute to Buddy Holly as I was signed up as the British Buddy Holly. The agency I was with had an Elvis, Ricky Nelson and I was their Buddy Holly. I was working in a piano shop in East London. My wage was 6 or 7 pounds a week. This chap composed this tribute to Buddy Holly for me and I was walking on the street looking for a music paper and I was in the hit parade! So, I thought “I’m a star!” The next song was Don’t you think it’s time. I wasn’t really thinking any of it but it went climbing up the charts. A radio guy voted the song his favorite so that helped, and it became a big hit. I toured with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles because of that hit but I had met The Beatles in The Cavern in Liverpool before. The other song The Sunshine of your smile, likewise.

That song came along through Chas and Dave. I have known Chas Hodges since I was 17. He was a year younger than me. We were in a band together when I first started singing. Chas was always there in any musical success I had. He was one of the roots in the studio who played piano by then. I rang him one day and said “Chas, I’m not doing much with the producer I have now. You want to produce for me?” He said, “yeah send me some of your stuff”. I did and he picked The Sunshine of your smile because his mother used to play piano in the pubs in London and so did Chas. And he came across this song because he used to sing a lot of this old stuff. The Sunshine of your smile was written in 1913 so Chas knew the song. It became a hit and opened a lot of doors again. It kept me going.

KB: In the mid-70s you signed with a Dutch record label and released ” Don’t be cruel ” which became a hit in Holland: What is the story behind this? It is an Elvis song?

It is an Elvis song. What happened there was that this guy called Billy Swan, an American singer, did a version of Don’t be cruel and I was asked to cover it by the producer I was with. We did our version and he had contacts in Holland, so it got released over there. I think it went to number 12. Then he followed it up with this tribute to Buddy Holly re-recording and to our amazement it went to number 1! And then after that we did a song that Chas and Dave did, and it was called I’m a Rocker. They all went mad about the song and thought it was wonderful, but it didn’t do much at all in the charts. It was a real disappointment. But I went over to Holland and toured wearing all this leather gear. It was a very enjoyable time. Nice to be out there as a Star instead of dragging along the roads trying to make ends meet.

KB: You recorded an album with Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets in Nashville? When was this and how was the experience of working together with them?

It was Chas again. It was his idea. He rang me one day and said, “What if I sort out for you to do something with The Crickets?” I said “That would be brilliant” I knew The Crickets as I worked with them, so they were mates anyway. He persuaded the drummer Jerry Ellison to do this album with Sonny Curtis and Gerry Baldwin who was the original bass player. Gerry had his own studio on his farm in Nashville, so Chas and I flew over. It didn’t take long as we were in a great hurry. We send a load of songs over to The Crickets of stuff we wanted to do but they didn’t listen to it. They couldn’t be bothered. I don’t know why.

We finished up doing the rock n roll album just because we didn’t have any more time. We got the album done in 1 week. But we brought it back to London to mix. We didn’t get it mixed over there. We made a few adjustments. Did a bit of vocal backing and stuff. It was called “About Time Too” Chas wanted to call it “At Last “but I preferred “About Time Too” Chas was playing the piano around Sonny’s guitar, and he again was the root. Chas was such a great piano player. He was a very underrated musician. He is no longer with us now. Bless him. Again, he instigated the whole thing, and I was only too pleased that he did. I still love the album.

KB: The last few years you went on tour with The Solid Gold Rock’n’roll Show: Are you planning a tour this year? Do you have anything new planned like album, TV, or movie?

I was going to do it this year, but I don’t know what happened. I was booked for it and then suddenly I was not on it. I think it was because they felt they needed a change. I have done it the last couple of years but there wasn’t any room for me this year. I still have other gigs. Not many because of Covid. I write songs and I still do my own stuff here. I do gigs around locally. But I would play the local pub if I can get in there. I still like to perform. And I still got the voice. It seems a shame not to.

KB: The last 2 years most of the world were in and out of lock downs due to the pandemic and you couldn’t do anything but staying at home: How did you spend your time? Do you have hobbies, or did you write songs?

I played lots of music in my friend’s studio in Brighton. I cycle a lot. I live in Kingston near the river Thames so to cycle here is heaven. I love walking so I did that a lot too. I have my motorbike. Love Reading and writing songs.

You can find Mike’s website: HERE