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Melvyn Hayes: It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Young Ones, Summer Holiday and More….

Exclusive interview by Karen Beishuizen

Melvyn Hayes starred as Gunner “Gloria” Beaumont in the beloved British Army sitcom “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”: He is one of the last surviving actors of this show. He starred with Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee in “The Curse of Frankenstein” and was Sir Cliff Richard’s sidekick in The Young Ones, Summer Holiday, and Wonderful Life. He is 87 years old, still active in the movie industry and lives on The Isle of Wight.

KB: We all know you as Gunner Beaumont in the comedy It Ain’t Half Hot Mum: How did you get this part?

At the time I was teaching at Italia Conti, one of the best drama schools in the country, as a sort of part-time in between jobs sort of thing and one of the teachers said to me: “My husband, Michael Knowles the actor, is doing a pilot for a new series and there is a wonderful part that you would be perfect for”. I said: “Oh great”. She said that it was directed, written, and produced by David Croft and Jimmy Perry who did “Dad’s Army”, one of our most successful sitcoms. I went along to see them and bless him, Jimmy Perry asked me question after question and David Croft just asked me one: “Could you move or push your hair back please?”. I pushed my hair back and he said: “That’s fine”. Two years later when we were filming, I said: “What was the idea of that question you asked me about pushing my hair back?” He said: “I wanted to see that you were not going bald underneath because if we are going to be successful, the last thing I wanted were a bunch of old men”. When hen they did “This is your life” show on David Croft, I said: “Look my hair, it is still there. Any chance for another job?”. So basically, if I had not been on that drama school, I would not have known anything about it.

KB: The series is about the British Army in India: Where was the series filmed?

David Croft and Jimmy Perry were doing concert parties during the war, so it is all true. It was all based-on reality. It should have gotten an award for the setting because it was all done at the studios. We were filming up North because that’s where David lived, so it was easier for him. Then we came down to Farmborough in England. They were always carrying around with them a lot of bushes, trees, and things to make it look like the jungle. The only thing that was not going for us was the weather. We had to make it look hot. So, before every scene or take, they would spray us with a mixture of water and glycerine, so we looked like we were sweating. But basically, we were freezing cold as we filmed it in October or November. There was, just off screen, a big bonfire where we all stood around. And because I played a character called Gloria, who did all the drag in the series, all the other guys wore wetsuits under their clothes during water scenes, but it is impossible to wear this under a dress, so I froze and got wet quite a lot. I nearly finished my book which I started 36 years ago, and I will call it “It ain’t half taken me a long time to write this book Mum”.

That’s my working title. I am on the last chapter. I started it in 1980 when they did “This is your life” on me. I started the book with “Melvyn Hayes: This is your life”. You can tell a person’s life in 30 minutes on television but can you in a book? It was kind of an awakening for me to go back into my brain, my memories. But it was a good exercise. I only wrote it so my children can say: “Oh that’s what Dad did. That’s what he did for a living. That’s why he wasn’t here for all those school events and sports events he couldn’t attend”. My agent is sorting out the publishing and will approach a firm. But autobiographies by actors seem to come out all the time, so I’m just hoping. But I didn’t write it to be published. It was for my kids.

KB: You played Jimmy in The Young Ones with Sir Cliff Richard: How did you get this part?

That was very strange because a year beforehand I was in a television series aired on a Sunday evening. I met a young Canadian director called Sid Furie and all he was interested in was whether his expenses were paid that weekend. The following year I was asked to meet him and the producer at Associated British Pictures. He said to me: ” So tell me about yourself Melvyn”. I said: “No you tell me, did you ever get your expenses?”. He couldn’t wait to get me out of that office. Then he went on to do so many big films. He did “The Young Ones” (the part I auditioned for. Sid gave it to me). He missed “Summer Holiday”, but he did the third one “Wonderful Life”. Funny enough, I got an email from Cliff on my birthday saying, “It’s rare that I get to wish someone Happy Birthday who is older than me”. He is a lovely guy. One of the nicest gentlemen in our business. What a nice man.

KB: Then you played Cyril in Summer Holiday, again with Sir Cliff: This movie must have been a lot of fun filming in that red double decker bus?

We are in the bus, but the thing is, because it is impossible to take a bus across Europe due to the low bridges, the busses went by boat. We got out there to Paris and Athens and the customs wouldn’t let the busses off for a couple days, so we had a few days off. But sitting in those busses in Athens in the heat. The whole film was shot in Athens, even though we did France, Germany, Holland, it was done in Athens. You can imagine the dog we had to look after, the St. Bernard dog, didn’t like the heat. The dog created more interest from the local people than the bus. They had not seen a St. Bernard dog before in Athens. We were like a bunch of kids having fun. The Young Ones were number one box office that year and then the following year when Summer Holiday came out, it topped it. Many years later, we made the movie in 1960, you can watch it on television, you can buy videos of it. And it is still popular. And you can ask people, who weren’t even born then, and they know every word of it. It is a feel-good movie. We had fun doing it.

The only trouble was, they dyed my hair blond which meant that every ten days, it had to be bleached. The reason being, the choreographer Herbert Ross said that I had to have blond hair. When I asked why, he said that in American films (he was American) the sidekicks were all blond and the hero usually has dark hair. We finished the film and what I always did was, a day after I finished it, I would go to the hairdresser for a short haircut and have it dyed back to my own brown color. But on Summer Holiday, two days after finishing, they called and said, “We want to put another song in the film called “Bachelor Boy”. It wasn’t in the film originally. They wanted me for a day shooting. I said that I was not going to dye my hair blond again just for one scene. The studio said that they would get me a wig. When the film opened in the West End of London, there was a picture of me about 50ft high outside the cinema with this terrible blond wig. I thought they could have chosen anything else. But it was fun. People still stop me in the street saying: “God you were in Summer Holiday, weren’t you?”

KB: You played with Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee in The Curse of Frankenstein: How was it working with these legends?

They weren’t when I did that film. In 1965 they weren’t big stars. That was the first picture of that series which we shot in Eastman color. One of the reasons why I got the role was that the color of my eyes was the same color as Peter Cushing and went on to do another five pictures with him. But the story goes that Peter Rogers, who was the producer of the Carry-On series, he told me that a memo went out to all the agents that they were looking for someone who could play the monster. The memo basically said that he doesn’t have to be an actor, he just has to be big. It came down to two people: one was Bernard Bresslaw and Christopher Lee. They phoned up the agents and it was Bernard Bresslaw’s agent who said that his client wouldn’t leave the house for less than 10 pounds per day. Then they phoned up Christopher Lee’s agent who said he wanted at least 8 pounds a day and he got the part. For the sake of 2 pounds a day he became an international star. I saw him years later, Christopher Lee, at the bar in Pinewood Studios.

I went up to him and he was surrounded by his cronies and all these terribly posh guys. I said to him: “I made you”. He said: “What?”. I said: “I made you”. He said: “What are you talking about?”. What I meant was that in the film I played Peter Cushing as a young man, so I was young Frankenstein. He was the monster. So, I made him. I looked at Christopher and said: “Sorry about that. I thought you might have appreciated it. Could I have your autograph”. Peter was one of the most loved actors in our country. I did about five other films with him. One film was called “Violent Playground” and we were filming in Liverpool, and he was playing a Roman Catholic priest. We were filming in this church, and he said to me: “Melvyn, I don’t think I did the right thing here”. I said: “What do you mean?”. He said: “A lady just called me Father and asked if I could pray for her. I should have told her that I was an actor dressed up as a priest and I didn’t”. I asked him what he told the lady. He said that he was praying for her.

KB: Are you still active in the industry?

I am still acting but Covid has destroyed everything in the last few years. I was asked the other day if I wanted to do a film and go to India for casting. I told the person: “I don’t want to go all the way out there for someone to tell me I am not right for the part”. Life is too short. I played in “Eastenders”. My agent phoned me years ago and said that they wanted me to do Eastenders. I asked what kind of role. My agent told me I would get the girl. I asked who the girl was. My agent told me that the girl was Dot. It was great fun to do but I hate to be in a long running soap. Some of these actors, bless them, have been doing it for 30 or 40 years. Some of these characters have been married 70 times. I saw a film called “Boiling Point”. The most amazing film I have ever seen in my life. It was all one take, the entire film. They are moving from room to room. It was in the back of a restaurant and the whole film was in one take. So, they obviously rehearsed it like a play. It was brilliant. The directing was brilliant. The lighting was marvellous. The actor in the film was Stephen Graham who the series “This is England”.

KB: How did you spend your days in lock down due to the pandemic?

I spend the time during the Covid working on my book. I found my escape in there. We got over Covid and now we have the other problem going on with Ukraine and Russia. You can only take so much news. I am old enough to know what it’s like to be in a war. I am 87. When the second world war broke out, I was 4,5 years old, and I was evacuated. I was away from home and living with strangers. So, I know what it is like.

Check out Melvyn’s website: HERE