Now that Max Miller — that great artiste of the war and pre-war years — has passed on his title of “The Cheekie Chappie” could be said to describe Arthur Haynes. For Arthur fits the description to a tee — at least, certainly where his television characterisations are concerned.
Think of that tweed-suited, flat-capped individual who is forever getting his own way — deflating the pompous in the process — and the crafty “tramp”, full of wiles, who have become almost a fixture of Saturday evening viewing.
Many people ask: “How does Arthur manage to maintain such a consistent standard of comedy?” For this, Haynes thanks his brilliant scriptwriter, Johnny Speight. But much was to happen before Arthur struck up a friendship with Johnny.
There was a time when Arthur regarded television as a menace to show business. “All the theatres were closing”, he says, “and it was difficult to get work. In fact, for a while I even considered getting out of the business”.
Naturally, he thinks differently today. “I have every reason to be grateful to television”, he says. “Believe me, it is much more of a challenge than any other branch of show business.”
This change of heart has been brought about mainly by his own tremendous success in this medium. Yet, strangely enough, when his show started it was scheduled for only six weeks. It is now in its seventh year!
Today, many young entertainers think they have struggled if they remain unrecognised for two or three years; but artistes of around Arthur’s age-group know the real meaning of the struggle to success.
Arthur’s first experience of getting a laugh from an audience was when he fooled around in class while studying at the Chiswick Polytechnic Art School. He wanted to be an architect, but when he discovered that it costs more than £2,000 to train he dropped the idea. He decided he would like to go on the stage, but how could he achieve his ambition? He had no contacts inside show business.
For a while he took a number of jobs. He was everybody’s mate — plumber’s, carpenter’s and painter’s. Then he joined London Transport and became a bus conductor. It must have been quite an experience to travel on a bus with a wise-cracking conductor like Arthur. The story goes that passengers used to wait for Arthur’s bus simply because they wanted to enjoy his repartee on the journey.
In 1940 he was called up for the Army. Knowing his “cheeky” television characters as we do, one can imagine the exasperation the Army suffered at his hands. He was first put on a charge during a route-march. At the rear of the line, he found that marching with full-pack and fixed bayonet for mile after mile was too much for him. He slipped away unnoticed and thumbed a lift from a passing motorist. The first thing that happened — and this could quite easily have been a sketch from one of his television shows — was that his bayonet went through the roof of the car. This, naturally, did not endear him to the friendly motorist. But, being wartime, the patriotic driver did not order his clumsy passenger out of the car, but drove ahead of the marching troops and dropped Arthur at his camp. Unfortunately, Arthur’s commanding officer was standing at the main gate. He was not at all impressed by Pte. Haynes’ contribution to Britain’s motorised infantry, and immediately put him on a charge.
After further experiences of this kind, the Army tired of Arthur — or could it be the other way round? — and he was regraded, medically, for having flat feet. He auditioned for the famous “Stars in Battledress”, but was turned down. Later, a chance funny remark to the young son of Captain George Black, the famous impresario who was in charge of the “Stars in Battledress” unit, won him a reprieve.
It was the Army, with whom Arthur had so many tussles, which finally helped him to achieve his long awaited ambition — to go on the stage. For the remainder of the war he toured the war fronts, entertaining the troops.
After his demobilisation in 1946 he was with Charlie Chester in the long-running radio series “Stand Easy”. Then he went solo. He went into pantomime, then toured the country on one-night stands. “I went everywhere from Aberdeen to Plymouth”, he recalls. “All this was wonderful experience and I gradually began to build up a solo act.”
Then, in February, 1956, he was offered his first television spot — in a show called “Strike a New Note”. This was his first meeting with Johnny Speight. “As soon as I saw that first script I knew that it was ME. From the first, Johnny’s scripts suited me perfectly”, he says.
Within twelve weeks the show had been retitled “The Arthur Haynes Show” — and it has been running ever since. Those early shows not only introduced Arthur to Johnny Speight, but also to Nicholas Parsons. Arthur and Nick have now built up the perfect partnership, with Nick the ideal foil for Arthur’s humour.
“Arthur and I did not set out to become a team”, explains Nick. “It simply developed. And I think it’s because it grew that way that it has become such a success.” One thing Nick can be sure of — when working with Arthur Haynes there is never a dull moment. “I’ve been hung from a scaffolding, had my clothes ripped, been covered in mud, made to dive through a window, knocked out, tripped, covered in shaving soap and pushed”, Nick recalls. “You just name it and it’s happened to me: like the sketch in which my flat was supposed to have caught fire and Arthur dashed in dressed as a fireman. I was almost knocked off my feet by the force of the water from Arthur’s hose and soaked to the skin, into the bargain. The trouble was I wasn’t really expecting it. You see, at rehearsal we could not use real water, because this would have ruined the set, so we did not switch on the water until the actual show. So when we did the show everything was spontaneous — and how!”
Many top recording artistes have been guests in “The Arthur Haynes Show” in recent months.
They include: Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen, Patsy Ann Noble, Susan Maughan, Janie Marden, Dickie Valentine, the Springfields, the King Brothers and Alma Cogan. These are the artistes who provide the musical interludes between Arthur’s sketches.
One man who has become a regular member of the “team” in recent months is Joe “Mr. Piano” Henderson. The quiet manner and shy smile of Joe Henderson has become a popular feature of the show. Joe has had his share of hit-parade successes in the past, but he is not at all worried if one of his discs fails to enter the charts.
“It would worry me to be thought of as a hit parade artiste”, he says. “The moment you fail to click people think you are finished. I’m interested in a lasting career. I like to play tunes that people like, aiming somewhere between what the mums and dads go for and what the kids want.”
With the aid of Nicholas Parsons, Joe Henderson, his guest vocalists and the guest actors he frequently uses, Arthur Haynes has built his show into one of the most consistently successful series on television. And, of course, Johnny Speight must share the credit here.
Without a doubt, it is Arthur’s down-to-earth brand of humour and his ability to find the common link in all of us that has made “The Arthur Haynes Show” one of the highlights of Saturday evening viewing.