Bernard Spear

Bernard SpearActor. Born 11 September 1919, Croydon, son of a Polish-Jewish father and Russian mother, 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.

At the outbreak of World War II Bernard was conscripted and he served three years in the Gunners (Royal Artillery) much of the time in Gibraltar. He met up with a few 'pros.' and they organised a concert party called the Gunflashes, which Bernard re-established at Woolwich Barracks in 1942. In Gibraltar the boys worked out of the Theatre Royal, which they kept going with plays, shows and pantomimes. In was in Gibraltar that Bernard Spear learned the trade of being a disc jockey. He remembers: "We were heard in Franco’s Spain from where we used to receive fan mail and requests. They particularly liked our swing records." Whilst in Gibraltar he got into an argument with a bomb crater on Upper Rock whilst riding his motorcycle.

Back in Britain, after discharge from the Army, he began his career at the Windmill Theatre as resident comedian in 1943. This was followed by twelve years of touring in Variety and Music Hall shows 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. 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. The following year he played Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha, which ran through into 1969. From 1970-1971 he appeared at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the Neil Simon musical play Promises Promises. 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.

In the world of radio from 1945 until 1983 Bernard made over three hundred broadcasts from Henry Hall’s Guest Night to Workers’ Playtime. He was in 300 airings as Loopy Lou, the Mexican chef who introduced Chilli sauce to the Great British listener. He also had his own Mid-Day Floor Show.

Bernard worked for some of the most prestigious studios, both here and on the continent, giving credible characterisation to such differing creatures as an elephant, two flies, a bumblebee, a rabbit, a hare, a wolf, a bear, a stork and two mice for a Thames TV programme. His television commercials include 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) with Bernard Cribbins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) where he played one of the spies and when Barbra Streisand came to this country to film Yentl (1983) she booked Bernard to play the tailor who shared all her scenes. He 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.

Bernard was the first British actor to appear live on London ITV in 1955 Xavier Cugat Show. He made his television debut at Ally Pally (Alexander Palace) in 1950 in Rooftop Rendezvous. He played straight roles on TV in Quatermass, Mother Courage with Dame Flora Robson, The Maigret series, The White Guard, Harold Pinter’s Night School and the Somerset Maugham series. He was also present when the new Rediffusion Studios opened in 1960 and he and Stanley Holloway played the two main comedy characters in the lavish Arabian Nights special.

He took the role of Mike and Bernie Winter’s agent, Lionel Ross, "The Lew Grade of Lewisham", in Vince Powell and Harry Driver’s Mike and Bernie (1971-72), the stand up comedians’ first venture into sitcom. He played numerous character parts since then including a seven-year stint of Never Mind the Quality and his own series for Thames TV, My Son Reuben, especially written by Vince Powell. He won the BAFTA prize for the best play in 1977 on television for the BBC Barmitzva Boy by Jack Rosenthal, where he played the part of Victor Green. He took the role of Morris Ransome, the chairman of the Market Traders’ Association, in the short-lived Granada soap Albion Market from 1985-1986. His final appearance on television was in the sitcom My Family (2003).

He mastered most known dialects and accents and featured in such diverse parts as a French sculptor with Charlie Drake and Irene Handl, an Irish surgeon in the Lister Story for BBC TV. He played a Hampshire businessman with Milo O’Shea in the Dobson Doughnut, an American impresario in the Lenny Henry Show, an Austrian artist in Pinter’s The Schoolmistress, a Brummie removal man in the Kelly Montecito Show, many stand-up comedy appearances in The Good Old Days. All these apart from guest appearances in such shows as Celebrity Squares, Love Thy Neighbour and The Jim Davidson Show.

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 returned to cabaret and after-dinner speaking and even hosted a night at the Royal Albert Hall for the Burma Star Reunion to celebrate the new Century.

Said Bernard: "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), who has written a great book, Bring on the Dancing Girls, about her ‘war’ as a dancer entertaining the troops. We met in a Summer Show at Hunstanton, Norfolk in 1948, run by Carroll Gibbons, who tried his luck as an impresario, as a change from only the Savoy. 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. We have a smashing son called Julian Spear, who runs record companies and his own publishing company, Red Shadow...(a family joke gave it that name). There is one grandson, Taran who is in the film production game, and a grand-daughter Talitha, who is six, and a daughter-in-law Carol Royle who acts."

Bernard Spear was initiated into
Bernard SpearVaudeville Lodge No.5592 in January 1955 and became Master in 1963. At the time he was appearing in How To Succeed in Business, so he never presided at one festive board in his year of office. Joined Chelsea Lodge 17 May 1968. WM Chelsea, 1980. LGR, 1973. Died 9 May 2003, aged 83 years.

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