Of all his stage, television and film appearances, Melvyn Hayes is still perhaps best known for his role of Gunner ‘Gloria’ Beaumont in the hilarious TV series ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’.
Broadcast on the BBC for seven years until 1981, the comedy show portrayed the adventures of a Royal Artillery Concert Party in India and Burma just before the end of World War Two. The series proved so popular it was sold across the world, but Melvyn fears it will never be repeated on English television. He says it is because his character was a gay soldier, while Michael Bates was a white man playing a black man, now considered as not politically correct, even though Michael was the son of an Anglo-Indian civil servant, and served as a Major with the Brigade of Gurkhas in Burma.
Melvyn explained how he was cast as Gloria. He said: “I was out of work because I had been knocked down by a car and I had to learn to walk again. During my recovery I went to teach young actors at a drama school, and while I was there one of the teachers said her husband was going to do a new show on television and I could play a part in it.
“She told me it was It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Her husband was Michael Knowles who played Captain Ashwood in the series, and it was being written by David Croft and Jimmy Perry. I was given the part of Gloria, and I had never done anything like it before, but it was a start of many happy years.
“I think it is sad the BBC will not repeat it. These days there are many performers on television who are outrageously camp and say things over and above anything that was said in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. But I understand the BBC will not repeat the series for two reasons; one that Michael Bates was a white man playing a black man, Bearer Rangi Ram, even though he was born in India and speaks perfect Urdu.
“The second reason was because Windsor Davies – Battery Sergeant Major ‘Shut up’ Williams – called us ‘puffs’, and I think that is a ridiculous excuse. David and Jimmy said the series was their favourite of everything they wrote, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem that it will ever be repeated here even though it was popular across the world.”
I asked Melvyn if he had a particular favourite of all the roles he has played in his many years as an actor. He replied: “I always say whatever I am doing at the moment. If it is a major part or a one-line ‘voice-over’ I have to put everything into it.
“But if I had to pick just one part then it would be in ‘The Bespoke Overcoat’ which was originally done with Alfie Bass and David Kossoff. It is only a 30-minute play about a Jewish tailor and a guy who comes back from the dead. I had waited 50 years to play that part and Leonard Fenton, who played Dr. Clegg in Eastenders, and I did it in a theatre in Hampstead.”
Melvyn also appeared in ‘Eastenders’, explaining: “My agent called me and told me he had secured me a romantic lead in a TV soap opera. I told him it was wonderful, and who was the lady? He replied that it was Dot Cotton!
“It was weird because I was with all those people who had been there so long and it was like standing on the platform at a railway station with the train going by and you knew you had to jump on it. I did about a dozen episodes but June Brown, who plays Dot Cotton, said it was a bit unfair because I was not given any decent material.”
Melvyn was the subject of the TV programme ‘This Is Your Life’ in 1980. He had made guest appearances about 15 times, when with the likes of Jimmy Croft, Jim Davidson, Windsor Davies were subjects of Eamonn Andrews’ famous Red Book.
He smiled: “I always had this joke when I was appearing on stage in pantomime or anything; I would stop and look at the side of the stage, and when someone asked me what I was doing I would reply ‘I am just checking to see what side Eamonn is coming on. It was a standing joke that didn’t mean anything.
“I even cracked it on the night Eamonn caught up with me, and initially everyone thought someone had given the game away. But to be honest I hadn’t got a clue he was on the side of the stage waiting to surprise me.”
Melvyn’s one dubious claim to fame is that he was in a series with Jimmy Edwards called ‘Sir Yellow’ which went out on Yorkshire Television in 1973 and was voted ‘The Worst Series Ever’. He said: “The first episode went out on a Friday at 7pm; the second episode went out at 1 o’clock in the morning about 10 days later, and after that it was never seen again. Jimmy and I had signed up to do a second series, but the makers decided just to pay us rather than make it!”
Away from acting, Melvyn has six children of his own, five daughters and a son, and he and his wife Jayne have also fostered children for many years. He said: “We came to the Island about seven years ago; lived in Ryde first and then had a house in Sandown before we came back to Ryde about three years ago. We often came to the Island with the kids many years ago and we have always loved it. You can breathe because the air is so clean and everyone is so friendly; people stop to say hello in the street.”
Melvyn had a major heart operation in January last year, saying: “I had been having trouble and feeling pain for about three or four years. I went into Southampton Hospital and had a triple bypass and a new valve.”
But even when he was preparing for surgery he still had time to crack a joke, telling the surgeon: “Please don’t give me a pig’s heart because I’m Jewish!”
Melvyn has not worked since his surgery, but insists: “Since the operation I feel fine, and I have no plans to retire. I keep telling my agent that it’s about time he had a telephone installed in his office, then someone might ring him asking if I am available!”