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Eddington, Paul (1927-1995)


Main image of Eddington, Paul (1927-1995)

Until well into the 1970s, Paul Eddington was confined to comic parts in the theatre and a mixed bag of roles on television. The arrival of the sitcom The Good Life (BBC, 1975-78) changed that, leading to a rich succession of West End roles in plays by Alan Ayckbourn, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and Terence Rattigan.

Although theatre (from training at RADA and early days in repertory productions) consumed most of his working time, he began appearing on television from the mid-1950s, taking various parts in series and serials such as Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-75), Kenilworth (BBC, 1957; as Edmund Tressilian), The Buccaneers (ITV, 1956-57) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (ITV, 1955-59). He played so many parts in the latter series that eventually, in 1958, he was given the regular role of Will Scarlett.

After Robin Hood he continued as a supporting player for television: some were serious roles in dramas like Interpol Calling (ITV, 1959-60), Maigret (BBC, 1960-63) and The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69); there were also comedy parts with Jimmy Edwards in The Seven Faces of Jim (BBC, 1961).

His rare forays into cinema, once again in supporting roles, ranged from the charmingly sentimental Baxter! (1972) and The Amazing Mr. Blunden (both d. Lionel Jeffries, 1972) to the Hammer horror The Devil Rides Out (d. Terence Fisher, 1967).

In 1974 he was cast in Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, opposite Richard Briers. BBC head of comedy John Howard Davies, then scouting for a new ensemble TV comedy, saw a performance and signed-up Eddington and Briers; Davies also approached Felicity Kendal and Penelope Keith, who were appearing together in Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests. The Good Life was born.

Eddington was Jerry Leadbeatter, the mercilessly hen-pecked husband to Keith's superb parody of suburban snobbishness, Margo. While the alternative lifestyle trials of Briers and Kendal as avant-la-lettre ecologists Tom and Barbara Goode, took centre stage with their back garden attempts at self-sufficiency, it was often their reproachful neighbours, Jerry and Margo, who claimed the biggest laughs. The smooth good humour provided by Eddington's Jerry, a sort of Ariel to Keith's Prospero, always kept things ticking over when the Goodes were on the brink of defeat.

But it was Yes, Minister (BBC, 1980-82), a precision-crafted Whitehall satire, that brought him his greatest success. Essentially a two-hander, with Eddington as well-meaning MP Jim Hacker and a briskly effective Nigel Hawthorne as the polite but determined Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby, the series' popularity was due in part to the excellent scripts (by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn) and to the leading players' Jeeves and Wooster relationship. Sir Humphrey's outwitting of the slow-thinking Hacker was central to the series' rhythm, with the narrative, stealthily (but not always effectively), taking on a Faustian dimension. Even so, the programme remained consistently inventive in its imagination and overall tact, and there was less evidence of straining after parody than the BBC had shown before.

The series returned as Yes, Prime Minister (BBC, 1986-88) after Hacker's promotion to high office, and while his Hacker continued to bumble and dither as before, he became more accomplished in his verbal skirmishes with the wily Sir Humphrey. In 1987, Baroness Thatcher, who as Prime Minister was a fan of the series, appointed him CBE.

For the four-part miniseries The Camomile Lawn (Channel 4, 1992), directed by Peter Hall, he was reunited with Kendal in a pre-war/post-war saga of a discordant English family, adapted from Mary Wesley's much-acclaimed second novel. Despite being a viewing fixture in its time, the TV adaptation was condemned by the author herself.

Although a battle with skin cancer restricted his later appearances, he performed alongside his old friend Briers in 1994 in the stage play, Home, about two elderly men in a mental institution.

Tise Vahimagi

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Thumbnail image of Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)

Hugely popular series that gave a ratings boost to the early ITV

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Controversial WWII drama series adapted from Mary Wesley's novel

Thumbnail image of Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76)Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76)

Awesomely successful police series, running for over 20 years

Thumbnail image of Good Life, The (1975-77)Good Life, The (1975-77)

Much-loved sitcom about a self-sufficient couple in Surbiton

Thumbnail image of Henry IV (1995)Henry IV (1995)

Television truncation of both parts of Shakespeare's masterpiece

Thumbnail image of Prisoner, The (1967-68)Prisoner, The (1967-68)

Surreal kitsch meets psychedelia in the definitive cult TV classic

Thumbnail image of Special Branch (1969-74)Special Branch (1969-74)

Crime/espionage drama series, the forerunner of 'The Sweeney'

Thumbnail image of Spread of the Eagle, The (1963)Spread of the Eagle, The (1963)

Nine-part miniseries adaptation of Shakespeare's Roman tragedies

Thumbnail image of Yes Minister (1980-84)Yes Minister (1980-84)

Political satire about a Cabinet minister and his Machiavellian colleagues

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