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Baxter, Stanley (1928-)

Actor, Comedian, Writer

Main image of Baxter, Stanley (1928-)

For 25 years the multi-faceted comic actor and impressionist Stanley Baxter produced for television a series of spectacular comedy specials reminiscent of Hollywood extravaganzas. His powers of imitation showed no bounds, ranging from famous film and television personalities to the Pope and the Queen and attracting both controversy and huge audiences.

The Glasgow-born Baxter began his career on stage with a variety of impressions in a routine co-devised by his mother. During his army service he entertained the troops and then obtained employment at the Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow. He made his television debut on the BBC's Shop Window in 1952, followed by guest appearances on variety shows. His major television break came with the satirical sketch show On the Bright Side (BBC, 1959), co-hosting with Betty Marsden, for which he was awarded the BAFTA for Light Entertainment Performance. The Stanley Baxter Show (1963-71) cemented his reputation and catapulted him to television stardom. Between the first and second series he took time out and teamed with June Whitfield for the six-part Baxter On... (1964), tackling a different subject each week, including law, class and television.

He demonstrated his versatility with an assortment of other television work: Galton and Simpson's Comedy Playhouse 'Lunch in the Park' (BBC, tx. 22/12/1961), an episode of the war drama Espionage (ITV, 1963-64). He excelled in Dennis Potter's Wednesday Play, 'The Confidence Course' (BBC, tx. 24/2/1965), while his Scottish humour was put to good use in a 1971 episode of The Goodies (BBC, 1970-80).

His sporadic film career had begun with Launder and Gilliat's gentle comedy Geordie (1955). Six years later he returned to the cinema in a trio of comedies for Ken Annakin, Very Important Person (1961), Crooks Anonymous (1962) and The Fast Lady (1962). Baxter's other films were Father Came Too (d. Peter Graham Scott, 1963) and Joey Boy (d. Frank Launder, 1965).

After Time for Baxter (BBC, 1972), Baxter, his producer David Bell and writer Kenneth Hoare moved to commercial television. For LWT, they produced the classic Stanley Baxter Picture Show (1972-75), packed with lavish costumes and sets. Baxter's one man tour-de-force performances became must-see television, winning him a BAFTA for Best Light Entertainment Performance. The series was also awarded the BAFTA for Best Light Entertainment Programme two years running in 1973 and 1974. The one-off specials continued with Stanley Baxter's Christmas Box (tx. 26/11/1976) and Stanley Baxter on Television (tx. 1/4/1979).

After nine years of specials, he reverted to a weekly series with the imaginatively titled, and BAFTA-winning, The Stanley Baxter Series (1981). Planning and filming each special had grown to epic proportions, with budgets to match, causing LWT to terminate Baxter's contract. He returned to the BBC with Stanley Baxter's Christmas Hamper (tx. 27/12/1985). He maintained his elaborate production values with Stanley Baxter's Picture Annual (tx. 29/12/1986). However, the expense and time spent producing each programme once again proved his downfall, and his contract was cancelled.

In the absence of other work, he accepted a role in the children's series Mr Majeika (ITV, 1988-90). Also for children, he lent his voice to the animated film Arabian Knight (US, d. Richard Williams, 1995) and the television series Meeow (ITV, 2000-01). In 1996, Baxter returned to the small screen in a more familiar guise with two Channel 4 specials combining old highlights and new material under the titles Stanley Baxter is Back (tx. 4/1/1996) and Stanley Baxter in Reel Terms (tx. 26/12/1996). Now in semi-retirement, Baxter has seen his television legacy honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the British Comedy Awards and two television tribute programmes.

Graham Rinaldi

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Thumbnail image of Stanley Baxter Picture Show, The (1972)Stanley Baxter Picture Show, The (1972)

Memorably lavish film and television parodies

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