Published on June 18th, 2014 | by Daren Thomas Curley
Remembering Sam Kelly, 1943 – 2014
The past week has been a dreadful blow to the entertainment industry losing us two of its biggest comedy actors. Following the news of the departure of Rik Mayall, we discovered at the weekend that Sam Kelly had passed away from an illness, aged just 70.
Whilst, Sam’s name may not spark quite the similar immediate familiarity as Rik undoubtedly did, he left us some unforgettable characters.
Sam played Bunny Warren, Fletch and Godper’s prison mate in the classic Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement penned Porridge between 1974 and 1978. He was also Captain Geering, the ‘tler’ shouting Nazi (not “klop!” as many thought at the time), in four series of ‘Allo ‘Allo. He later gained a promotion of sorts by going on to play Adolf himself in a later role against Nick Lyndhurst and Stephen Fry in Stalagluft in the 1990′s. Kelly also co-starred in the sitcom Barbara for ITV, and was the cheeky mate and driver to Dennis Waterman in On The Up (penned by Good Life/Ever Decreasing Circles writer Bob Larbey who Sam had a great deal of respect for). The sitcom also starred the late Carry On star Joan Sims as Mrs. Wembley.
Sam starred in all sorts of roles whether in Outnumbered, Black Books, My Family, Nanny McPhee, Heartbeat, New Tricks, Dressing For Breakfast, Peak Practice or Cold Feet.
But as an actor, Sam’s work encompassed serious roles in the TV series Holding, Poirot, A Touch of Frost, Inspector Morse, Christabel, Bleak House and Boys From The Blackstuff. This darker side to his acting shone with the work he did with Mike Leigh, in the television play Grown Ups and feature films Topsy Turvy, All or Nothing and the forthcoming Mr. Turner.
He was an incredibly talented and versatile actor. His final role was as the Wizard in Wicked, which he’d left earlier this year because of his illness.
Stephen Fry, Robert Lyndsay and Phil Davis are amongst those who have paid tribute to Sam.
I too worked with Sam. Believe it or not, he played Mo’s brother Stan and uncle to Kat Slater (who was always in and out of the nick). This was back when EastEnders would do their own standalone dramas. Sam appeared as Mo’s brother in a one-off drama that explored Pat and Mo’s early life together in the 1950′s. I believe Sam was asked to continue the role in the main series, but that sadly didn’t happen. I say sadly, because given his talent, I’m sure he’d have made Stan an unforgettable and well loved character. What he’d managed to achieve with his cheeky take on the part in just 50 minutes was remarkable in itself. In the four weeks I worked with Sam I can honestly say, he made an impact. A genial, funny and intelligent man. We talked about his work. In fact ‘Allo ‘Allo was also shot at the very same studios (when Rene’s cafe occupied the same lot as Albert Square). As I mentioned before, he was a massive fan of comedy writer Bob Larbey and felt he never got the acclaim he rightly deserved for the string of hits he and his writing partner John Esmond were responsible for.
Naturally, I was very sad to learn that we lost Sam, I was always interested to hear what he was doing next and he always surprised me with his talent for inabiting so many different roles. I won’t forget my time on a very very tight and busy shoot. I’m sure without him it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun.
Rest in Peace, Sam.