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Friday, 11 July 2014

Reg Varney born 11 July 1916

Reginald Alfred Varney (11 July 1916 – 16 November 2008) was an English  actor, most notable for his role as Stan Butler in the 1970s TV sitcom On the Buses.
Varney was born in Canning Town, which was then part of Essex but is now part of East London. His father worked in a rubber factory in Silvertown and he was one of five children who grew up in Addington Road, Canning Town. Varney was educated at the nearby Star Lane Primary School in West Ham  and after leaving school at 14, he worked as a messenger boy and a page boy at the Regent Palace Hotel. He took piano lessons as a child and was good enough to find employment as a part-time piano player. His first paid engagement was at Plumstead Radical Club in Woolwich, for which he was paid eight shillings  and sixpence (42½p).
He also played in working men's clubs, pubs and ABC cinemas, and later sang with big bands of the time. He and his mother decided that show business was the career for him, and he gave up his day jobs.During World War II, he joined the Royal Engineers, but continued performing as an army entertainer, touring the Far

East for a time. After being demobbed, he starred on stage in the late 1940s in a comic revue entitled Gaytime. His partner in the double act was Benny Hill. He then went on to become an all-round entertainer, working his way around the music halls.
In 1961, Varney was given the role of a foreman in the popular television sitcom, The Rag Trade, which made him a household name. Also around this time he starred in a show for BBC TV called The Seven Faces of Reg Varney where he performed seven different characters in front of an audience at the Shepherd's Bush Theatre in London. Varney rushed about at a frantic pace on stage as he changed clothes between characters. After that followed another comedy role in Beggar My Neighbour; this also starred Pat Coombs, June Whitfield, and Peter Jones. Pat Coombs played the wife of Varney's character and she would later appear in the On the Buses movie. The series ran from March 1967 to March 1968 (24 episodes of 30 minute duration) and a short special was shown as part of Christmas Night with the Stars  on 25 December 1967. In 1966 he starred in The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery as Gilbert.

On 27 June 1967, the world's first voucher based cash dispensing machine was installed at the Enfield Town branch of Barclays Bank. Varney lived in Enfield at the time and for publicity purposes he was photographed making the first withdrawal from the machine.

Varney's greatest success was in the sitcom On the Buses which was written by Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe, who had also written The Rag Trade. Varney played the lead role of bus driver Stan Butler, a long-suffering but loyal man who never has much luck where romance is concerned. There were also three spin-off movies made, On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), and Holiday on the Buses (1973). Varney was 53 when the series started, although his character, who lived at home and was often trying to attract women, seemed to be in his mid-thirties. Stephen Lewis, who played Inspector Cyril "Blakey" Blake in the series, was actually 20 years younger than Varney, who, by the time On the Buses ended, was nearly 60.
The show was a great success and Varney started to take on more film roles. These included Go for a Take and The Best Pair of Legs in the Business. In the latter, Varney played a drag artist-cum-compère at a caravan holiday site. Down the Gate, in which he played a Billingsgate fish porter, followed, but was not a great success. He was also in the remake of the film The Plank.
In April to June 1969 Varney co-starred with Scottish entertainer Billy Raymond in 13 episodes of Australia's Channel O TV entertainment series "Rose and Crown" before returning to the UK for another "On The Buses" TV series.
He also made six hour-long spectaculars called The Other Reg Varney, and later his cabaret act toured Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In 1988, On the Buses went on to the stage and again Varney went to Australia to play Stan.
During the 1990s, Varney was forced to retire because of health problems. He had a heart attack in 1965 and in 1981 he suffered a more severe one.  Subsequently he divided his time between his home in a small village near Dartmouth and a villa in Malta. By the nineties he was virtually retired and spent most of his time painting landscapes in oils at his home in the West Country and there were several exhibitions of his work locally. He also wrote a touching autobiography, The Little Crown.

Varney moved to Devon in the late 1980s and lived alone after his wife, Lilian Emma Varney, died in East Devon in 2002, aged 92. Varney himself died on 16 November 2008, in a nursing home in Budleigh Salterton, Devon. He had been admitted only a few weeks earlier after suffering from a chest infection. (Info from Wikipedia)
Here's "Come On and Tickle My Fancy" by Reg Varney from the album On the 88s at Abbey Road


1 comment:

boppinbob said...

2 comments from original Multiply post: Oz Rob said... I remember "The Rag Trade" well. I concede that "On The Buses" was his most popular series, but I think "The Rag Trade" was his best one. 11 July 2010 06:11
Roger Kokken said... A good pianoplayer and a good actor. I'll remember him as Stan from "on the buses". 12 July 2010 10:44