Hi-De-Hi!

The Best Of...Hi-de-Hi!

Author Brian Slade chooses his favourite episode in our 'best of' series. Peggy’s impromptu and unofficial audition for being a yellowcoat is a scene stealing performance from Su Pollard

One of David Croft’s greatest talents as a producer of sitcoms with the Midas touch was his casting powers. Every show he did, he registered the performers for future reference. Frank Thornton and Mollie Sugden both worked for him on Hugh and I, long before they were exchanging barbed comments with one another in Are You Being Served? and it was this talent for casting that made Hi-de-Hi! such a success. An example of the show at its finest could only be an episode where each of the ensemble excelled. Cue the classic first series episode, Charity Begins at Home.

Spike (Jeffrey Holland), fresh from entertaining the campers at breakfast with his funny dustbin routine, delivers a letter to his chalet-mate, camp host Ted Bovis (Paul Shane). Ted is being forced to pay some back alimony to his ex-wife and as usual he decides on a con at the expense of the campers in order to cover his outlay.

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Prior to the daily meeting of the yellowcoats, in the office of entertainments manager Jeffrey Fairbrother (Simon Cadell), chalet maid Peggy awaits with intent. Peggy (Su Pollard) bursts into spontaneous entertainment mode as she demonstrates to a bemused Jeffrey that she has all the talents to fulfil her dream of becoming a yellowcoat and that Jeffrey holds the key. Alas for her, head yellowcoat Gladys Pugh (Ruth Madoc) enters and swiftly admonishes Peggy for bothering Jeffrey, threatening her with reporting to her superior if she does it again.

Gladys presents a long list to Jeffrey of various itinerary items that are going missing in bulk. The campers it seems are stuffing their suitcases with pillows, blankets and the like before they leave each Saturday. And just as Jeffrey tries to come up with a solution to the problem, he is presented with another challenge – reading out one of Joe Maplin’s letters to the entertainment staff, exactly as written in his own unique style.

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‘Yellowcoats, you’ve got to keep them smiles flashing,’ implores Joe via Jeffrey. ‘Last time I were around the camps there were too many funeral faces.’ It emerges that in order to keep everybody smiling around the camps, Maplin is introducing Sunshine Smile Day every Thursday. Jeffrey wants to start immediately and flashes his molars in a forced grin, but he picks the wrong person to encourage to reciprocate when he requests the same from grouchy Punch and Judy man Mr Partridge (Leslie Dwyer) who promptly tells him to ‘sod off!’ and walks out!

The mandatory smiling is music to the ears of Ted. It’s his chance to make some much needed money for his alimony payments, so his mysterious Campers’ Amenity Fund is set to get contributions in the form of a fine for any camper caught not smiling. While Ted has a number of yellowcoats rattling tins in front of any frowning campers, Mary (Penny Irving) rattles the tin under Jeffrey’s nose. The news that Jeffrey is onto him is delivered to Ted with some enjoyment by Yvonne (Diane Holland) and Barry Hargreaves (Barry Howard) as the resident ballroom dancers sneer at Ted’s scheme.

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Jeffrey is fuming at the number of swindles Ted comes up with, and this one is one step too far. Ted’s defence is that the money he collected goes towards charity, although he actually put it on a horse in the 2.30 at Lincoln. While the collection only raised £12, the winnings from the outsider horse raises the fund to £396, presenting Ted with a dilemma. He doesn’t want to give up his winnings, so he throws Spike under the bus by claiming he didn’t put the bet on. Ted returns the stake to Jeffrey, but Spike, often Ted’s moral compass, wants nothing to do with the deception at this point and walks out on Ted.

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In the Hawaiian Ballroom that evening, Ted is splashing the cash on drinks all round. But when an elderly camper reveals to all at the bar that they were robbed of the money they were going to spend on flying to Canada for their daughter’s wedding, his conscience starts to nag. Facing scorn and the cold shoulder from Spike, Jeffrey and Gladys, Ted’s conscience eventually gets the better of him and he donates the winnings to the elderly couple.

Charity Begins at Home is notable for setting the tone of the many successful series Hi-de-hi! would enjoy, at least during the five series Simon Cadell remained for. Ted would be a thorn in Jeffrey’s side for most of his time at Maplins, but with Spike sharing a chalet with Ted, there would always be a voice of reason and a moral centre within earshot, keeping Ted as close to the straight and narrow as possible. Meanwhile, the yearnings of Gladys were already bubbling away. After she has hurried Peggy out of Jeffrey’s office and chastised the flirty Sylvia (Nikki Kelly) for bothering him, Gladys tells Jeffrey he needs protecting, but she is frustrated at his closed-off nature, bemoaning, ‘you’re all prickly’ as she flutters her eyes and scurries away.

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Perhaps the highlight of the episode is Peggy’s impromptu and unofficial audition for being a yellowcoat. She grabs Jeffrey’s telephone to act as a fake microphone and promptly displays her range of voices for camp Tannoy announcements, suggests that she can become a distinguished lady in the ballroom and then plunges headfirst into a rousing rendition of Sand In My Shoes. We see the raw energy that Su Pollard brought to what could have been an insignificant part, along with the darkness that would occasionally seep in around the edges of her storylines. Peggy is in fear of Miss Cathcart and so desperate to be a yellowcoat, and for every putdown from Gladys, there’s a moment of daylight for her as she decides, ‘you’re a lovely man,’ when Jeffrey offers to do all he can to get Peggy an interview. It’s a judgement she would bring back on many an occasion.

There are great comedy moments in other episodes of Hi-de-hi! such as Mr Partridge opting to favour a bottle of scotch over a banana when he sees a pantomime horse riding a real horse across the beach dunes. But for scene-setting and character-building moments, Charity Begins at Home was a fine episode that set the wheels in motion for many more series of laughter that has aged remarkably well.

Published on February 23rd, 2024. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.

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