Obituary of Jack Smethurst | Television

Jack Smethurst, who died aged 89, rose to national fame in Love Thy Neighbour, a TV sitcom that enjoyed phenomenal success in eight series in the 1970s – but was seen as racist and, even for the era, anachronistic. He played Eddie Booth, the white factory worker, voting for Labor and supporting the unions, outraged when Bill Reynolds (played by Rudolph Walker), a black man voting for the Conservatives, not only gets a job at his place of work, but also moves in next door. to him.

The programme’s creators, Vince Powell and Harry Driver, insisted the accusations of bigotry were unjustified because Bill’s views were presented as ignorance and there was prejudice on both sides. Smethurst also said he took the role on the assurance that Eddie would be seen as the one in the wrong.

Meanwhile, the couple’s wives, Joan Booth (Kate Williams) and Barbie Reynolds (Nina Baden-Semper), got along wonderfully and such was the sitcom’s popularity, with viewership figures sometimes exceeding 20 million. over a period of five years (1972-76) it spawned a 1973 film and a stage tour in 1975.

The on-screen and off-screen lines were seemingly sharpened when Smethurst and Walker played each other, laughing and joking as they shared a drink together in a television studio, in the 1974 film Man About the House.

Despite criticism, Love Thy Neighbor was screened worldwide and a new version was made for Australian television in 1979, with just Smethurst accompanying it in a story that finds Eddie settling in Australia, treated as ” abroad” and confronted with a conflict. .

Other TV offers went silent for a while, and Smethurst briefly found a job at a flower shop. Later he blamed typography. “I don’t think it’s the racial content,” he said in a 2016 BBC Radio 4 documentary, Still Loving Thy Neighbour? “I think it’s the fact that your face is so familiar. I think people are much more adaptable now.

Jack Smethurst, far right, as Percy Bridge, with Graham Haberfield (as Jerry Booth) and Peter Adamson (as Len Fairclough) in a 1967 episode of Coronation Street. Photography: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Smethurst was born in the Collyhurst area of ​​Manchester, the third of five children born to Kitty (née Brown), a department store worker, and Bill Smethurst, a factory packer. After the family home was destroyed by German bombs in World War II, Jack was evacuated to Blackpool and the family eventually moved to Blackley, Manchester. From an early age, rather than using his first name, John, he was known as Jack, after his maternal uncle, Jackie Brown, a boxing champion.

On leaving St Clare’s School, Blackley, aged 14 with no qualifications, Jack delivered groceries, then took up a job as an apprentice cutter in a raincoat factory and did seasonal agricultural work in Lincolnshire . While on national service with the RAF as a corporal in the kitchen at Cosford, Shropshire, he spent some free time watching plays at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. It reinforced in him the desire to perform that he had felt after seeing the Carl Rosa opera company at the Manchester Opera House as a teenager.

The RAF and Manchester City Council then jointly funded him through training at the drama school, London Academy of Dramatic Arts (1954-56). While at Hornchurch doing his first repertory theater work, Smethurst was heard on BBC radio with the Queen’s Players Company, conducted by Stuart Burge, in a 1956 production of George Farquhar’s play The Recruiting Officer, with Smethurst playing the constable.

He was at the start of the revolution giving a voice to the working classes when he played a coalman in Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, John Arden’s drama about deserters from the army, at the Royal Court Theater (1959). Then came small roles in the social-realistic “kitchen sink” films Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and A Kind of Loving (1962).

Jack Smethurst, right, as Leslie Pollitt, with Barbara Mitchell and Larry Martyn in For the Love of Ada, c1970.
Jack Smethurst, right, as Leslie Pollitt, with Barbara Mitchell and Larry Martyn in For the Love of Ada, c1970. Photography: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock

Smethurst followed those with character roles in popular television plays and series, including several roles in the crime dramas No Hiding Place (five, from 1961 to 1965) and Z Cars (seven, 1962 to 1969). Although he appeared as an army recruit in the film Carry on Sergeant (1958), he was in a few television comedies until the late 1960s.

He was a regular on the sitcom For the Love of Ada (1970-71) as Leslie Pollitt, son-in-law and neighbor to a widow (Irene Handl) in a relationship with the gravedigger (Wilfred Pickles) who buried her husband . Smethurst also appeared in the 1972 spin-off film.

On either side of Love Thy Neighbour, Smethurst had four roles in Coronation Street: Fred Clark, a shady brewery worker delivering short orders (1961); Percy Bridge, accepting money from Elsie Tanner after falsely claiming to have saved her grandson’s life (1967); Johnny Webb, Eddie Yeats’ fellow garbage collector who briefly stayed with the Ogdens (1980 and 1983); and Stan Wagstaff, landlord alongside Jack Duckworth (2001).

Returning to the sitcom, Smethurst played the boss of a TV show researcher (Marti Caine) in Hilary (1984-86) and had a guest appearance on Last of the Summer Wine as Davenport, a guidebook writer Lost (1997).

Powell also wrote the BBC Radio 2 sitcom A Proper Charlie (1984-85) for Smethurst. He played the role of Charlie Garside, a trade unionist who works in a factory but spends most of his time in the pub.

In 1957 Smethurst married Julie Nicholls, an actress. She and their four children, Perdita, Merry, Jane and Adam, an actor, survive her.

Jack (John) Smethurst, actor, born April 9, 1932; passed away on February 16, 2022

Karl M. Bailey