Page last updated at 08:25 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 09:25 UK

Charge your glasses

By Nick Serpell
BBC Obituary Unit

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported - people of the past month.

The Navy Lark
Evans, right, with Ronnie Barker

The Navy Lark was one of BBC radio's most successful comedies running for nearly 20 years. Among the incompetent crew on board HMS Troutbridge was Leading Seaman Taffy Goldstein, played by Tenniel Evans. Invariably stationed as the starboard lookout, he'd preface his announcements to the bridge with "I don't know if you've noticed, and I don't suppose you have" before identifying an often immovable object with which Troutbridge would inevitably collide. Born in Kenya to English parents, he was named after the 19th Century illustrator of children's books, Sir John Tenniel, who was a distant relation. He was also related to Mary Ann Evans, who wrote as George Eliot. He had a long and successful career in television, where he became one of that stalwart band of character actors whose face was familiar even if his name was less well known. In 1985 he cut back on his acting commitments when he was ordained as an Anglican priest.

Colin Bean, right, as Private Sponge
Private Sponge, right, and friends in Dad's Army

Britain's roll call of great character actors also lost Colin Bean, best known as Private Sponge in the long-running comedy Dad's Army. Originally part of the normally non-speaking back row of the Walmington-on-Sea platoon, he moved to the front rank after the death of James Beck, who played Private Walker. He appeared in a host of cameo parts in programmes as diverse as Robin Hood, Z Cars and Are You Being Served? as well as a 20-year stint playing pantomime dames. He was always grateful to Dad's Army co-creator Jimmy Perry for giving him the part. "Jobs such as those in the back row of the platoon wouldn't have been of much interest to younger aspiring actors, but a godsend to older actors who may not have worked for some time, or those making a career out of extra and walk-on work."

Painting of Nijinsky
A painting of Nijinsky decorates the coffin at O'Brien's funeral

Few racehorse trainers find success both on the flat and over the sticks, but Vincent O'Brien was a notable exception. His National Hunt career saw him win consecutive Grand Nationals in 1953, '54 and '55, while he took Cottage Rake to three successive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins between 1948 and 1950. At the age of 41 he turned to flat racing, setting up his own stables in County Tipperary and winning a string of classic races. Together with Robert Sangster and John Magnier he founded the Coolmore syndicate in the 1970s, where his in-depth knowledge of bloodlines enabled him to pick winners almost from the day they were foaled. He won the Derby no fewer than six times with horses such as Sir Ivor, The Minstrel and, probably his most famous charge, Nijinsky, who triumphed at Epsom in 1970 with Lester Piggott on board.

Hortensia Bussi and Salvador Allende at home in Santiago
Hortensia Bussi and Salvador Allende in Santiago, 1970

After the overthrow and killing of her husband, Chile's left-wing President Salvador Allende, Hortensia Bussi became the focus of opposition to General Pinochet's military dictatorship. The daughter of a Chilean naval officer, she went into exile in Mexico following the army takeover of Chile in 1973, and organised resistance to the Pinochet regime. She returned in 1988 just two years before elections saw the end of military rule and the return of a government which included some of her husband's political allies. She never really shared her husband's Marxist views and, prior to his election in 1970, had remained in the background bringing up a family. In 1996 she famously suggested to the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, that he hold free elections in his country, but he decided to ignore her advice.

Godfrey Rampling at 1936 Olympics
Godfrey Rampling at the Berlin Games

Godfrey Rampling was Britain's oldest Olympian and the last surviving male gold medallist of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He had competed in the Great Britain 4x400m relay team in the 1932 Games in Los Angeles where they had been beaten into second place by the United States. Rampling's fast second leg in the German capital, four years later, reversed the order and his team lifted the gold medal. Hitler's dream of using the 1936 Olympics to prove Aryan supremacy was undone by the black American athlete, Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. Rampling served for 29 years in the Royal Artillery, retiring with the rank of colonel.

The so called "Canterbury Sound" of the 1960s and early 70s featured Kent-based bands such as Soft Machine, whose bass player was Hugh Hopper. The music mixed progressive rock, avant garde jazz and a very English whimsical style. Hopper began playing with the Daevid Allen trio in 1963 before forming Wilde Flowers which featured, among others, Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt. They eventually split, with members forming two influential bands, Caravan and Soft Machine. Hopper was originally the band's road manager but was recruited to play bass for their second album. He left the band in 1973 but continued working in a series of jazz line-ups. In the 90s, interest in Soft Machine was revived and he played a number of gigs under the name Soft Machine Legacy. He had been due to tour Japan in 2008 but was diagnosed with leukaemia.

The only food is a pot of eggs, which Flossie pickled several moons ago
Jeremy Paxman

Flossie Lane was reputed to be Britain's oldest pub landlord and her Herefordshire hostelry was certainly one of the country's more unusual establishments. The Sun Inn at Leintwardine was one of Britain's last remaining parlour pubs where drink was served in what was effectively Flossie's own front room. Born in the pub in 1914 she took the licence over in the 1930s and remained in charge until her death. The licence only permitted her to sell beer, so no spirits were available, although she did agree to sell wine in her later years to reflect the changing taste of her clients. Jeremy Paxman once described the pub as his discovery of the year. "Flossie, the landlady, sits in the middle of the room, wearing a pair of surgical stockings. The only food is a pot of eggs, which Flossie pickled several moons ago." Flossie, who suffered from agoraphobia, was never known to have left the pub throughout her time there. She was also teetotal.

Among others who died in June were pop superstar and eternal child Michael Jackson ; 1970s icon and Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett ; Star of Kung Fu and Kill Bill David Carradine ; and jazz musician and host of BBC's My Music Steve Race .

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific