Jeffrey Holland joins cast of Brassed Off at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
As a boy, he’d catch the bus from Walsall to Wolverhampton to enjoy theatre at The Grand.Jeffrey Holland, the doyen of comedy acting who made his name on Hi-De-Hi, was enthralled.
He’d sit in the stalls, captivated by the action on the big stage. Not once did the Queen Mary’s Grammar School pupil imagine he’d one day tread the boards. But those formative afternoons inspired him to pursue a career in acting. And now, at the tender age of 71, he’s back to where it all began.
Jeffrey, whose TV credits also included Crossroads, Coronation Street, Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, will lead the line in Brassed Off.
The Grand is staging its own production of the British classic about brass-instrument-playing miners from the Grimley Colliery. It will run from August 23 to September 2 and Jeffrey will play Danny, the character made famous by Pete Postlethwaite in the hit film.
“Brassed Off at The Grand – it doesn’t get any better,” says Jeffrey. “It’s a fantastic play and it’s the first in-house production at the theatre for 40 years.
“Adrian Jackson, the chief executive, has really improved the place. He’s made The Grand such a lovely theatre and this is a play he’s always wanted to do. When we started rehearsals, he said he’d been planning it for 18 months and now it’s come to fruition.”
Brassed Off was written by Paul Allen, adapted from the screenplay by Mark Herman. It is set in 1994 and Danny’s lifelong ambition to lead Grimley Colliery Band to the National Brass Band Competition at the Royal Albert Hall looks like it might finally happen. But as Grimley pit faces closure, the future looks bleak as the town is thrown into conflict. Flugelhorn player Gloria arrives in town bringing with her a renewed sense of hope and a touch of romance, but no-one knows who she’s really playing for.
Jeffrey adds: “It’s so well written and there’s only one way to do it. The performance will be based on what Pete Postlethwaite did in the movie. I’m highly honoured to follow such a great actor, there’s no question about it. It’s a wonderful part to play and I’m trying to make it my own. We have a very talented company, including local community actors. It should be a wonderful production.”
Jeffrey is thrilled to be back at The Grand. The theatre, designed in 1894, has outlasted its rivals and now operates without the benefit of a council grant. He’s seen some of the changes that it’s been through over the past 60 years.
“When I was a small boy, living in Walsall, I’d get on the bus and came over to Wolverhampton on a Saturday to see a play. I remember going to see creaky old comedy back in the days of weekly rep. The leading man would step forward when it was the curtain call to announce the following week’s play.
“In a sense, that’s what inspired me. I’d never seen a full length play before and I sat there in the stalls that afternoon and was totally gobsmacked. I’d seen panto with my mom at the Old Empire, in Birmingham’s New Street, but I’d never seen a play. It was inspiring. It was wonderful. As I sat in the stalls, something inside me just went ‘click’.”
Not that Jeffrey expected to enjoy a long and successful career on the stage. As a teenager, he was gawky and shy. He had spots. The idea of people watching him was anathema. However, he plucked up the courage to go to drama school, in Edgbaston, and had a wonderful time. In 1968, he started at the Belgrade Theatre, in Coventry, and stayed there for five years.
“I learnt my trade. I was lucky enough to do pantomime, farce, comedy, musicals, melodrama – I even sang and danced in West Side Story, for God’s sake. You can’t put a price on experience like that. Kids today don’t get the chance. There is no rep. I thank the heavens I came through when I did.”
The bright lights of TV beckoned and he played in Dixon of Dock Green. “Jack Warner, who played George Dixon, was well over 80 by then. It was a wonderful experience to be with a man like him. He’d been around forever. He was an old fashioned gentleman. When a lady walked into the room he stood up. It was a wonderful thing to see and be a part of.”
His career took off in 1975 when he starred in a West End production of Dad’s Army. Lining up with Captain Mainwaring and the platoon was one of the proudest moments of his life. It led to TV appearances and suddenly his career snowballed, leading to an appearance as Spike in Hi-de-Hi.
“I did a bit in Corrie and that was good fun but theatre is where my work mainly is, especially since the Beeb axed all the sitcoms. The greatest sitcoms in the country came stunningly to a halt when there was a change at the top.
“But I’m grateful for the way things have gone. Every actor will tell you their first love is the live stage. There’s a buzz every night. You’re doing something different every night. Every atmosphere is different.”
For Holland, it’s great to be home. “I moved away a long time ago but I’ve still got friends here and I’ll be staying with them. It’s going to be a very special show.”