Ruth Madoc obituary

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Ruth Madoc, who died after a fall at age 79, was cemented in viewers’ memories of the TV sitcom as Gladys Pugh, Chief Yellowcoat and Radio Maplin announcer on Hi-de-Hi!

After playing three ‘ringing’ notes on the xylophone, Gladys would greet guests at Maplins holiday camp above the Tannoy in her lilting Welsh tones with the words: ‘Hello, campers. Bye-bye! Many replied from their chalets:’ Ho-de-ho!” He then outlined event news like, “Knotty knees contest starts at 3pm.”

The BBC programme, created by David Croft and Jimmy Perry following their success with Dad’s Army, was originally set in the late 1950s and focused on the entertainment staff at an Essex coast holiday camp in the vein of Butlin’s and Pontins. After a 1980 pilot, Hi-de-Hi! it ran for nine series from 1981 to 1988. As Gladys, Madoc held a torch for Maplins’ new entertainment manager, Jeffrey Fairbrother (played by Simon Cadell), a former Cambridge University don embarrassed by the his team acts low-key humor as comedian Ted Bovis (Paul Shane), the much-loved camp host of vacationers.

Ruth Madoc, right, with fellow cast members of Hi-de-Hi! From left: Su Pollard, Simon Cadell and Michael Knowles. Photography: PA

Gladys frowns on Ted’s scams to dupe them with fixed bingo and other activities, but feels a greater emotion – heartbreak – when Jeffrey leaves at the end of the 1983-84 series.

In the Channel 5 documentary Comedy Gold: Hi-de-Hi (broadcast March this year), Gyles Brandreth described Gladys and Jeffrey’s relationship as “like Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter, with laughter – pent-up lust on his side and English confusion and embarrassment about him.”

“Gladys Pugh is a vampire from the Dales,” Madoc said, joking, of the character which brought her recognition from up to 16 million viewers and street shouts of “Ho-de-Ho!” He said he brought an Welsh accent to Gladys, which he added to the comedy, particularly with his references to her at the “au-lympic” swimming pool.

He also took the opportunity to bring a foreign touch to Gladys. “I asked Jimmy Perry if I could base it on a wonderful 1950s woman named Zizi Jeanmaire,” Madoc said. “She was a beautiful French dancer and was the first to do that gamine hairstyle.”

Ruth was born to Welsh parents in Norwich, Norfolk during World War II. Her mother, Iris (née Williams), worked there as a nurse while her father, George Baker, was an administrator at three Norfolk hospitals. “My mom couldn’t come home quick enough to have me, so I was born in Norfolk,” she said.

Her father was a distant relative of David Lloyd George, the Liberal former prime minister later played by Ruth’s first husband, actor Philip Madoc, in the 1981 TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, in which he had the role of one of his mistresses, Lizzie Davies. While her parents traveled around England after the war “doing important work” and helping to establish the newly launched NHS, she was brought up by her maternal grandparents in the mining village of Llansamlet outside Swansea.

After spending three months as assistant stage manager at Nottingham Playhouse, she trained at the Rada (1959-61), claiming she was well prepared to audition, having received elocution lessons from her grandmother, Etta, from the age three-year-old to read in a local chapel.

Ruth Madoc and Harry Secombe in Pickwick at the Chichester Festival Theater in 1993.

Ruth Madoc and Harry Secombe in Pickwick at the Chichester Festival Theater in 1993. Photography: Alastair Muir/Shutterstock

At Rada, Madoc spent three years as a singer and dancer on The Black and White Minstrel Show television programs and tours, and then a summer season with Fol-de-Rols, another music hall troupe. She made her musical acting debut as Maria in West Side Story at the Scarborough Summer Theater in 1968, followed by her first West End role, taking on the role of Aldonza in the original London production of Man of La Mancha (Piccadilly Theatre, 1968 ). Madoc had her first film roles in two feature films from 1971, as the fortune teller Mrs Dai Bread Two in Under Milk Wood, opposite Richard Burton, and as the ghost Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof.

On TV she had a regular role as Betty, the teacher wife of Detective Sergeant ‘Smithy’ Smith (Ewan Hooper), in all three series of the Midlands police drama Hunter’s Walk (1973-76). During the long televised run of Hi-de-Hi!, Madoc reprized her role as Gladys for a theater tour which included a run at London’s Victoria Palace Theater (1983-84).

Subsequently, on television, she played Mrs Thomas, mother of Daffyd, Matt Lucas’ ‘only gay village’ Welshman, during the second and third series (2004-05) of Little Britain. Although shocked by the expletives in the script when she was offered her role, she was told it was written especially for her by Lucas, and her real-life son, she said he would give her “credit of Street”.

There was a return to sitcom when Madoc played Georgie, a dog trainer and “Welsh dame” of the traveling Circus Maestro, in Big Top (2009), although the series took a critical pan and failed to catch on with viewers.

Thriving on musicals, Madoc played other stage parts, including Lettie in Something’s Afoot (Ambassador Theater, 1977-78); the title role in Irma La Douce (Theatr Gwynedd, Bangor, 1976); Rose on a 1989 tour by Gypsy; and Mrs Bardell, opposite the title character of Harry Secombe, in a revival of the musical Pickwick on a tour which included Chichester Festival Theater and Sadler’s Wells.

Less well received were a revival of Bless the Bride (Sadler’s Wells, 1987), with Madoc as Suzanne, and Nite Club Confidential (Playhouse theatre, 1988), as Kay Goodman.

Her 1961 marriage to Madoc ended in divorce 20 years later. In 1982 she married John Jackson; he died in 2021. she is survived by her two sons from her first marriage, Rhys and Lowri.

• Ruth Madoc (Margaret Ruth Llewellyn Baker), actress, born April 16, 1943; died December 9, 2022

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