Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wendy Richard of "Are You Being Served" and Kelly Grocutt of ELO

Wendy Richard, best known for playing Miss Brahms on Are You Being Served, and Kelly Groucutt, one time bassist for the Electric Light Orchestra, both recently passed on.

Wendy Richard passed on February 26 at the age of 65. She had suffered from breast cancer for quite some time.

Wendy Richard was born Wendy Emerton in Middlesborough, Yorkshire on July 20, 1943. As a baby the family moved to Bournemouth, Dorset. They later moved to the Isle of Wight, and finally to London. There they operated the Shepherds Tavern, above which Richard grew up. Her father committed suicide when she was only eleven. Richard attended St. George's primary school and later the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Richard left school when she was 16 and received a job as a junior salesclerk in the fashion department at Fortnum & Mason (the same position later occupied by Miss Brahms on Are You Being Served). Richard eventually attended the Italia Conti stage school, occasionally working part time at such department stores as Dickins & Jones and Selfridges. At seventeen she received her first jobs modelling for various women's magazines.

Richard would make her first appearance on television in 1960 in a television special for ATV, Sammy Meets the Girls, featuring Sammy Davis Jr. This was followed by appearances on such shows as Hugh and I and Harpers West One. Richard's first taste of success came when she had a speaking part on the pop song "Come Outside" by Mike Sarne in 1962. The song went to #1 on the British charts, but Richard would ultimately see only £15. In 1964 she not only guest starred on Danger Man, but she also had a part in The Beatles movie Help!. Unfortunately, Richard's role in the film would end up on the cutting room floor.

By 1965 Richard would have a regular role on the soap opera The Newcomers. She would spend the next several years appearing in various Carry On... movies, and on TV shows such as Up Pompeii and Dad's Army. It was in 1982 that Richard first appeared as Miss Brahms when the pilot for Are You Being Served aired on Comedy Playhouse. The series began in earnest in March 1973. With only a few breaks, Richard would appear in Are You Being Served for the next thirteen years. Miss Brahms spoke in a thick Cockney accent, and despite being proud of her working class background, always longed for a life of luxury. Richard would reprise her role as Miss Brahms in the short lived sequel to Are You Being Served, Grace and Favour. In 1985 Richard became one of the original cast of EastEnders, playing matriarch Pauline Fowler. She remained with the show for 21 years, until 2006. She also appeared on the shows Spooner's Patch, Not on Your Nellie, and Benidorm. For her contribution to drama, Wendy Richard was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

I have always been a big fan of Are You Being Served and Wendy Richard contributed to that success. As Miss Brahms she was the perfect foil for the flamboyant Mr. Humphries (played by the great John Inman) and the irreverent Mr. Lucas. Richard had a gift for musical comedy, with a great grasp of timing. I do not think anyone else could have done quite so well.

Kelly Groucutt, once bass player for the Electric Light Orchestra, passed on February 19 at the age of 63. The cause was a heart attack.

Groucutt was born Michael William Groucutt on September 8, 1945 in Coseley, Staffordshire. Groucutt left school at age fifteen to take work at a sheet metal factory. To simply make it through the day he sang along to the songs that played over the factory's intercom. A co-worker suggested that he form his own rock band. Groucutt then taught himself to play both guitar and bass. He formed the band Rikki Storm and the Falcons, and later played in such bands as The Midnights, the comedy band Sight and Sound (in which he impersonated both Gilbert O'Sullivan and Nancy Sinatra), and others in the Birmingham area.

In 1974 Groucutt was performing with the band Barefoot at the club Snobs in Birmingham. Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, and Richard Tandy of the Electric Light Orchestra visited one night. Listening to Groucutt's bass, the band invited him to be their bass player on their tour for the album Eldorado. It was when Groucutt joined ELO that he became "Kelly Groucutt" instead of "Mike Groucutt." The band already had two members named Mike (cellist Mike Edwards and violinist Mik Kaminski), so the group called him "Kelly," a nickname given to Groucutt by his father.

Groucutt was not only a good bassist, but had a great voice as well. He would not only provide backing vocals on the vast majority of the Electric Light Orchestra's songs, but he sang lead vocals on the songs "The Diary of Horace Wimp," "Above the Clouds," "Poker," and "Sweet is the Night." Kelly Groucutt would eventually record his own solo album, Kelly, released in 1982. The album featured several ELO members, including Richard Tandy, Bev Bevan, Mik Kaminski, and Louis Clark.

By the time of the album Secret Messages (released in 1983) Jeff Lynne and Kelly Groucutt would have a disagreement over the band's royalties, in which Groucutt felt he should be sharing. Sadly, Groucutt's contract specified that he had been hired only as a salaried employee. Groucutt sued and ultimately won £300,000, but he had to leave the Electric Light Orchestra.

Following his tenure with ELO, Groucutt wrote the theme song for show MiniPops. Sadly, it was not used as director Mike Mansfield decided not to include any theme music. He also wrote a song for the EP We Love Animals, a benefit for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSCPA). In the wake of ELO's breakup in 1986, Kelly Groucutt and Mik Kaminski formed OrKestra. The goal of the band was promote the Electric Light Orchestra's classic songs while recording new ones of their own. The band would eventually release two albums, Beyond The Dream and Roll Over Beethoven.

It was in 1988 that Bev Bevan approached Jeff Lynne about doing another Electric Light Orchestra album. After a legal struggle between Lynne and Bevan, a settlement was reached and Bevan formed ELO Part II. OrKestra and ELO Part II would tour together and eventually the two bands merged to form a new ELO Part II. After Bevan left the band and sold his rights to the ELO name to Jeff Lynne, Lynne forced ELO Part II to become simply The Orchestra. Kelly Groucutt would perform with both ELO Part II and The Orchestra.

Although he was not an original member of ELO, for me Kelly Groucutt will always be part of the classic line up of the Electric Light Orchestra. This was the line up that recorded such classic albums as Face the Music, A New World Record, Out of the Blue, Discovery, Time, and Secret Messages, as well as songs for the Xanadu soundtrack. It is my firm belief that it was his backing vocals and his bass line that helped transform ELO from a cult band to a roaring success. He will certainly be missed.

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