Bob Grant (actor)

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Bob Grant
Bob Grant On the Buses.jpg
Bob Grant as Jack Harper in On the Buses
Born Robert St Clair Grant
(1932-04-21)21 April 1932
Hammersmith, London, England
Died 8 November 2003(2003-11-08) (aged 71)
Twyning, Gloucestershire, England
Cause of death Suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning
Occupation Actor, comedian, writer
Years active 1952–1996
Spouse(s) Jean Hyett (1954-????, divorced)
Christine Sally Kemp (1962-????, divorced)
Kim Benwell
(m. 1971–2003, his death)
Children 3

Robert St Clair Grant (21 April 1932 – 8 November 2003) was an English actor, comedian and writer, best known for playing bus conductor Jack Harper in the television sitcom On the Buses, as well as its film spin-offs and stage version.

Early life

He was born in Hammersmith, West London, the son of Albert George Grant (1909-1985) and Florence Grant (née Burston) (born 1910).

Early career

Grant trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, working in his spare time as a frozen food salesman and also (coincidentally, in view of his later career) as a bus driver. After doing national service in the Royal Artillery, he made his stage debut in 1952 as Sydney in Worm's Eye View at the Court Royal, Horsham. In 1954 he married Jean Hyett; the marriage would end in divorce.

Grant's first London appearance was in The Good Soldier Schweik at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1956, and he spent several years at the Theatre Royal Stratford East before getting the lead role in the musical Blitz! at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End for two years. In 1962 he married for the second time, to Christine Sally Kemp; they later divorced. In 1964 he appeared at the Piccadilly Theatre in Instant Marriage, a musical farce, for which he wrote the book and lyrics, with music by Laurie Holloway.

He had by now started to make film appearances, including Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963), the screen version of a play written by his future On the Buses co-star Stephen Lewis in which he had previously acted on stage, and the film version of Till Death Us Do Part (1969) in which he appeared with another On the Buses co-star, Michael Robbins.

He returned to the Theatre Royal, Stratford, in 1967, and starred in the satirical play Mrs Wilson’s Diary as George Brown, the Foreign Secretary in Harold Wilson’s Labour government; this play later transferred to the West End. When the real-life Brown resigned in 1968, Grant was so concerned that his unflattering portrayal of him as a drunk may have contributed to his resignation that he offered to stand down from the part, but reluctantly continued.

On the Buses

Grant is best remembered as the bus conductor Jack Harper in the television sitcom On the Buses, that ran for 74 episodes between 1969 and 1973; he co-wrote 12 episodes with co-star Stephen Lewis (who played Blakey, the Inspector). It was an instant success with the viewers, and led to three feature films On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973). He was in a relationship with guest star Gaye Brown, until he broke up with her to date (and eventually marry) Kim Benwell. The series was the peak of his career; when Grant married for the third time in 1971, there were huge crowds outside the registry office, and the couple had to abandon their hired Rolls-Royce and walk to the reception. A double-decker bus had been provided for the guests, but they had to walk as well.

Later years and death

When On the Buses finished, Grant found himself heavily typecast as Jack Harper and struggled to get other parts. He toured Australia in the farce No Sex Please, We're British, and continued to appear in musicals and pantomimes. In 1975, he wrote and starred in a one-off pilot Milk-O alongside his On the Buses co-star Anna Karen, an attempt to reinvigorate his career by means of a similar character, a milkman who spent his time fighting off amorous housewives he was delivering to. However, this did not lead to a series, and Grant never acted for television again. In 1981 he appeared in a touring production of the once-controversial revue Oh! Calcutta!, accompanied by a chorus line of naked men and women less than half his age.[1]

In 1980, Grant played the title role in John Arden's BBC radio adaptation of Don Quixote, with Bernard Cribbins as Sancho Panza.

In the 1980s, he suffered from deep depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health problems, because of a lack of work and his vast debts. This eventually led to a suicide attempt: in 1987 he disappeared from his home in Leicestershire for five days; it later emerged that he had taken the ferry to Dublin intending to kill himself. "I was in a horrible state", Grant said during an interview after the event, "I just has to get out of the house. I left the house and thumbed a lift to Melton Mowbray, and then got a train to Birmingham New Street where I sat sobbing in a station buffet. Everyone ignored me. Normally I get asked in the street something like 'When you back on telly then?', but not this time.".[2][3]

Grant started to write his first note to Kim, intending to have sent it to her after he had killed himself. "Tears streamed down my face as I wrote", he recalled. After hours of pounding the streets of Birmingham, Grant instead caught the ferry to Dublin, "It was a horrible night on that boat", he continued. "I'd been to Dublin before and it seemed such a nice place. I wanted to end it all, either by jumping in the River Liffey or ironically under a bus" Grant stayed at a guesthouse in Dublin to think things over. He called Kim, but there was no answer; she was at the time filming an appeal to find him. Grant eventually returned to England, because of the appeal, where his absence had caused a small stir, leading him to gain a few more acting jobs.[2][3]

In 1990, it was announced that On the Buses would be revived as a new show called 'Back on the Buses' , and the entire cast including Grant himself, Reg Varney, Stephen Lewis, Doris Hare, Michael Robbins and Anna Karen would appear on Wogan, but only Karen, Lewis and Varney were informed of the show - they only found out on the day of recording. For some inexplicable reason, Grant, Robbins and Hare were not informed of the episode - Grant was very upset by this. Once the show had been recorded, none of the cast or crew ever heard from Grant again.[2][3] He cut off all ties with the team he had worked with professionally for five years, and socially for over twenty. He didn't even contact Stephen Lewis, and they had known each other for ages, written together and worked together many times. Back on the Buses eventually fell through, because of the collapse of the production company behind it.[2][3]

Another long gap in employment led to another second suicide attempt in 1995, this time by carbon monoxide poisoning in his car. Grant was discovered just in time, slumped over the steering wheel of his car, which was filled with exhaust fumes, and admitted to hospital for treatment. Bob and Kim took a holiday in Goa in India to recover and on their return, it seemed things were finally going right again. They moved to a small cottage in Church End Twyning, about a mile south of Twyning, near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire with the ambition of making a fresh start. Grant lived very reclusively and neighbours would only see him when he was trimming his hedge.[4] His last acting role was in the West End in Hobson's Choice early in 1996.[5] His 'new life' regrettably didn't last as once more substantial bills continued to arrive and work didn't. In despair, Grant made a third, and final, suicide attempt in 2003. This time, he succeeded, dying in his fume-filled car in his garage with a hose attached to the exhaust pipe, and was found dead soon after. He was 71 years old.[6]

Television roles

Year Title Role No. of episodes Notes
1959 Quatermass and the Pit Sightseer
Man in crowd
2 episodes uncredited
1962 Sir Francis Drake Clements 1 episode
1963 No Hiding Place Alexander Mudgeon 1 episode
1964 Armchair Theatre - A Jug of Bread Ben 1 episode
1964 The Plane Makers Antique Dealer 1 episode
1965 Merry-Go-Round Professor Branestawm 2 episodes
1967 Softly Softly Napier 1 episode
1968 Z Cars Ted Griffin 2 episodes
1969 Mrs Wilson's Diary George Brown TV Movie
1969-1973 On the Buses Jack Harper 74 episodes
1970 Comedy Playhouse - The Jugg Brothers Robert Jugg 1 episode
1970 The Borderers William Peck 1 episode
1972 All Star Comedy Carnival - On the Buses Jack Harper 1 episode
1975 Comedy Premiere - Milk-O Jim Wilkins 1 episode

Filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1963 Sparrows Can't Sing Perce
1965 Help! Cameo uncredited
1968 Till Death Us Do Part Man in Pub
1971 On the Buses Jack Harper, Stan's Conductor
1972 Mutiny on the Buses Jack Harper, Stan's Conductor
1973 Holiday on the Buses Jack Harper, Stan's Conductor

References

  1. ^ Custom byline text:  Brian Pendreigh (2003-11-24). "Bob Grant Actor and writer best remembered for his role as the lecherous bus conductor in On the Buses". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
  2. ^ a b c d Fisher 2011, p. 53.
  3. ^ a b c d Walker 2009, p. 26.
  4. ^ 19 Nov 2003 (2003-11-19). "Bob Grant". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
  5. ^ "Entertainment | On the Buses TV star found dead". BBC News. 2003-11-19. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
  6. ^ http://www.westbriton.co.uk/daughter-tv-star-missing/story-11469185-detail/story.html[permanent dead link]
  • Hayward, Anthony "Bob Grant (obituary)", 21 Nov. 2003. Accessed 14 Apr. 2007.

External links

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