COLIN JEAVONS is one of those actors who everyone knows on sight. Such was his workload in the 1970s and '80s in particular that it would be quicker to list the television shows he didn't appear in than those he did. He rarely played the lead role, but he was a key character in literally dozens of dramas, comedies, TV series and films. He had the sort of gravitas that would often steal a scene with the briefest of lines, and as such, his face is perhaps better known than his name.
But how many Black Country viewers, who invited him into their homes night after night as they switched on the telly, realised that this suave character, with his cut-glass accent, was actually a local lad? Even we at the Bugle weren't aware of Colin's origins until Olive Bedworth of West Bromwich put us onto his story.
Olive had just been watching a repeat of the 1990s adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett in the lead role, and with Colin Jeavons playing Inspector Lestrade, when she told us: "I'm always pleased to see him on the television. I knew him well, before he became an actor; the Jeavonses were a West Bromwich family, lovely people."
Colin’s career had long ago taken him south, but Olive believed she might be able to contact a relative of his who could tell us a little bit more about his local origins. Then, ten minutes later, we got a phone call — from Colin Jeavons. So what better way to get the full story of a local lad made good than from the man himself? Though he left West Bromwich in his teens and is now retired near Godalming in Surrey, Colin is full of pride for his home town ...
"We lived in Stanway Road," Colin told us, "at number 33. Though my parents were Black Country people, they actually met in Newport, in Wales. My father, Abel, was from Roseville, Coseley, and my mother Lilian was from Bilston. But they came to West Bromwich before I was a year old. My father was a coal merchant in the town."
Colin attended All Saints school, at the top of Stanway Road, just a short walk from home. This was during the Second World War, so the bombings the town was subjected to, as documented in the Bugle over recent weeks and months, were something Colin recalls well.
"I was ten when the war broke out," he told us, "and I remember seeing ruins in the local streets. We spent a lot of time in the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden."
But even by that tender age, the young Master Jeavons knew what he wanted to do with his life.
"From the age of eight or nine, I'd wanted to act, but I had no idea how to get in. But later, when I went to the Ryland Memorial Arts School, we entered the West Bromwich Drama Festival.
We did something called The Insect Play. I played a tramp, and I was spotted by Miss Chapman, who ran the Birmingham Drama School. I would have been about fifteen then, and they offered me a scholarship."
The raw talent that had alerted Miss Chapman to the aspiring thespian was now nurtured by experts, and Colin never looked back. He left West Bromwich at the age of 17 to go into theatre, just at the time when the country was adjusting to life post-war, and with television some years away from becoming the dominant force it would later be. After a two year interruption to his nascent career due to National Service, Colin went to the Old Vic School in London, where he was soon performing. He then went into Rep, treading boards the length and breadth of the country, with stints in Bristol, Nottingham and Perth. Not surprisingly, all that touring, training, and working alongside so many actors had the effect of wearing away his Black Country accent.
"There may still be a trace of it there!" he laughed.
Colin was of just the right age to go into television as it took off in the fifties and sixties.
"A friend of a friend was doing television," he recalled, "and I'd been trying to get in, but I hadn't got any experience, it was difficult to make the move from the stage. But I did eventually manage to get a part on TV, I can't remember now what it was, but once I was in, I gradually built from that."
Which is something of an understatement. Colin's face will be familiar from the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes series, from his 1966 portrayal of Uriah Heep in Dickens' David Copperfield, and his highly-lauded portrayal of Tory whip Tim Stamper in 1990's House of Cards.
But a selected list of just some of the more famous shows he has appeared in will give an idea of how prolific an actor he has been. Deep breath, here goes: The Avengers, Doctor Who, Minder, Lovejoy, The Bill, Home to Roost, Bergerac, Only Fools and Horses, Reilly Ace of Spies, Terry and June, Shoestring, The Sweeney, Angels, The Fuzz, Crown Court, Z Cars, The Dick Emery Show, Frankie Howerd's Hour, Bless This House, Dixon of Dock Green, Man in a Suitcase, Maigret, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and five different episodes of Play for Today.
There were two Dennis Potter dramas; Blue Remembered Hills, and Blackeyes, a 1983 BBC production of Jane Eyre, countless adaptations of Charles Dickens novels, and not forgetting the cinema smashes Absolute Beginners with David Bowie, and the Oscar-nominated The French Lieutenant's Woman, with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.
And don't forget appearances on children's favourites Playschool and Jackanory, and Colin's narration of Barnaby the Bear; for which he also sang the theme tune.
How would the industry have survived without him? In the 1990s, Colin returned to the stage, performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National; a last hurrah before he decided to retire at the top of his game.
"My memory had always troubled me," Colin explained. "But by then I was having real trouble remembering lines. And my eyes were getting worse. I felt it was time to stop."
In such a long and illustrious career, having performed alongside so many of our greatest actors during a golden age of stage and screen, it would be hard to choose a favourite, you would think. But one name sprang immediately to mind for Colin.
"Ralph Richardson," he said, with barely a moment's pause. "He was a magical actor. He could be infuriating at times, but I loved him very much. I played Oberon in 1964 in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Ralph Richardson played Bottom. We toured all over South America and Europe — and my wife Rosie was playing one of the fairies!" Colin still has extended family in and around West Bromwich; sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and their children, and though he hasn't been back in quite a while, it was quite clear just how much he enjoyed chatting about his West Bromwich roots. He may be enjoying a well-earned retirement in leafy Surrey — bur 'e ay forgot weer ees from!