Saturday, 7 November 2015

Whatever Happened To ... Pat Coombs?


One of the main reasons I set up this blog was to focus on some of the lesser known but still supremely talented actors who contributed so much to the success of the Carry Ons over the years. Today I am going to look back at the life and career of Pat Coombs, an actress who although only having two very small roles in the Carry Ons, had a long and successful career in many other films and television series.

Pat Coombs is instantly recognisable whenever she appears on screen. This is probably why she was cast in two Carry Ons. In 1967 she had a virtually non-speaking part as a hospital patient in Carry On Doctor with Jim Dale. Two years later she was back on the wards in Carry On Again Doctor, this time playing a rather sneering Matron who mistakes Kenneth Williams' shabby Frederick Carver for a vagrant!

Sadly Pat didn't appear in any further Carry On films, probably because she was in such demand elsewhere. So let's look at what else she got up to during her long career. 



Pat Coombs made a career in comedy playing downtrodden, put upon working class women, usually under the influence of a stronger personality. Born in Camberwell in South London in August 1926, she first decided to work as a nursery teacher before beginning drama lessons during the Second World War with her friend Vivien Merchant. At the age of 19 Pat won a scholarship to LAMDA when she subsequently taught dialect.

Pat got her earliest breaks in radio comedy, appearing alongside the likes of Charlie Chester, Bob Monkhouse and Arthur Askey. She became well-known in the latter's show Playmates, playing the dim-witted Nola, daughter of Irene Handl's character. However it was on television that Pat really found her niche.



Of the many series that Pat appeared in over the years, the most famous probably include Hancock's Half Hour (1957); Beggar My Neighbour (1966 - 68); Dad's Army (1970); You're Only Young Twice (1977 - 81); Till Death Us Do Part (1966 - 75) and The Lady Is a Tramp (1983). In 1989, Pat became a regular character in the BBC soap EastEnders, brought in to provide some comic relief after the series was branded too miserable. After only a year in the part of Marge Green, sadly the character was axed. Apparently Pat was deeply upset as she enjoyed being in the programme and wanted to stay on long term. Later roles on television included guest spots in Birds Of A Feather, Boon and Doctors.

Pat Coombs also appeared in many films during her career. These included the 1963 Norman Wisdom comedy A Stitch In Time; Spike Milligan's Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (1972); Ooh You Are Awful, with Dick Emery (1972) and big screen versions of Till Death Do Us Part (1969); On the Buses (1971) and Dad's Army (1971).



Sadly Pat suffered from poor health in later years, having been diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1995. She campaigned for charities in the field for many years, once raising over £100,000 for the cause. Eventually she moved to the actors retirement home Denville Hall in West London. Having never married, she spent her final years there in the company of many old friends, including the legendary Peggy Mount. 

Acting until the very end of her life, Pat Coombs had just recorded a series for BBC radio with her old friend and colleague June Whitfield, before her death at the age of 75 in 2002. They just don't make them like that anymore. 



You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

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