Wednesday, 16 November 2016
Whatever Happened To ... Norman Chappell
This blog is part of an occasional series on Carry On Blogging looking back at the careers of some of the lesser known but vitally important character actors who made up the wonderful rep company which served these low budget comedy films so well for two decades. So many of these actors worked tirelessly without ever receiving proper recognition, let alone any kind of stardom.
Today I am going to write about the character actor Norman Chappell. His face is instantly familiar to fans of classic British comedy, even if you don't know the name. Norman made his first appearance in the series in 1963 when he played the rather irritating union rep, Allbright, who pops up throughout the film and is something of a thorn in Sid's side. He has that wonderful scene in Cabby when he receives a prank call to make a pick up in his cab only to find a shell of a house with only a toilet sitting behind it. His classic line "somebody's potty" typifies that early, more innocent brand of Carry On humour.
It would sadly be a further seven years before Norman would next work on a Carry On and even more unfortunately, the scenes he filmed as Mr Thrush, a client of the Wedded Bliss Agency in Carry On Loving, were deleted from the final print. Later that year Norman was back at Pinewood and this time he did appear in the finished film. He played one of the plotters who form part of Kenneth Connor's devious gang in Carry On Henry. Although Chappell would not appear in any more Carry On films, he did find himself a regular member of the Carry On Laughing ensemble a few years later.
Carry On Laughing was an attempt to create comedy half hours for ATV, featuring a range of Carry On actors and mostly period costume scenarios. The whole thing was something of a damp squib although it did give Carry On fans a further thirteen half hours of their heroes to enjoy. Produced in late 1974 and early 1975, Norman had supporting roles in seven episodes playing characters as diverse as Lord Burleigh opposite Sid and Hattie in Orgy and Bess to King Harold in One in the Eye for Harold. Moving on...
Norman Chappell's first film role had come along in 1961 with the role of Johnson in the Charlie Drake vehicle Petticoat Pirates (which also co-starred future Carry On actor Dilys Laye). He went on to play a Footman in the Tony Hancock film The Punch and Judy Man; Benson in the Bernard Cribbins and Barbara Windsor comedy Crooks in Cloisters and a theatre manager in the 1967 film, The Mini-Mob, which provided early screen roles for future Carry On performers John Clive (Abroad, Dick) and Madeline Smith (Matron).
However most of Norman's regular work came on the small screen. His first screen credit was on television in 1958 when he took on several small parts in the series Quatermass and the Pit. He had a regular role as Leading Fireman Piggott in the 1964 series The Fire Crackers, a vehicle for Alfred Marks. Over the next two decades Norman would make guest appearances in a wide range of classic television series, many still loved today. Those includes parts in The Likely Lads (1965/66); Pardon The Expression (1966); appearances as six different characters in six different episodes of The Avengers during its original run from 1961-1969; Bless This House (1972); And Mother Makes Three (1973); Man About The House (1974) and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973 and 1978). As you can see he worked regularly in comedy and some of the comedians he appeared with on more than one occasion included such names as Frankie Howerd, Dick Emery, Les Dawson and Tommy Cooper.
As with many of those wonderful character actors at that time, little is known about Norman's life. We do know he was born in Lucknow, India on 31st December 1925 and he came to England at the age of four. I have no information on Norman's background or how he came to become an actor. Sadly Norman Chappell passed away at the relatively young age of just 57 in July 1983. He died of a heart attack. His last acting assignment was in the Channel 4 series 4 For Tonight, a talk show parody in which a team of actors played all the guests.
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