Sunday 6 September 2015

Whatever Happened To ... Derek Francis?

I have been running a series of blogs which take a look back at some of those reliable, solid, instantly recognisable character actors who provided such wonderful support in the Carry On films. Often, so little has been written about them and I think it's time to change all that. So far I have written about everyone from Carol Hawkins and Esma Cannon to Peter Gilmore, Cyril Chamberlain and Richard Wattis.

Today I am going to focus on a well known supporting actor who graced six classic Carry On films - Derek Francis. 

Derek Francis began his Carry On career in 1967 with a cameo role as Sir Edmund Burke in Carry On Doctor. He shares scenes with Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale and Hattie Jacques. Burke works with Kenneth's Dr Tinkle to get rid of Jim's character from the hospital. After this bluff, gruff cameo role, Derek was invited back for the role of a farmer in the hugely successful Carry On Camping. He plays Patricia Franklin's father in the film and after getting the wrong end of the stick thanks to Charles Hawtrey, ends up shooting Terry Scott's Peter Potter in the backside!

We next see Derek Francis in the very small role of the vicar who shares a train compartment with Terry Scott right at the beginning of Carry On Loving, released in 1970. Derek again plays a farmer in Carry On Henry, this time interrupting Sid's King Henry as he is about to indulge in some jiggery pokery with the lovely Margaret Nolan!

After his fourth Carry On film, Derek then went on to have two more substantial supporting turns in two prime 1970s Carry Ons. First of all he played the droll Arthur, Finisham Maternity Hospital's security guard cum night watchman in Matron. Derek shares some wonderful deadpan scenes with Sid James in this one. FInally, Derek returned to Pinewood one last time to play Brother Martin in Carry On Abroad. This final appearance saw Derek share most of his scenes with Bernard Bresslaw, who shocks Brother Martin by ditching his plans to become a monk to run off with Carol Hawkins. Watch out for some wonderful moments at the end of Abroad which sees Derek dance with Hattie Jacques' Floella!

Derek Francis made some wonderful contributions to the Carry On series. However, he was also extremely prolific in other areas of the acting profession. He clocked up no less that 168 screen credits during a career that spanned nearly three decades. In film, he appeared in the likes of Press For Time, What's Good for the Goose, The Comedy Man, Scrooge, Jabberwocky and The Wicked Lady. The majority of Derek's screen credits however, came on television.

On the small screen Derek Francis popped up in nearly all that was good on British television during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The following is just a small selection: The Sweeney, The Professionals, Danger Man, Jason King, Up Pompeii, Rising Damp, The New Avengers, Sykes, Rings on their Fingers, The Dick Emery Show, Middlemarch, Nicholas Nickleby and The Forsythe Saga. 

For fans of classic Coronation Street, Derek also turned up in Weatherfield in 1977. He played Charles Beaumont, a relative of Rovers Return landlady Annie Walker. While Annie had always boasted about the Beaumont's of Clitheroe, sadly Charles turned out to be a chancer on the scrounge and after borrowing money from several of the Rovers regulars, Annie had to show him the door.

On Stage, Derek Francis is best remembered for the title character in Cymbeline for The Old Vic in 1957.

Derek Francis was born in Brighton in November 1923. Little is known about his early life however he began his acting career in the mid to late 1950s. He continued to appear regularly on screen right up until his death from a heart attack at the age of just 60 in March 1984. His last role, as Pemberton in a television film of A Christmas Carol was broadcast posthumously.

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  1. Unforgettable as a comedic but dangerous Emperor Nero in Doctor Who (in 1965 story "The Romans").

  2. Derek Francis was my father. This is nice to read. For those interested, he was brought up at a nursing home in Brighton, by his aunt, his mother didn't feel able to bring him up and we don't know who his father was. He was a brilliant artist and during the war, when he was a Batman in the Grenedier guards, he did a series of pen drawings of Shakespeare scenes on the back of Nazi documents, which now hang in my hall. He started acting after he had spent time at the Brighton Dome making sets. He also made his own costumes,wigs and in between jobs, made puppets.Very much missed.

    1. He was unquestionably a talented craftsman, as he made the fabulous crib scene at St Mary's Wimbledon which still gets used every year, in which a shepherd bearing his likeness is playing the bagpipes!