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August 1, 2012

Remembering British actor Geoffrey Hughes of 'Keeping Up Appearances' fame

In any number of states in this country, wherever a Brit or Anglophile infiltrates the local PBS station, you can count on endless reruns of certain BBC TV comedies.

That PBS-BBC tie-in enabled me to learn the Monty Python oeuvre at a pretty early age, followed over the years by the incomparable "Fawlty Towers" and assorted gems that proved hard to resists -- "To the Manor Born," "Are You Being Served?," "'Allo, 'Allo," and other endearing Britcoms.

Then there's "Keeping Up Appearances," which introduced me to the divine Patricia Routledge as the preposterously pretentious Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "bouquet") and a superb cast that included Geoffrey Hughes as Hyacinth's determinedly uncouth brother-in-law Onslow.

Mr. Hughes' died last Friday at the age of 68 from prostate cancer. "He was a most lovable man," Ms. Routledge told the British press, "just delightful and great fun to work with."

What a fabulous pair of adversaries Hyacinth and Onslow made -- the snob and the slob. Onslow was a guy you would ...

definitely like to have a beer with -- he never could get enough of the stuff (or a "bacon butty," for that matter). And the reason he's such a likable character is because Mr. Hughes gave Onslow an inner life, not just the rough surface.

On these shores, we see only a small portion of Mr. Hughes' work. In the UK, he became something of a legend on the soap opera "Coronation Street," which has never made it across the Pond. After "Keeping Up Appearances," he enjoyed long runs on comedies that got little or no exposure here. His career also included such interesting gigs as providing the voice of Paul McCartney in the animated film "Yellow Submarine."

But I don't think Mr. Hughes would mind if we recall him most often and most fondly for his role on "Keeping Up Appearances," that signature phrase ("Oh, nice!"), that distinctive fashion sense, that way of smacking the TV set on, and, above all, Onslow's total comfort in his own skin.

It's impossible to imagine anyone else but Geoffrey Hughes making such an indelible impression with that assignment. I imagine that's what his colleagues and fans would say about everything he did.

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:09 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Drama Queens


RIP Onslow

So sad to hear of Mr. Hughes' passing. I just watched Keeping up Appearances last night, along with "As Time Goes By." I look forward to watching the Saturday night Britcoms here, in Atlanta and I always get a kick out of Onslow (and goofy Hyacinth "Bouquet" and her Royal Doulton with the hand-painted periwinkles!). Onslow was a lot deeper than what appeared on the surface. He cracks me up when he delivers one of his erudite observations in his grimy undershirt! No one could play Onslow better than Mr. Hughes. He didn't overplay the character, he got Onslow just right...Oh nice! :-)

Couldn't agree more. Thanks for writing. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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