Arthur Leslie Norman English was an English actor and comedian from the music hall tradition.
English was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, the son of Walter Frederick English (1856–1948) and Ethel English (née Parsons) (1886–1975). After serving in the army in World War II, reaching the rank of sergeant, English worked as a painter and decorator in his native town. He polished up his comedy routines as an amateur at this time and in 1949 became resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre in London and performed much other stage work.
His radio work began with the BBC series Variety Bandbox, using as always his own Aldershot accent. His usual persona was a stereotypical wartime "spiv", and he became known as "The Prince of the Wide Boys". His usual delivery was to tell a long rambling shaggy dog story at ever-increasing rapidity without losing clarity until, at top speed, he would end with the catch-phrase: "Play the music! Open the cage!" Another popular catch-phrase was "Mum. Mum. They're laughing at me!"
He began to appear on British television in mainly comedy roles in the 1970s, and was noticeable because of his manner and appearance. He is remembered for his character of the truculent and bolshy maintenance man, Mr. Harman, in Are You Being Served?which he played from 1976 to 1985, including the 1977 film adaptation. He played Arthur, Alf Garnett's mate, in In Sickness and in Health, a follow-up series to Till Death Us Do Part from 1985 to 1990. He also appeared in The Sweeney.
He had more likeable roles in two British children's TV series: The Ghosts of Motley Hall, which ran from 1976 to 1978 on ITV (produced by Granada Television), and as "Slugger" in Follyfoot, which ran from 1971 to 1973, also on ITV (produced by Yorkshire Television). He was in several other films and Everyday Maths (1978), a British TV schools programme starring Jack Wild as English's grandson. In May 1983 he was a guest on Desert Island Discs with Roy Plomley and in 1985 he appeared in an episode of the American TV seriesMagnum, P.I.
Memorial to Arthur English at the Park Crematorium in Aldershot
Following the death of his wife Ivy (1919–75), who made his enormous kipper ties out of brightly coloured curtain material at the beginning of his stage career, in 1977 English married a young dancer, Teresa Mann (born 1955), whom he met while they were performing in a pantomimetogether at Wimbledon, and in 1981 the couple had a child – Clare Louise English. The performers John Inman and Jack Douglas were the child's godparents. The marriage was later dissolved.
Arthur English died in 1995 at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey as a result of complications fromemphysema. After a funeral service at St Michael's church he was cremated at the Park Crematorium in Aldershot where his ashes were later interred in a plot with those of his first wife.
English appeared in the Royal Variety Performance in 1951 and 1980. He had been president of Aldershot Town F.C. which had been formed out of the ashes of Aldershot F.C. The new club badge depicted a rising phoenix and was designed by English. He had also been a long-standing member of the showbusiness charity the Grand Order of Water Rats, which he joined in 1970,and an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Rushmoor.