Harry’s Ramblings. Soap Cameos
by Harry Pope
Our future King, sipping what looks like whisky, in a television pub? Really, did we actually see that happen. Yup, it was in December 2000 when Coronation Street was celebrating its 40th anniversary, and somehow Prince Charles was persuaded to pop into the Rovers for a quick snifter, served by then landlady Denise Welch.
Russell Brand has recently filmed a cameo appearance in Neighbours, the Australian soap, which has made me wonder about other famous people appearing in unlikely television places. As himself he calls into Harold’s café, the episode being filmed before lockdown. He was in Australia promoting a book, and transmission date is July 6th on Channel 5.
Neighbours has a long record of famous people appearing in cameo roles since it first aired in 1985, from Emma Bunton, to Derek Nimmo as a Lord, to the most bizarre probably being Dutch waltz King Andre Rieu in 2009. Virtually every year there has been an appearance by someone famous, Clive James as a postman, Neil Morrissey as a priest, and comedian Tim Vine as a lost tourist. Of course Kiley Minogue and Jason Donovan found fame in the soap.
Politicians are not immune to being starstruck, when Boris Johnson was London’s Mayor in 2009 he walked through the doors of the Queen Vic in Eastender’s Walford. Peggy Mitchell chatted to him, but actress Barbara Windsor recalled at the time he fluffed his lines, wanting another take. That was denied, the bumbling was left in, as it typified his way of talking. He hasn’t changed despite becoming Prime Minister. In the USA, Nancy Regan, wife of President Ronald, appeared on five different 1983 episodes of Diff’rent Strokes as herself campaigning against drug abuse.
Coronation Street has encouraged cameos roles over the years, the comedian Peter Kay appeared wearing a particularly dodgy ginger wig as drayman Eric Gartside. He was the potential romantic interest of barmaid Shelley Unwin. The romance is doomed because he still lives at home with his overbearing mother, who turns against her at the end of the first date. Shelley admits defeat, leaving hapless Eric in the care of his mother. The comedian showed his best acting skills, bringing pathos as well as comedy to the role.
In 2005 Les Battersby of Coronation Street introduced his pop idols to the Street. Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi of Status Quo appeared as themselves in three episodes, potentially playing at Les’ wedding. They got to speak quite a bit, palling up with Les, who managed to injure Francis Rossi so he appeared at the end in a neck brace. The comedy was memorable, bringing the scriptwriters’ talents to the fore. Jack Duckworth appeared with them in the Rovers Return, and another famous person to appear on the cobbles was Sir Norman Wisdom. On 4th July 2004 he played pensioner Ernie Crabbe, who bought Jack’s exercise machine. Norman came running along the pavement, running shorts, t-shirt, headband, out of breath, playing it for all the laughs he could as an acting role.
1997 saw the unlikeliest of appearances. Dame Joan Collins was on the same plane when Jack and Vera flew to Las Vegas to renew their vows in a one-off special. Her appearance was fleeting, but sufficient for her to knock Vera’s arm so she spilled her drink over herself. Dame Joan was able to sympathise, remarking that it would wash out. She should know after her adverts with Leonard Rossiter. Honor Blackman had a storyline where she tried to seduce Norris into a wife-swapping foursome. Her cleavage and deep throaty laugh were sufficient to send him scurrying for the door, Honor being left with a wry grin.
Paddy McGuinness was in six 2005 episodes, playing a Bear Grylls type leading a troupe of Street regulars on a self-sufficient ordeal. He said that he would love to return, as would Jeffrey Holland, of Hi-de-Hi fame, who was a tax inspector investigating Norris. Comedian Bernard Manning appeared as himself in December 1971. Bernard Cribbins appeared in 13 2003 episodes as a pensioner conman.
Eastenders on BBC has had its fair share of cameo visitors. Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw played a 2013 caretaker; the 2003 Christmas Day episode saw Alfie Moon trying to marry Kat. The only problem was Alfie was still technically married, so David Walliams played the role of stand-in Registrar who was a mate of Alfie’s. She thought that they got married, it all came out that they weren’t, but then they eventually did. Summarised in a nutshell, usually taking at least three months in a soap storyline.
Emma Bunton is Baby Spice in the Spice Girls, but before finding fame she appeared as a 1991 mugger. Can’t somehow see her playing a violent role, but hey, that’s soap acting. Blink and you may have missed it, but in 1995 when he left Take That Robbie Williams appeared in the Queen Vic, using the phone. In 2012 there was a Children In Need sketch called The Walford Apprentice. Lord Sugar wanted an apprentice, wasn’t impressed with the Walford offerings, eventually taking on Billy Mitchell to look after his car. ‘You’re Hired’.
Emmerdale isn’t lacking with celebrity appearances, famous cricketer Fred Trueman had one scene in 1987, Ian Botham opened the newly refurbished Woolpack in 1995, and rugby player Martin Offiah played himself during a rugby match in aid of Terry Wood’s charity rugby match.
These are just the famous ones. There are plenty more cameos over the years, famous personalities fawning to meet the people they admire the most. The actors who remember their lines week in week out, immediately forgetting because there’s another episode to record.
And then there’s the forgettable soaps, such as Compact, Meet the Huggetts, Crossroads, and so many more.