Apologies for the poor quality of the photo - it's the only one I have.
I’m dipping into the bag of tricks kindly supplied by Mick Dillingham again today to bring you this utterly awful slice of kitsch, Benny by Kathy Staff.
Many of you will remember the late Kathy Staff for playing the redoubtable Nora Batty in BBC’s endless, pointless ‘comedy’ Last of the Summer Wine – a show about three old men which seemed to run for about a million years and which ended each episode with the old men falling over a wall. Oh the hilarity! One of them (Compo, played by the late Bill Owen) was head-over-heels in love with Nora Batty, a battle-axe in wrinkled surgical stockings who was married to the world’s dullest man. That’s about as much as you need to know. For some peculiar reason Last of the Summer Wine became the world’s longest running sitcom, with 31 series between 1973 and 2010.
Benny stems from an earlier period in Kathy’s life, when she played the role of motel cleaner Doris Luke in the much-maligned daily soap opera Crossroads. If you don’t know the show you might know that Paul McCartney and Wings recorded a version of the theme tune for their 1975 album Venus and Mars, which was later played over the show’s closing credits. Critically derided for its low budget, wooden acting, wobbly sets and ridiculously melodramatic scripts, the show originally began in 1964 and ran until 1988; it was revived in 2001 but the revamped show lasted just two years before being axed for a second time. Kathy joined the cast in 1978 and stayed until the end of its original run; she also turned up in the revamped version but soon left, unhappy with the sexy storylines. Incidentally, the opening exterior scenes used during the early 80s were filmed just a couple of miles from my childhood home.
Although best known for these two roles, Kathy had a long and distinguished career, which began in touring repertory companies in 1946. Opting for the stage name Katherine Brant she changed this to Katherine (or Kathy) Staff when she married John Staff in 1951. Taking time off to raise her family, she started working again for Granada Television in the 1960s and appeared in the seminal British movie A Kind of Loving in 1962. Her later roles included Vera Hopkins in another long-running soap, Coronation Street, and as Mrs Blewitt in the Ronnie Barker comedy Open All Hours. Kathy also appeared on stage in roles including The Importance of Being Earnest’s Lady Bracknell, Blithe Spirit’s Madam Arcati and Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals.
Born Minnie Higginbottom in 1928, Kathy’s ode is a tribute to one of Crossroads’ most popular characters, the local village idiot Benny Hawkins, a simple-minded handyman played by Paul Henry, whose trademark was a woolly hat worn all year round. Henry had already traded on the role, recording Benny's Theme with the Mayson Glen Orchestra which reached no.39 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1978. Like Kathy/Doris, Henry’s ‘performance’ was spoken word, so it’s a bit of a surprise that this was also not a minor hit: mind you, although his hit was also awful, it’s nowhere near as toe-curlingly bad as this horror, and he did have the major-label might of Pye behind him, rather than the tiny independent Monarch company – a label which specialised in pipe band and country dance music but who also released ‘comedy’ records by Scot's wifeswapping children's entertainers The Krankies and 70s camp stereotype Larry Grayson - with their miniscule promotional muscle.
You’d have thought that this abortion would have been enough to put Kathy off making records for life, however in the same year as this travesty was released, 1983, she teamed up with Bill Owen (in character as Compo and Nora Batty) to record the dismal Nora Batty’s Stockings for CBS imprint AVM.