Lance Percival was an actor and revue performer known for his ‘instant calypso’ on TW3 and appearances in British comic films
Lance Percival, the comedian and singer who has died aged 81, was a regular cast member of Britain’s first topical satire show, That Was The Week That Was, and a stalwart over many years of British comedy caper movies.
TW3’s deviser Ned Sherrin plucked Percival from playing guitar at the Blue Angel Club in Mayfair, and during the show’s brief but hugely successful outing on the BBC in 1962-63, Percival featured in political sketches and performed a regular “instant calypso” inspired by the week’s events — in the manner of the West Indian singer Cy Grant.
Gangly, with an expressive, snaggle-toothed face and a good line in funny voices, Percival was the Tory leader Sir Alec Douglas-Home to Willy Rushton’s Harold Macmillan. He was also memorable as a civil servant detecting sexual innuendoes in bureaucratese in a 1963 sketch spoofing the controversy over the junior minister Tam Galbraith beginning a letter to the mandarin John Vassall (whose homosexuality had been used to blackmail him into spying for the Soviet Union) with the words “My Dear Vassall”.
In his calypso slot Percival would ask audience members to suggest possible subjects and would then launch into improvised topical calypsos, of which one, Shame and Scandal in the Family, an updated version of a calypso standard, reached No 37 in the charts in 1965.
Percival recorded several other novelty songs with George Martin at Parlophone, including The Beetroot Song (“If you like beetroot I’ll be true to you”, 1963) and The Maharajah of Brum (1967).
After TW3’s demise, two of the show’s writers, Peter Tinniswood and David Nobbs, created an unsuccessful television sitcom for Percival, Lance at Large (1964). More successfully, The Lance Percival Show, a sketch-variety format, ran for two series on BBC One (1965-66).
But Percival mainly became known as a jobbing actor on television and in film comedies such as Carry On Cruising (1962), into which he was drafted at the last moment to play a bilious ship’s cook by its penny-pinching producer, Peter Rogers, after Carry On regular Charles Hawtrey had the temerity to ask for a pay rise. Later Percival appeared in the Frankie Howerd vehicles Up Pompeii! (1971), Up the Chastity Belt (1971) and Up the Front (1972).
John Lancelot Blades Percival was born at Sevenoaks, Kent, on July 26 1933. His parents sent him to Sherborne, where he became interested in music. He entered show business with a calypso group, and by the 1950s was performing in London clubs and on television shows. In 1960 he starred with Kenneth Williams and Sheila Hancock in Peter Cook’s stage revue One Over the Eight (for which he was understudied by Ken Loach).
He had made his (uncredited) screen debut in Three Men in a Boat in 1956, and went on to appear in more than 30 films. He had cameo roles in The V.I.P.s in 1963 and The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964). In 1970 he appeared alongside Julie Andrews in the musical film Darling Lili and in There’s a Girl in My Soup, starring Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn.
He provided the voice of both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the 1965 television cartoon series The Beatles, and that of the character “Old Fred” in the Beatles’ animated film Yellow Submarine (1968).
In late 1970, however, Percival was involved in a bad car accident in which he nearly lost his sight in one eye. Despite this, he appeared in several more films, including the Up Pompeii! series and similar British comedies of the period, among them Our Miss Fred (1972) with Danny La Rue, and Confessions from a Holiday Camp (1977).
He made a variety of television appearances both as an actor and personality, including in the series Up the Workers (1974-76); The Kenneth Williams Show (1976); and Noel’s House Party in the 1990s. On Radio 4 he was a regular panellist on Ian Messiter’s Many a Slip in the 1960s, and on Just a Minute in the 1980s. He also published two books of verse, Well-Versed Dogs (1985) Well-Versed Cats (1986).
Throughout his career, Percival also worked as a scriptwriter, contributing more than 100 episodes to the 1970s Thames Television game show Whodunnit.
In later life he launched a new career as an after-dinner speaker and a writer of humorous speeches for executives. “They always come back for more,” he told a friend. “They have to maintain their reputation as wits.”
Lance Percival was married but divorced, and is survived by a son.
Lance Percival, born July 26 1933, died January 6 2015
© Telegraph 9 January 2015