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The Late Frank Thornton – The Thurles Connection

The much loved comedy actor Frank Thornton who died, aged 92, on March 16th last at his home in Barnes London, will possibly be best remembered as the impeccably tailored Captain Peacock, who played the store supervisor role, in the 12 year running BBC Television sitcom “Are You Being Served?,” which began in 1973.

Frank was born Frank Thornton Ball at Dulwich, South London, on January 15th 1921 and was educated at Alleyn’s Church of England School. He worked as an insurance clerk for a short time, before discovering his passion for comedy & all things theatre.

I wonder how many people living in Thurles today can remember back to 1940, when on leaving the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA,) Frank made his professional début, aged 19, in the still standing, old Confraternity Hall (Formally Thurles Jail,) here in Thurles, in Co Tipperary.

In the Thurles Confraternity Hall, back then, he took on the actor’s profile of the hearty, extravagant ‘Brian Curtis,’ in the dramatist, Terence Rattigan’s play “French Without Tears,” and later honed his craft, touring with this and other plays around the small towns and village halls in the then Irish “Fit-Up” tradition. The “Fit-Ups,” were the travelling shows that went from town to town around Ireland, and were so-called because the actors literally transformed or fitted up each town hall they visited, from the arranging of the seating to the organising of lighting and sometimes even building the stage.

A year later, back in London, he joined Donald Wolfit’s Shakespearean company during its first West End wartime season, playing Fenton and Bardolph in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and toured as Dewhurst in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Laertes in “Hamlet,” and Lysander in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Actor John Gielgud engaged him for two small parts in his revival of “Macbeth,” staged in Piccadilly, in 1942.

Frank later enlisted in the RAF and trained as a navigator in Canada, returning in January 1945 to complete his operational training. However the war finished before he could join a squadron, so in the summer of 1945 he joined the RAF Entertainment Unit and was later discharged in 1947, holding the rank of flying officer.

Returning to the theatre Frank began to appear regularly in many successful plays and would make more than 50 films, included among them “Crooks and Coronets,” (1968); Spike Milligan’s “The Bed-Sitting Room,” (1969); “No Sex Please We’re British (1973); “The Three Musketeers,” (1973); “Steptoe and Son,” (1974); “The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones,” (1975); and “Gosford Park,” (2001).

He also appeared alongside comedy television greats such as Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd, Harry Worth, Reg Varney, John Cleese, Spike Milligan, Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett. Imagine the laughter, if you will, taking place in that “divinity that shapes our ends.” (Quote: Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Act 5- Scene2.)

In more recent years Frank twice appeared as the character of ‘Bert Dingle,’ in the popular British soap opera “Emmerdale,” once in March 2000 and again in October 2002.

Other television program appearances included “The Taming of the Shrew,” (1981), “Great Expectations,” (1991), “The Old Curiosity Shop,” (1995) and as the clerk of the court in “All Rise For Julian Clary,” (1996).

Frank’s many interests included wildlife conservation, music and photography and today he is survived by his actress wife Beryl Jane Margaret Evans, whom he married in 1945, & their daughter Jane.

Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.

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