Peter Skellern, R.I.P.


I hadn’t seen the news myself, but as I write, Graham Norton has just informed me of the death, yesterday, of the singer and occasional actor, Peter Skellern. In tribute, he has just played Skellern’s delicately beautiful arrangement of the standard ‘The way you look tonight’. Skellern was 69, and had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer four months ago.

Yes, that tribute track was beautiful, and as an occasional thing, I can enjoy such music, though it is my parents’ music. Typically of Skellern, the arrangement was a combination of his piano and a muted brass band, the style of his unexpected massive hit in 1972, the no. 3 single, ‘You’re a Lady’. It’s not my style, and it certainly wasn’t in 1972, though I absolutely loved his only other chart single, 1975’s ‘Hold on to Love’, a soul-tinged ballad that avoided being contemporary without sounding in the slightest archaic.

But Peter Skellern has a place in my estimation for his acting career, as Peter Tinniswood’s creation, Carter Brandon. He didn’t appear in any of the I Didn’t Know You Cared sitcoms, and the only credit as Carter in his Wikipedia entry is for the Radio 4 series, Uncle Mort’s North Country (which I have today learned was produced by another of my favourites, Pete Atkin, the singer).

But Skellern went on to play the part on television in an odd, short, documentary series entitled Tinniswood’s North Country. This featured Peter Tinniswood himself, visiting various parts of the North and reminiscing about his connection with them. There was a one-off programme, which I think was simply called Tinniswood Country, that was primarily autobiographical, and then a series of three in which he toured the North, looking at how it had changed.

Tinniswood appeared on screen but never  spoke, except in voiceovers. But the series’ ‘gimmick’ was that on his tours, he took his creations with him, Carter and Pat Brandon, played by Skellern and Liz Fielding. Tinniswood would sit in the back seat on an open-topped touring car, his pipe in his mouth, his cravat blowing in the wind, forever silent whilst, in the front seats, Carter and Pat would argue, surreptitiously, about who he was, what he was doing there and what this was all about.

As Carter, Skellern was a bit blander, softer, smoother, but then again he was playing an older Carter, and his gentle Lancastrian tones seemed suited to the part. This was a Carter we never really got to see otherwise, without the shadow of his Uncle Mort, a bit settled, a bit staid, a bit more accepting of Pat’s obsessions with the better life she would never have fitted.

I videoed the series, and may still have the VHS tape somewhere. If I can find it – and there may be a couple of things on VHS that’ll never appear on commercially available DVDs that I want to see again, including that episode of The Home Front – I shall have it converted, and enjoy Peter Skellern’s performance once more.

Another good guy gone. For Carter Brandon, and for this, I shall remember him.

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