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Saturday, July 9, 2016


(Peter Gardner & Frank Graham in “Tin Hat Frolics”)

Peter Gardner was my friend and one-time agent for decades. I think I first met him in the 70s but cannot be sure I remember when.

Peter, I thought, was a quiet soul with a very serious, intuitive side to him - but he did love a good laugh. And we all know about the laugh! He was the only person I ever knew who could laugh backwards, by which I mean he inhaled rather than the other way about. But when you were performing to a sticky audience, you always wanted him to be present because that bray was infectious!

However, I never enjoyed it more than the day it reverberated the length and breadth of The Pavilion. We had bumped into each other in a tobacconist’s, he buying tobacco for his pipe, and I cigarettes. I looked at the rough-arsed little bag in which his shag was packaged and pointed out what was printed at the bottom: “Are you pregnant?”  We roared! Well, I did. Pete brayed! Hysteria reigned ...

Others have spoken of his career in theatre and I was surprised to realise how little I knew of this. I only remember his appearing in a dramatisation of Spike Milligan’s Puckoon, and how I roared with delight when he first came on stage. He looked exactly like my visualisation of Major Dennis Bloodnok from The Goon Show!

We worked together in Hamlet (1994) and Fiddler on the Roof (1996). The Director of the latter was David Mathieson who became increasingly waspish and thoroughly objectionable, ranting and raving at the younger members of the cast for their incompetence. I admit that I didn’t have the guts to put a stop to this - but Peter did, with a quiet menace that left our Director‘s passion much diminished. I took my hat off to Peter for that.

We also appeared together in 2002 in Tin Hat Frolics which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Memorial Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) organisation. The show was directed by Peter’s wife Caroline Smart and as you can see by the photograph, we had loads of fun with our characters!

I’ll never forget the wonderful booze-cruises on the bay aboard his 38ft yacht Sirius. Sublime times, except when a young girl who had been entrusted with the wheel ran us aground at 11.30pm. Durban Radio was not prepared to send somebody to haul us off the sandbank and it looked as if we might have to spend the night there. Let me add: it was bloody freezing by this time. But Pete’s expertise came to the fore and we rocked the yacht off. Brilliant.

One last thing I admired Peter hugely for: he was not afraid of hard work. I don’t think the man had an idle hair on his head. Caroline is exactly the same. What a team those two made. RIP my friend, and heartfelt condolences to Caroline. – Frank Graham