Meet Mr Pastry 

1 May 2017

From The Television Annual for 1955, published by Odhams Press

Mr Pastry visits the children in a London hospital. Nobody could be a finer tonic for them!

Altogether, Richard Hearne has appeared on television scores of times. He started in the palmy days of Alexandra Palace, and has gone right on. “One of the tragedies of life is how soon we forget,” he says. “There’s a popular idea around that TV started up after the last war. This is not so. I made my first TV appearance in 1936, at Ally Pally, on what was then called the Baird system.

“Who now remembers? Who now reveres the name of Baird, as I did then? John Logie Baird gave to us artists the means of playing to a nation sitting at home. He was TV’s prime inventor. He died too soon, and never saw the real fruits of his pioneering.”

When the BBC service started at Alexandra Palace, Richard Hearne recalled, the Baird system of transmission was run alternately with the E.M.I. system. For Richard the thrill, and part of the satisfaction, of the Baird system was that the performance was filmed and then, ninety seconds later, transmitted. So at the end of his act he was able to run down a corridor and see himself as he had been seconds before, going out to the viewers!

In those days Richard Hearne was appearing with Leslie Henson at the Strand and Gaiety Theatres. He introduced into TV various acts of his own devising, such as Take Two Eggs, Shifting the Piano, Mending a Window and The Handy Man. Sound radio’s Gershom Parkington Quartette was fresh in the public’s memory, and in 1937 Richard televised, with Leslie Henson and Fred Emney, an act called The Worse than Narkington Quartette.

Henson had the ’cello, Emney the piano, Selma Orneal an accordion, and Richard Hearne a sousaphone. “Fred and I repeated this act recently,” says Richard, “after eighteen years — and with great success. A really good comedy act never dates.”

To his TV work he brought an early training. “I started in the circus, where I was appearing with my father and mother, when I was eight. In those days people had to go out to laugh. Now the comics are brought to their homes. But what a worry it all is —
especially to those in charge at the BBC. They have all my sympathy.

“I’mm certain that nothing can kill off a comic’s material quicker than appearing in TV. Half a dozen appearances may suck all his ingenuity dry. And it is dangerous to repeat it. What is the answer? I don’t know. I hope it is having plenty of material, and certainly having plenty of experience before trying to emulate somebody doing the same kind of work — whether verbal, slapstick or dancing.

“Then, of course, the great need of TV comedy is for a relaxation of union rules which at present prevent the film recording of shows. Only so can artists who are busy in theatres and film studios find time to rehearse and play in the TV studio. Moreover, a judicious editing of film recordings can remove the flaws, the gags which don’t come off in a live performance.”

Since his early days in TV, Richard Hearne has tried to give viewers the slapstick comedy which has always been a part of the British comedy tradition, but refined — or adapted to the requirements of TV. As he sees it, these requirements are: “Be clean. You are working in somebody’s home. When you are invited to somebody’s home for the first time, you try to be on your best behaviour; so you should every time you appear on TV. It’s your first visit for thousands. Give them something which is self-explanatory. Ape them, if you like, but laugh with them. Make a bigger mess of things than they have ever made themselves.”

His famous “Lancers” act first saw the light of TV in 1939. He first played it in Running Riot at the Gaiety. He readily pays honour to its originator.

“I had seen a comedian called Tom D. Newall do it,” says Richard. “After his death I got permission from his wife to use it and adapt it, and gave Tom the credit as originator. He was a great friend. Other people say it was done even before he did it; I wouldn’t know — that was before I was born.”

Richard Hearne as Mr. Pastry in the television act which is perhaps the most popular of all his performances – “The Lancers.” This act won him great acclaim in the United States in 1954, when he played it in one of America’s biggest TV shows.

Television brought to Richard Hearne one of the greatest thrills in his career when he was invited to do “The Lancers” on TV in the United States, in 1954. He was asked to appear in the Ed Sullivan Show — one of the most fabulously famous of America’s top TV attractions.

America had never seen “The Lancers.” The result was quite beyond his hopes — like a dream. He still says he does not believe it happened. To remind him of it, however, he keeps an article written by Ed Sullivan, who is also a columnist in the States. Instead of any description from his own lips of his American success, Richard Hearne would rather this article were quoted.

Ed Sullivan began his piece with: “To the young in heart of England, who have accepted Mr. Pastry as a symbol of the qualities which they most enjoy, it should be spelled out that on the night of Sunday, March 21, 1954, forty million Americans in all walks of life met him on their TV screens and hailed his ‘Lancers’ pantomime as high art…

“No British performer ever has scored the tremendous hit achieved by Richard Hearne on American national TV. The writer of this tribute is an American newspaperman. He wears second hat as producer and master of ceremonies of TV’s Toast of the Town, on which Mr. Pastry appeared.

“On this show I have used many English stars; Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer, Audrey Hepburn, James Mason, Beatrice Lillie, Gracie Fields, Sarah Churchill, and others have made their first appearances on American TV on our stage. Norman Wisdom was one of the British comedians I have imported, and Norman Evans another. All of them won tremendous American acclaim.

“But there was something about Mr. Pastry, the determined enthusiasm of his dancing with an imaginary partner, that really charmed the U.S., while tickling its funnybone. American newspapers gave him ecstatic notices. Sid Shalit, writing in the New York Daily News, greatest circulation in the U.S., summed it up: You missed a very great talent, a very great talent, if you failed to catch Richard Hearne, the English comedian, on the Ed Sullivan show last Sunday. His pantomime in his hilarious Lancers’ dance was wonderful. Let’s see more of him’.”

“I want this engine to get me to the coast!” says Mr. Pastry, before travelling to the Continent from Victoria Station. He was on his way to Switzerland, where he made a series of comedy films for children’s TV programmes. As popular with kiddies as with adults, Richard Hearne has become a British TV institution.

The Ed Sullivan article goes on: “When I first saw Mr. Pastry in the Christmas pantomime show at London Palladium, it seemed to me that American audiences would enjoy him just as greatly as we did. He and I both wondered whether ‘The Lancers,’ taken out of context, would register with an audience in a country three thousand miles away. It seemed to me worth the gamble. And the gamble became a great coup, because of the artistry of Richard Hearne.

“I’m bringing him back to America for three more TV shows. This time, I’m hopeful he will bring along the wife and two daughters to whom he referred over the CBS-TV coast-to-coast network. He said he felt lonely without them looking. We don’t want Mr. Pastry to feel lonely, and I’m sure that he doesn’t feel that way now that cab drivers, elevator operators, hotel clerks and policemen hail him as he walks along our streets.

“In other words, Mr. Pastry found that America also has millions of the young in heart. And they want him to come back …”

What is Mr. Pastry doing to Jack Warner? There is possibly more in the cards than meets the eye! The camera caught a bit of Richard Hearne’s nonsense during a TV rehearsal.

Richard Lewis Hearne was born into a theatrical family on 30 January 1908 in Norwich. He trained as an acrobat and developed the slapstick Mr Pastry act in rep in the music halls. The character was an almost instant hit on the fledgling television service; Hearne remained loyal to the BBC for the rest of his life. He was appointed OBE in 1970 and, possibly apocryphally, was offer the lead role in Doctor Who in 1974 but lost the opportunity when he stated he planned to play the character as Mr Pastry. He died on 23 August 1979 at the age of 71 in Kent.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Paul Mason 2 May 2017 at 5:20 am

I have no particular memory of Mr Pastry other than having seen him as a child in the late 1960s.

Paul Mason 2 May 2017 at 5:28 am

I forgot to add, regarding John Logie Baird, even though his version of TV transmission was rejected, his name was on manufactured sets. We had three Baird TVs over 20 years ( try getting an average seven years from a flatscreen! ). Obviously the TVs didn’t use his system.

Alan Keeling 2 May 2017 at 11:34 pm

Nobody could dance “The Lancers” quite like Mr Pastry, Richard Hearne also had a serious acting role in the 1951 feature film, Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. starring as Hornblower’s batman, Polwheal.

Roy and Maureen Hollister. 4 October 2017 at 4:53 pm

We are planning to have a Blue Plaque from the British Comedy Society erected on the home in Platt, where Richard Hearne lived for many years. We have also tidied up his grave and have left fresh flowers.

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