Doris Hare just can’t keep off the buses 

19 September 2017

On television she plays the Mum to Reg Varney’s bus driver extraordinary in On the Buses.
In real life her idea of heaven is to travel on a No. 30 London bus from Putney to Baker Street

From the TVTimes for 9-15 October 1971

Nöel Coward, cigarette holder jutting at a Terry-Thomas angle, stood at the back of the dress circle in the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, and joined in the applause for the slim little girl who had brought the house down, singing Mad About the Boy.

It was the first night of a pre-London tryout of his own musical, Words and Music, presented by the reigning impresario, Charles B. Cochran. The year was 1932.

In minutes, the unknown girl — who possessed that throat-catching sadness of Edith Piaf and the elegance of Gertrude Lawrence — stumbled falteringly into the opening bars of Three White Feathers. Coward, against his better judgment, had written the song for her. And, in that moment, he sensed disaster. He realised this untried beginner obviously had not the range to put across the sophisticated nuances of the cockney pawnbroker’s daughter who has married into the peerage, and now, in oyster satin and with ostrich feathers in her hair, is presented at Court:

Today it’s three white feathers,
And only yesterday it was three brass balls.

But the Master was wrong. The audience were on their feet, clamouring “Encore.” The unknown girl had stopped the show.

In his curtain-speech, Coward introduced her and her shy young male partner as “My two unknown discoveries … John Mills and — Doris Hare.”

Now, nearly 40 years later, through television and films, the world knows the “unknown” Miss Hare as Stan Butler’s Mum in On the Buses.

Doris is grateful for that first-night chance which was the turning point in her career, taking her to stardom in London’s West End and Broadway.

So, also, was Nöel Coward. In 1944, when Doris’s first child, Susan, was born, he became her godfather.

But before overnight fame in Words and Music, it had been a hard struggle.

Doris’s parents and grandparents were in showbusiness. Like the character played by Judy Garland in A Star is Born, Doris was almost literally “born in a trunk.”

“My two unknown discoveries… John Mills and Doris Hare.” The girl about to light up is Steffi Duna

She is the epitome of what is meant in showbusiness as a “trouper”.

She made her first stage appearance when only 21 days old, as Eliza’s baby in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her first speaking part came at three, in Queen’s Evidence.

The explanation is that her parents ran a portable theatre in South Wales — known in Scotland and other parts as a Penny Geggie.

Doris grew up with no schooling.

“I regret this very much, and for years I had an enormous chip on my shoulder. Because of my ear for accurate impersonations, I can get by jabbering French or Italian phrases, but I haven’t the remotest idea of grammar. I don’t yet know the difference between a noun and a pronoun.

“I wish I understood music; for, although I have true pitch, I can’t read a note. That still saddens me occasionally.”

With the start of World War Two, Doris Hare went into a radio series, Shipmates Ashore, and suddenly became a household name.

But there were two much more important events in her wartime life. First, at a party during a blitz on Bristol, she met Dr. John Fraser Roberts, a geneticist. Three months later, she married him. And, on March 15 this year, she celebrated “30 marvellous years with the most super man.”

During the five and a half years that Shipmates Ashore ran, Doris had her two daughters — Susan (now married, with her own children, James, seven; and Sophie, four), and Catherine.

The second thrill came when, for her war work, Doris was made an M.B.E.

Characteristically, she pooh-poohs this … “I am much prouder that John, who researches in genetics at Guy’s Hospital, was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.”

Although Doris Hare has appeared in every kind of theatre and television production, from revue and farce to The Saint and No Hiding Place to The Alfred Marks Show and the BBC’s Dixon of Dock Green, she is basically a comedienne.

“I have always been a comic. I moved from broad comedy to sophisticated, elegant performances. Now, with On the Buses, I am back to what I think I am best at.”

She and John have a weekend villa in Chichester. But, when filming, she stays in the Putney flat. And, if you rise early enough, you can spot her travelling daily to work — by bus.

Almost 40 years on – with Reg Varney – as a mother and son team

“I’ve never learned to drive. I leave that to John. But I really love travelling by ’bus. I get the No. 30 from Putney to Baker Street, then the Underground to the studios at Wembley.

“I keep my ears open. A lot of cockney women are on the early morning buses, and their chatter helps me to keep my accent and mannerisms up to scratch.

“I confess to being flattered when they come up and say, ‘I just said to my friend ’ere, I was sure it was Mrs. Butler. ’Ow are you, love?’ I feel sure they enjoy identifying with me. It is very human and warming.

“Call me old-fashioned, if you like. It may be a generation thing. For instance, I love champagne. It is the only drink for an occasion. I also try to dress in the right clothes. I love parties, and dancing my feet off.”

Doris still retains her working-class attitude to money.

“I know what it is like to appear in shows that open and close in the same week, and to be out of work for six months.

“That’s why I have always dreaded old age with no money at all. And, as one gets older, I think that money becomes more important. It’s so comforting to be able to afford that odd bottle of whisky in the sideboard, and offer a drink to your friends.”

What advice would Doris give to young people in showbusiness?

“Simple. Work hard. A real pro. never gives up; he just keeps on working. That is the secret of being happy.

“But you must always be prepared to give of yourself. In our family, we were brought up to share, and we still do.

“But, however important I considered my work, my marriage always came first. That is why we have been happily married for 30 years.

“I have no false notions about any talent I may or may not have. I think I’d sum it up by saying that the quality I’ve been most grateful for is that I have always been able to make people laugh.”

Doris Hare MBE was born in Wales in 1905 and died in Denville Hall in 2000, aged 95. She and her husband were divorced in 1973.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Paul Mason 22 September 2017 at 1:50 am

The first “Mum” in ,”On The Buses” was Cicely Courtinedge (spelling maybe wrong). Oddly enough episode with CC in were never repeated during the 1970s.
Sadly Anna Karen (Olive) is the only survivor of the main cast.

Lindley 15 May 2018 at 5:49 pm

I love on the busses still witch it on ITV 3 every day the best

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