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Church doings on the small screen

19 July 2013

TV writer's life amuses Peggy Woodford

Writing All Gas and Gaiters: Edwin Apps and his wife. From the book reviewed here

Writing All Gas and Gaiters: Edwin Apps and his wife. From the book reviewed here

Pursued by Bishops: The memoirs of Edwin Apps, creator of "All Gas and Gaiters"
Edwin Apps
Durand-Peyroles £17.90

EDWIN APPS, creator with his wife of the popular 1960s TV series All Gas and Gaiters, knew he'd got it right when he received this letter from a Canon Edwards in December 1967: "On this last night of the series All Gas and Gaiters I would like to express deep appreciation . . . it has been so amusing and, if I may say so, so typically Anglican in style and predicament . . ." The series obviously delighted viewers as much as the recent series Rev.

Apps (the name was originally Flemish) wasn't a churchgoer, but he had observed the clergy at close hand at school. He was born in 1931 into a family of auctioneers and hop-farmers in East Kent. A family break-up led to his being sent to the Clergy Orphan School in 1940. Evacuated to a luxury hotel on the Cornish coast, he trained falcons, and learnt Latin in a cocktail bar. At the age of 17, he joined a weekly repertory company in the north of England; reluctant National Service followed, and then the Central School of Drama.

During the 1950s and '60s, Edwin Apps was a familiar face in repertory theatre, before he became known on British television. His account of playing in rep throughout Britain makes this book an excellent record of the time before the spread of TV, when local theatres flourished. Apps's memory is exceptional - his descriptions flow, and one blinks with surprise at the famous people he met, and who were part of his working life.

The 1949 Canterbury Festival had him making angels' wings with Dorothy Sayers, and rescuing her from a bomb crater after a festive evening. One of his landladies was Iris Murdoch's mother - her daughter's novels clearly embarrassed her, he says. Glenda Jackson was a good friend of Apps and his wife; and he also knew Peter Hall, Maggie Smith, Billie Whitelaw, Frankie Howerd, Harry Worth, and Kenneth Tynan. (I loved the limerick by a fellow actor: "There once was a critic called Ken, Who wrote with a class-conscious pen. To the plays that were 'U' He gave nought out of two, To the rest he gave nought out of ten.")

It is a fast-moving, humorous book, supported by a wealth of contemporary letters and 70 black-and-white photos. Perhaps the book's only fault is the breathless pace of the narrative: one scene gallops after another.

Edwin Apps gave up acting in his 40s, and with his wife left England to become a full-time painter, living permanently in France. He says he often paints bishops - the book's vivid jacket is by Apps himself, and shows him fleeing from several mitred figures.

Peggy Woodford is a novelist. 

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