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"Wayne was a character of fiction. Gary was very real. I think what Gary put into the character of Wayne, was a lot of his cockiness; by that I mean conceit. It was the way he carried himself. It was this "Jack-the-lad" swagger. Gary Holton was like that, and he took that into Wayne as well. I suppose, to a degree, there was a lot of Gary in the character."​

John Harwood-Bee

If you think back to television programmes in the 1980s there's not too much to get excited about, and if you were one of those 10,806,000 viewers who tuned into ITV on Friday 11 November 1983 at 9pm then you would've been forgiven if you thought Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was a German language programme.

The idea of three Geordies, an ex-pyromaniac Liverpudlian, the UK's most boring Brummy, an ageing Bristolian wrestler and a Cockney chippie, all being played by largely unknown actors, didn't exactly conjure ideas of a smash hit programme. However the outstanding characterisation and brilliant storylines written by La Franais and Clement and the interplay between the actors on-set proved Auf Wiedersehen Pet was a classic in the making.

​​Gary Holton was Casanova Wayne Norris, Tim Healy played the anchorman Dennis Patterson, Timothy Spall played boring Barry Taylor, Jimmy Nail played "Oz" Osbourne, Pat Roach was ex-wrestler Bomber Busbridge, Christopher Fairbank was Moxey and Kevin Whately played the forever hen-pecked Neville Hope. Little did they know at the time, but la Frenais and Clement had just created not only the most famous comedy/drama of the 1980's, but a programme that would be a landmark for British television. Thirteen episodes of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet were commissioned which allowed enough time for both the storyline and the audience to build.

Script writers Ian la Frenais and Dick Clement created the hilarious "Barry Taylor" character for Timothy Spall. "When I got the scripts" explained Timothy "I read them carefully, Barry didn't really come until the end of the first episode. He's kind of sketched into it for the first three or four. It concentrated mainly on the Geordie characters. I didn't want to be a minor character, you know? Because I could see that it was very interesting writing and that they were doing a very nice job of making it an ensemble piece. But of course it concentrated mainly on Dennis, Neville and Oz because it took them from Newcastle to Germany. What was really interesting about the character to me wasn't the fact that he was from Birmingham in particular, or that he was a motorbike enthusiast, although the two things were immediately striking. It was more the fact that everyone called him "boring Barry". He was actually a person from a slightly different class to the rest of them. More of a lower middle class character in a sense. He was more of a "Blue Peter" character, one of the quintessential "anoraks" although he had a leather coat! There was a kind of innocence and sensitivity to him that I think was possibly always there." Barry was known as a "Radish", so where did that term come from? "I don't know who brought that up," remembered Gary "what we used to do was sit round and have discussions and different words and suggestions came from there.".

One of the lesser-known actors was RADA trained Christopher Fairbank. "I desperately needed to work, in order to prove to myself that I was still employable". explained Christopher. Auf Pet co-star Kevin Whately tipped off Christopher about the forthcoming programme and he was invited along for an interview with Martin McKeand, Roger Bamford and Dick Clement. One look at the scripts told Christopher that there wasn't much to work with as his character "Moxey" had been created for a musician friend of Ian La Frenais' who lacked acting experience. "Dick told me they weren't sure about Moxey's character. They didn't have too much of an idea about who he was, other than they thought it might be good if he was a bit sickly and always had a cold, not what you imagine a builder to be. He said to me "Have any thoughts?" I said, "From what I've heard, you've three Geordies, a Brummie, a Cockney, a West Country character...how about a Scouser? I lived there when I was a teenager for a couple of years. I could give you a bit of Liverpool" Dick said "Yeah, give us a bit of that. We're thinking Irish but Liverpool sounds OK." "It was at the interview that Dick came up with Moxey's first punchline. They thought he would come in with a dartboard, which is basically how he gets into the hut. But Dick said: "Actually a good line would be if he said, "But I haven't got any darts." stick that in at the end." So I read it and that was it."

 

 

​So had Gary ever been a Chippie like "Wayne"? "No, never." remembered Gary. "Before we started working on the series we all had to go on a three week basic training course, to learn how to do carpentry and bricklaying so we would look like we knew what we were doing...I found the course really boring...". So were the blue streaks in Wayne's hair just for the programme? "Yes, originally they wanted the character to have green hair, but I thought I ain't havin' none of that!". Brick by brick, the back lot of Elstree Studios was turned into a Dusseldorf building site, the cameras rolled and the nine month shoot started in the August of 1982. The actors' home for that time would be the infamous "Hut B". Shortly before his untimely death in 2004, Pat Roach remembered filming in the hut: "We always used to film on Friday evening, which if you can imagine, was the time when everyone was about to commute back from London. When we were in the hut all we could hear were trains and aeroplanes. If you ever had to force your heart and your nerves, and dare I say you sinews, not to scream! Because you were doing your lines, and thinking to yourself; it's my turn to do the dialogue now. Have all those trains gone or shall I hold off against the next one? but then, if nothing comes, it's a waste of time. So you have to to have the will to go on. You'd be saying, "I phoned home this morning and spoke to Beth" and you'd hear this chug-chug-chug of the train. You'd continue, "Beth was quite upset"...and your eyes are gone. You wait for the Director to say: "Sound interference - cut!" So while you're doing it, you've stopped believing in what you're talking about. Then all of a sudden an aircraft's taking off when you're trying to deliver the same lines!"

Filming in the hut caused problems and according to Tim Healy: "There'd be sand in between your toes and sand in the bed. We said "At the end of this series we're going to burn this bastard down" because we hated it that much. The writers said "Oh, shall we put that in the script?" So we had an accident in the last episode". Pat Roach remembered: "It seemed to me at the time that it was highly dangerous, and I said, several times: "We've got to be careful here." and sure enough it went wrong". Timothy Spall explained that plans for destroying the hut took a rather dangerous turn during rehearsal. "When they set the device inside the hut to blow it up, it all went wrong. A couple of Special Effects guys and a cameraman had to jump out of the windows! It was very bad, I think Gary was in there too.". Gary was indeed inside the hut, his legs caught light and he was bundled outside. It wasn't the first time Gary was injured on set. He was taken to hospital for treatment after being over-zealously ejected from Hut B into a muddy puddle in the "Love and Other Four Letter Words" episode.

The first series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet ran between 1983 and 1984 with viewing figures steadily rising and topping the 14 million mark, Ian la Frenais and Dick Clement had a huge hit on their hands and they had just written television history. The true-to-life storylines were believable, capturing the reality of honest working men screwed by the system. As for other members of the cast, both Michael Sheard and Peter Birch who were British, played the parts as site managers Herr Grunwald and Herr Ulrich perfectly. Governing the building site in a typical German manner, and having constant run-ins with the British workforce from Hut B. Michael Elphick, who later starred in ITV's "Boon" played hard man McGowan and Caroline Hutchinson played Dennis' estranged wife Vera Patterson.

​In early 1984, and with the show becoming more and more popular, it aroused the interest of the tabloid media. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was appealing to the working class so with stories appearing in The Sun and the Daily Mirror it was excellent promotion. Further proof of the popularity of the show was the theme tune, "That's living alright" sung by Joe Fagan, reaching number three in the chart in January 1984. Timothy Spall noticed the change almost immediately. "I went out one day and I was famous - which was very peculiar." One day whilst sitting in a pub, Timothy was approached by a complete stranger. "I wasn't looking particularly miserable I don't think, but often people tell me to cheer up when I'm perfectly happy. I said to him: "There's no need to be concerned, I'm perfectly happy." But he said, "Cheer up mate, with the money you should be getting you SHOULD be happy!".

After the run of thirteen episodes of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet had finished the British public wanted more. There had to be a second series of the show and in February 1985 filming began on Auf Wiedersehen Pet 2. The cast were no longer unknowns. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was a huge hit and had turned all of the Magnificent Seven into stars in their own right and the pressure to come up with high quality material to match, or even surpass, the original was great. Ian la Frenais and Dick Clement duly obliged and again wrote another thirteen episodes of brilliant comedy/drama.

The story began three years on and the lads from Hut B had each gone their separate ways, and it was left to Barry to reunite the lads with an SOS call to renovate his soon-to-be marital home in Wolverhampton. During the series the magnificent seven completed building work for Dennis' Glaswegian gangster boss, Ally Fraser. Renovating the run-down Thornley Manor in Derbyshire and turning it into an old folks home. They had hilarious scenes with Brian Pringle, who played Arthur Pringle, the surly ex-RAF landlord of the Barley Mow.

 

Filming also took the cast to the hot Mediterranean sunshine when Ally Fraser instructed Dennis and the lads to complete building work on his swimming pool at his luxury villa on the Costa Del Crime in southern Spain, with the Spanish police tracing Fraser's every move. Playing Fraser's girlfriend "Vicki" was 27 year old Lesley St John. Speaking in 1985 Lesley said "Vicki is streetwise though but she doesn't know big words and Ally is always putting her down. I wouldn't stand for that in real life!". It was during Vicki's scenes with Oz that Lesley's real-life partner advised her to wear an extra pair of knickers during the filming of a bedroom scene. "It's a passionate scene if you think that Oz's unshaven chin, string vest and socks are passionate" said Lesley sardonically "I could never strip you can't imagine the trouble they've had even getting me into a bikini. It's my legs I'm worried about...".

Conditions were hardly glamourous during series two. "It was a nightmare!" remembers Tim Healy "We all had to stay white. All the Spanish episodes had been filmed then we had to come back to England to film the scenes that were supposed to have happened before we'd gone. So for six weeks they'd say: "Come inside guys, inside, inside!" We all had hats on. There was only one person who got it wrong, and that was Gary, because poor Gary was going off the rails a bit by then. He just sunbathed and he came back brown, so we had this brown guy in England! Make-up is very difficult to make somebody white that's brown. You can make somebody brown, but if you try it the other way you look like a flour grader!".​

It was towards the end of filming in the Autumn of 1985 that sadly Gary died. After the shoot in Spain had wrapped the cast and crew headed back to the UK. On Thursday 24 October 1985 filming ended in the evening and the cast headed back to their homes. They were due to rehearse scenes in Hammersmith, London the next day and then head back to Central TV in Nottingham on the Sunday to resume filming. All the cast and crew arrived for rehearsal, except for Gary. According to some of his fellow actors this wasn't the first time he'd either been late or failed to show. Roger Bamford used the telephone in the corridor and asked Gary's agent where he was before deciding to start rehearsals with Gary's lines shared between the rest of the cast. Around mid-morning the phone rang, Roger Bamford went to answer it. It was Gary's agent to say that Gary had been found dead in bed at an address in Wembley earlier that morning. Everyone was numb; Gary had been acting with them only days before...now he was dead. As they sat round waiting for Gary to arrive that Friday morning they were cursing his name for leaving them in the lurch. They weren't to know he was dead. Kevin Whately recalled: "The morning Gary died we were all sent home, and I was driving up the motorway thinking the programme was all over. A couple of hours later the producers were saying "We think we can rescue it." It was despiriting to pretend that Gary was off-camera when you knew he'd been dead for a month".

Timothy Spall commented that all the actors were "Exhausted by the pressures of the show and from the untimely death of Gary Holton". "Well" continued Timothy "One sensed that he wasn't happy. His relationship had broken up and he was surrounded by a group of people that nobody really knew: an entourage of people that weren't doing him much good. I never say anything about what other people do, because it's up to them. Gary had a history of drugs and so on, but we all thought he'd got over it, but one did get a general sense of him being lost than really in trouble". Christopher Fairbank recalled: "There were lots of scenes which should have been with all seven of us, which turned into two or three handers, to try not to make his absence more notable, by having the rest of us in the scene and not him". Jimmy Nail recalled: "If you saw the "double" from behind, with his wig on, it was easy to imagine it was Gary".​

In many ways Gary was inseparable from the fictitious Wayne and it said a great deal for the loyalty the cast members had developed for each other that a further series, tentatively to be set in Russia renovating the British Embassy, was never made. It just wouldn't have been the same without Gary, or Wayne...however in February 1988 it was reported that a long-awaited third series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was rolling into production and the filming of six brand new episodes was going to begin in the July. Speaking at the time, Kevin Whately said "We are all keen to do it. I imagine that the storyline will start off in Newcastle then go somewhere exotic.". However, the plans came to naught and it was fifteen years after Gary's death in 2000 that the news broke that Jimmy Nail was in talks with the BBC to resurrect the show. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet 3 hit our screens in April 2002 with Gary's character being taken over by new recruit Noel Clarke who played Wayne's son "Wyman". Wyman joined the magnificent seven with the news of his Father's passing from heart defect, so it was left to Wyman to fill the shoes of the Don Juan of Tilbury.

​As for Gary, he gave us the brilliant portrayal of cockney Casanova Wayne Norris and it was also a legacy for which he will never be forgotten by Auf Wiedersehen, Pet fans.

 

Dedicated to keeping Gary Holton's memory alive since 2003.