Remembering my old Manchester flatmate, Geoff Hughes.

Geoff Hughes (1944-2012)

It was sad to get the news that an old friend from my television days died this week. The actor Geoff Hughes was well known, at least in the UK, for his television comedy roles – especially Eddie Yates in the long running Granada Television soap opera Coronation Street and then Onslow in the situation comedy series Keeping Up Appearances. He was also the voice of Paul McCartney in the Beatles movie, Magical Mystery Tour. During those Coronation Street days, he was my flatmate whenever he was in Manchester for his role as the irrepressible bin-man, Eddie Yates, in what was, many think, the glory days of that longest running of all British TV soaps.  

Geoff Hughes as Eddie Yates (Coronation Street 1974-1983)

For nearly ten years, Geoff was one of the most famous faces on British television and going out with him socially was often the friendliest of obstacle courses wading through autograph-hunting fans, encouraged by his jovial persona, who came over to talk wherever we went – mostly bars, restaurants and clubs all over the North West of England. “Hey Eddie!” would often cut through quite serious conversations when the two of us were just out for a quiet pint or two. He was, of course, as we the audience often like to forget, just a human being, a very sweet one, who enjoyed his celebrity (and his success) but who also led a normal human existence just like the fans who identified with the jokes and sadnesses of his down-to-earth on-screen character.

I was thinking about my old Granada Television days last year when I went back to Manchester on a rainy weekend visiting some of my old haunts. Geoff was a vivid presence in my early years there.

I had not been to Manchester for a long time and it was even longer since I met up with Geoff who, not wanting to be a one role actor, left the series at the height of his fame and, apart from a single return guest appearance, always turned down offers to rejoin the cast.

This was the house in Stretford where I lived in the first years of my time at Granada. I rented the two top floors and a trombonist with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra lived downstairs often filling my flat, enjoyably, with the glorious sonorities he could produce from that wonderful instrument. I never minded other people’s music as I had an old piano up there in my flat to accompany my enthusiastic operatic, if not always mellifluous singing. Geoff enjoyed singing too and once we even dared to do the tenor/baritone duet from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers in the living room that over-looked an exotic view of the  Stretford tip and the M25 motorway. Well, we enjoyed ourselves and the trombonist never complained.

We shared an enthusiasm for music and, in those Manchester days away from home, he was happy to join me going to rock concerts where we often found ourselves on stage behind the band proudly wearing our back-stage passes. We saw many legendary bands together that way. No cool back-stage crowd was too cool though to shout out “Hey Eddie!”

More often than not and maybe more often than was good for us, we would often prefer to sit up there on that top floor with a bottle of whiskey, a packet of cigarettes, a choice selection of music and some great conversations that lasted well into the night. The World was firmly sorted by the time it came for sleep.

Geoff Hughes as Onslow (Keeping Up Appearances 1990-1995)

Geoff left for other successful TV roles and, as often happens in the mobile world of television, we gradually lost touch and our lives moved on in different directions. I shall however always remember him fondly for those badly-behaved bachelor pad days. He was much too full of life for it to have come to an end so prematurely. It was a crap deal, Geoff.

Here he is in what will probably always be his greatest role, the unforgettable Eddie Yates:

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