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How Norwich's bumbling Mr Pastry charmed the world

PUBLISHED: 10:25 09 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:43 09 June 2018

Mr Pastry and Dickie Henderson opening Hoveton fete in July 1966. Picture: Archant library

Mr Pastry and Dickie Henderson opening Hoveton fete in July 1966. Picture: Archant library

Archant

It was 110 years when a baby boy was born in Norwich who grew up to become the first-ever worldwide television star and was very nearly Doctor Who. Derek James pays tribute to Richard Hearne.

The plaque to Richard Hearne ('Mr Pastry') on the wall of the Theatre Royal.The plaque to Richard Hearne ('Mr Pastry') on the wall of the Theatre Royal.

He was known as Papa Gateau in France,

Mr Sugar Tart in Germany and in other parts of the world he was the one and only Mr Pastry. A man who made millions laugh by falling over.

Mind you, Mr P was proud to say he had perfected almost 50 different ways of hitting the ground.

Those of you who are of a certain age will remember the wonderful and crazy antics of the bumbling character Richard Hearne created.

The bowler hat, the white walrus moustache, the flapping coat tails and glasses, that walk.... he was a glorious eccentric.

And he almost became Doctor Who.

How we, and the rest of the world, loved this talented man of Norwich and we should do more to remember him today.

He appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in America on numerous occasions, watched by tens of millions of people. They loved this bumbling “old” boy from across the Pond.

Yet behind the character he created Richard Hearne was quite a private man with strong beliefs. He was also a hard-working producer and writer.

And he devoted much of his time to raising money for charity, especially swimming pools for children with special needs. He knew how important water for the youngsters.

Thanks to him hundreds of pools were built.

He returned to Norfolk and Suffolk on many occasions, collecting money to help others and was awarded an OBE for his work in 1970.

Richard was born in 1908, the son of Richard and Lily Hearne. They were living at Lady Lane in Norwich which was demolished to make way for the new Central Library in 1962 which later burnt down and was replaced with The Forum.

There was never much doubt over the path his future would take. His parents were “in the business” and his father was an acrobat and clown while his grandfather a groom in Sanger’s Circus.

Aged just six weeks he made his first stage appearance, in his mother’s arms, in a play at the nearby Theatre Royal.

No-one in that audience all those years ago could have realised that this baby would grow up to become a huge star by pretending to be an old man.

Over the years young Richard developed his skills as an acrobat and all-round entertainer: a fine comedian, gymnast and dancer.

He was a part of many shows over the years, throwing himself around the stage, and it was in the mid-1930s that the character of Mr Pastry arrived, in a West End show called Big Boy with larger-than-life Fred Emney.

How the people took this eccentric “old man” to their hearts. They loved him to bits.

Mr Pastry became an international star. He worked for the BBC for 30-odd years. He was the first person to have his own television series - remember his theme tune? (Pop Goes The Weasel).

The Americans fell in love with him after his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1954 and he was asked him time and time again as his international fame spread across the world.

Along with his slapstick TV show, he made almost 20 film, while writing and producing and he always found time to visit schools – I suspect some of you reading this will have seen him – talking to children and also raising money for charity.

He was the subject of This Is Your life, then presented by Eamonn Andrews, in 1959 and he went on to be President of the highly-regarded Lord Taverners charity.

In 1974 the producers of Doctor Who wanted him to take over from Jon Pertwee but it appears Richard insisted on playing the character as Mr Pastry... now that would have made a change! In the end the part went to Tom Baker.

Richard went back to the circus, travelling the country with Chipperfields, before retiring from show business saying he thought it had become all ‘too smutty’.

During the 1970s he was still raising money for charity while running his market garden at his home in Kent where had lived. He died of a heart attack in 1979 leaving a widow Yvonne Ortner and two children.

One of the joys of the internet is that by clicking on his name you can see for yourself the antics of the one and only Mr Pastry.

There is a plaque in his memory outside Norwich Theatre Royal but wouldn’t he make a fine statue?. A reminder of a very funny and generous man.

Thanks for the memories Mr P.

In 1974 the producers of Doctor Who wanted him to take over from Jon Pertwee but it appears Richard insisted on playing the character as Mr Pastry... now that would have made a change!



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