About Alfie Bass
<Times July 18, 1987>
ALFIE BASS: Comedy and pathos on stage and television
Alfie Bass, actor, who died yesterday at the age of 66, used his irrepressible Cockney Jewish talent to establish a range of stage and television characters over the years.
These included an Army private in "Bootsie and Snudge" (with Bill Fraser) on television, Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon and, later, Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof."
Very small, immensely likeable, and prepared for any demand of comedy or pathos, he was prized by directors who recognised his thorough appreciation of any part.
He had the good luck to begin his professional career backed by much experience in the kind of amateur work that called for a quick wit as well as communicated enjoyment; he had always something of two of the parts he played at Stratford during Barry Jackson's last year as administrator: Launcelot Gobbo and Grumio.
Alfie Bass was born at Bethnal Green in the East End of London on April 8, 1921, the youngest of ten children and whose parents had fled the jewish persecution in Russia. After elementary school, he began his working life as a cabinetmaker - his father's trade.
Although he had engaged in the local boys' club dramatics for a few years, his first professional chance came in 1939 at the amateur Unity Theatre, Kings Cross, as Izzie in "Plant in the Sun", with Paul Robeson. He often went to union meetings with an old shop steward friend - an experience which, along with the struggles of his youth, nurtured in him an abiding loyalty to and admiration for his own class.
He was also active in events outside the theatre - such as the historic battle in Cable Street when Mosley's fascists were stopped from marching through the East End.
Rejected by the RAF at the outbreak of war, he worked in an engineering factory and continued at the Unity.
In 1943 he was most warmly recognized in the title role of Ted Willis's play, "Buster", at the Arts Theatre Club; and from this he took over the part of Cohen in James Bridie's "Mr Bolfry" (Playhouse, 1943, opposite Alistair Sim) from which he is still remembered as a Cockney soldier giving his candid opinion of the Highland weather.
Called up into the Middlesex Regiment as a despatch rider, he maintained his interest in acting by appearing in concert party work and parts in Army Film Unit documentaries.
After the war his parts included Abel Drugger in Johnson's "The Alchemist" (Liverpool Playhouse, 1945) and Og, the leprechaun, in the American musical "Finian's Rainbow" (Palace, 1947). In the following season he had a splendidly received sequence of parts at Stratford-upon-Avon, including Grumio, Autolycus and Launcelot.
Later, at the Embassy (1953), he did a good deal of work in Wolf Mankowitz's brief Jewish fantasy, "The Bespoke Overcoat". In this he was the kindly ghost who returned to get an overcoat from the man who had "sweated" him to death.
He was in the transient "Punch Review" at the Duke of York's in 1955, but much of his time was now taken up with filming and television work.
It was his television roles which made him a household name - first, in "The Army Game" and, afterwards, in the successful spin-off, "Bootsie and Snudge" (Bass was Bootsie), with his catchphrase "never mind, eh?"
"Bootsie and Snudge", which had a massive faithful following, made an impressive start and added something new to television comedy. But the longer it went on the more the inventiveness and the sparkle evaporated.
Then, in 1968 he had a notable stage chance which he took bouyantly at Her Majesty's - succeeding Topol in the complex role of the milkman Tevye in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof". He used his full technique in various ways as Eccles in a revival of Robertson's "Caste" at Greenwich (1972) and, afterwards, in a couple of London Palladium pantomimes.
Among his films were "The Lavender Hill Mob", "The Bespoke Overcoat", "Alfie" (opposite Michael Caine) and "Up the Junction". A long list of his television appearances included also "Till Death Do Us Part", "Robin Hood", "Are You Being Served?" and Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
Bass was meticulous in the attention he gave to his work, and he was much more than a slapstick comedian. He maintained an active concern with social and political issues, and did charitable work for boys' clubs and spastic children.
He is survived by his wife, Beryl, and their son and daughter.