Guest Actor Biography
Page 117 of 127


Talfryn Thomas

Eli Barker, A Surfeit of H2O
Fiery Frederick, Look - (stop me if you've heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers...

by Pete Stampede

Buck-toothed, crazed-looking Welshman Talfryn Thomas was in many of the later episodes of Dad's Army (BBC, 1968-77) as a war correspondent called Private Cheeseman. Known inside the business as "Talf the Teeth," he was an expert scene-stealer; as Cheeseman, he still managed to grab attention when sharing the screen with Arthur Lowe, John LeMesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie and Arnold Ridley. He also wore the distinctive granny-glasses that he sported in nearly all his roles, except, for some reason, in his two Avengers appearances. Cheeseman became a regular character from the show's 1974 run on, in an attempt to fill the gap left by the sudden, early death of James Beck, who played the slightly shifty Private Walker right from the show's start. (The truly tragic aspect of Beck's death was that he was barely in his early 40s, and therefore predeceased the rest of the veteran cast, all of whom were older than he was.)

The diminutive, whiny-voiced Thomas was also well-known as a support act to another fearsome set of gnashers, Ken Dodd, who certainly has his fans, but does tend to let sentimentality intrude into his comedy a lot (especially when singing). Apart from Dodd's radio shows, usually recorded at the BBC's studios in Manchester, Thomas was an on-screen regular in Ken Dodd In 'Funny You Should Say That' (ATV, 1972), The Ken Dodd Laughter Show (Thames, 1979), and two specials, with the same title but for different networks, The Ken Dodd Show (LWT, 1969 and BBC, 1978). He also supported in two Welsh-set episodes of Ronnie Barker's multi-character anthology shows: The Ronnie Barker Playhouse, "Tennyson" (Rediffusion, 1968), written by playwright Alun Owen, with Barker as a terrible poet called Tennyson the Tonsil; and Seven Of One, "I'll Fly You For a Quid" (BBC, 1973), with Ronnie B. doubling up as a gambling-crazed oldie and his grasping son. Thomas was then a regular in a children's sitcom, Tottering Towers (Thames, 1971-72), as an inept villain called Prayer-Book Perce.

He was usually on hand for any show supposedly set in Wales: The Saint, "The House on Dragon's Rock" (ATV/ITC, 1966), also guesting Annette André, and Doctor Who, "The Green Death" (BBC, 1973), in both falling victim to monstrous forces down the mines. Another Who appearance was in Jon Pertwee's debut story (and the first in colour), "Spearhead From Space" (1970), as a sneaky hospital janitor who alerts the media to the strange goings-on following the Doctor's admittance. Other turns as peripheral, fussy little men came in G.S.5, "The Goldfish Bowl" (ATV, 1964); Adam Adamant Lives!, "The Doomsday Plan" (BBC, 1966) written by Richard Harris, as 'Man with Parcel'; and Budgie, "Everybody Loves a Baby" (LWT, 1971), in a cruelly hilarious scene as a pathetic strip-show punter, ripped off by Soho villain Charlie Endell (Iain Cuthbertson, from "Thingumajig"). After being swiftly disposed of as a poacher in The Persuaders, "A Place of One's Own" (ATV/ITC, 1971), also with Leon Greene, he had a similar role, but this time a regular one, in the first series of Survivors (BBC, 1975), Terry Nation's series about the survivors of a holocaust attempting to pull together. (In a contentious interview in SFX magazine, Brian Clemens claimed to have had the original idea for this, or at least to have jointly devised it with Nation, and that he wanted to make it for American TV. In any case, he didn't care much for the result, dismissing it as another of Nation's cheap BBC series.) As a nasty little farm worker called Tom Price, Thomas, uncharacteristically, was a fly in the community's ointment, eventually committing a murder and framing a retarded man.

Thomas' few films included Andrew Sinclair's adaptation of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood (1973), with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole; like Burton, Thomas had been in the original radio play, detailing a day in the life of a small Welsh village called Llareggub. (Yes, that's right, spell it backwards—one biography of Burton, by Paul Ferris, noted that the film "did llareggub at the box office.") He was also in several of the Children Film Foundation's kiddie epics during the 70s, plus the real contrast of the awful, adults-only Come Play With Me (1977). However, along with many other eager eccentrics, he was part of a genuine cult item, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End (1980), the film of the album of the radio show from the wonderful, uncategorisable, doomed Vivian Stanshall. An episode of the middling holiday camp sitcom Hi-De-Hi!, "Stripes" (BBC, 1982), with Thomas as a dodgy half-brother and, I'm afraid to say, written by Dad's Army creators Jimmy Perry and David Croft, at least brought his career full circle, as it was screened just a few weeks after his death from a heart attack.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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