Guest Actor Biography
Page 119 of 127


Johnny Vyvyan

Escapologist, Look - (stop me if you've heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers...

by Pete Stampede with M.C. McGuire

Born circa 1925 in Australia as John Vyvyan McGuire, the diminutive actor known as Johnny (or John) Vyvyan stood at five foot nothing in his stocking feet and possessed a startlingly deep voice for a man of his size. It was well known in his family that he was quite vain and lied about his age. He used to work at the Tivoli Theatre (he was very fond of the show girls) in Sydney as Stage Manager, and also wrote skits and plays. John's size came from his mother Ruby, who was very small, and his looks from his father, who was not so good-looking. John left Australia sometime around 1949 to make his fortune, never to return.

He was a comedy natural who was a frequent participant in 1950's and 60's comedy shows, most notably Hancock's Half Hour. Maybe you had to see it to appreciate it, but one bit involving Vyvyan that always makes me laugh is in the HHH episode "The Two Murderers" (BBC, 1959)—in a library, he asks for Little Women! Apart from his frequent appearances on Hancock's Half Hour, he also supported Tony on his stage tours, including one sketch in which they were improbably cast as brothers. Another memorable HHH appearance, again in a library, was when the wee man was one of the many irate patrons shushing at Hancock in "The Missing Page" (BBC, 1960): on this, as often in the series, he was credited as John Vyvyan. 

The nearest he came to stardom was as a regular on Laugh Lines, an early 60's BBC series mixing cartoon drawings and live actors, one of the first productions of the egregious Ned 'Twinky' Sherrin. It's regrettably true that Vyvyan appeared regularly in the 1960s with the dreaded Des O'Connor and with the equally infamous Benny Hill in the following decade, although Vyvyan had featured in Hill's earlier—and better regarded—BBC series. Indeed, one episode, "Portrait of a Bridegroom" (BBC, 1962), was recently recovered as part of the BBC's Treasure Hunt appeal for lost programs, and was shown at the National Film Theatre in London. Vyvyan also figured in early evening pratting around with Leslie Crowther in The Saturday Crowd (LWT, 1969), something we'd all rather forget. However, he did have more respectable comedic credits in Peter Sellers' and Spike Milligan's early sketch show A Show Called Fred (A-R, 1956), and Terry Jones' and Michael Palin's historical parody The Complete and Utter History of Britain (LWT, 1969). Two excellent TV documentaries subsequently released on video, The Unknown Peter Sellers (2000) and Life of Python (1990), respectively include snippets from these shows in which Vyvyan can be spotted (in a wartime send-up, and in a bath after the Battle of Hastings, again respectively).

Obsessive that I am for never-made projects, I have to note that Vyvyan was scheduled to have been in Trial Gallop (BBC, 1952), which as the title suggests was to have been a pilot attempt at a Goon Show for TV, with Sellers and Michael Bentine (but not Milligan, strangely). However, due to the death of King George VI on the day of what was to have been its live transmission, the show was first postponed, then cancelled.

Vyvyan's sole film credit was the low-budget sex comedy, Intimate Games (1976), which also featured Ian Hendry. It is well-documented that the British film industry was experiencing a real slump at the time, and many performers had to compromise their professional integrity just to make ends meet.

Johnny Vyvyan's last credit appears to have been in It's Your Move (Thames, 1982), one of the celebrated silent comedies made for television by comedy legend, Eric Sykes. He died in September 1984. Macabre trivia for British comedy fans is that the place of Vyvyan's death, Godalming in Surrey, was also that of Terry-Thomas', six years later.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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