Ruth Madoc, who died of a fall at the age of 79, was etched in the memory of television sitcom viewers as Gladys Pugh, Yellow Chef and Radio Maplin host in Hi-de-Hi !
After playing three notes of “chime” on the xylophone, Gladys greeted the guests of the Maplins holiday camp above the Tannoy in her singsong Welsh tones with the words: “Hello, campers.” Hi-de-hi!” Many replied from their cabins, “Ho-de-ho! Then she would describe news of events like, ‘Gnarly knee contest starts at 3 p.m.’
The BBC programme, created by David Croft and Jimmy Perry following their success with Dad’s Army, is originally set in the late 1950s and focuses on the entertainment team at a holiday camp on the Essex coast in the vein of Butlin’s and Pontins. Following a 1980 pilot, Hi-de-Hi! ran for nine series from 1981 to 1988. As Gladys, Madoc held the torch for Maplins’ new entertainment director, Jeffrey Fairbrother (played by Simon Cadell), a former Cambridge University don hampered by the low humor from the acts of his team such as in the role of comedian Ted Bovis (Paul Shane), the host of the camp much appreciated by holidaymakers.
Gladys disapproves of Ted’s scams to scam money from them with rigged bingo and other activities, but feels greater emotion – grief – when Jeffrey leaves at the end of the 1983-84 series.
In the Channel 5 documentary Comedy Gold: Hi-de-Hi (aired in March this year), Gyles Brandreth described the relationship between Gladys and Jeffrey as “like Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter, with laughs – a suppressed lust on his side and English confusion and embarrassment on his”.
“Gladys Pugh is a vamp of the Valleys,” Madoc said, jokingly, of the character earning him the recognition of up to 16 million viewers and shouting down the street of “Ho-de-Ho!” She said she brought Gladys an accent from that part of Wales, which added to the comedy, especially with her references to the “at-the-lympic” swimming pool.
She also took the opportunity to bring a foreign touch to Gladys. “I asked Jimmy Perry if I could base it on a wonderful woman from the 1950s called Zizi Jeanmaire,” Madoc said. “She was a beautiful French ballerina and she was the first to do this hairstyle as a kid.”
Ruth was born to Welsh parents in Norwich, Norfolk, during World War II. His mother, Iris (née Williams), worked there as head nurse while his father, George Baker, was an administrator at three Norfolk hospitals. “My mum couldn’t come home fast enough to have me, so I was born in Norfolk,” she said.
Her father was a distant relative of David Lloyd George, the former Liberal Prime Minister later played by Ruth’s first husband, actor Philip Madoc, in the 1981 television series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, in which she had the role of one of his lovers, Lizzie Davies. As her parents traveled around England after the war ‘to do important work’ and help establish the newly launched NHS, she was raised by her maternal grandparents in the mining village of Llansamlet, outside from Swansea.
After spending three months as assistant stage manager at the Nottingham Playhouse, she trained at Rada (1959-61), saying she was well prepared for the audition, having received elocution lessons from her grandmother, Etta, from the three years old to read in a local chapel.
From Rada, Madoc spent three years as a singer and dancer on television programs and tours of the Black and White Minstrel Show, then a summer season with the Fol-de-Rols, another music hall company. She made her musical acting debut as Maria in West Side Story at the Scarborough Summer Theater in 1968, followed by her first West End role, taking over as Aldonza in the original London production from Man of La Mancha (Piccadilly theatre, 1968) . Madoc had her first screen roles in two 1971 feature films, as the clairvoyant Mrs. Dai Bread Two in Under Milk Wood, alongside Richard Burton, and playing the ghostly Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof.
On television, she had a regular role as Betty, schoolteacher wife of Detective Sergeant “Smithy” Smith (Ewan Hooper), in all three series of the Midlands crime drama Hunter’s Walk (1973-76). During the long run of Hi-de-Hi! on television, Madoc reprized her role as Gladys for a stage tour which included a performance at the Victoria Palace Theater in London (1983-84).
Later, on television, she played Mrs. Thomas, mother of Daffyd, the Welshman of Matt Lucas “only gay in the village”, during the second and third series (2004-05) of Little Britain. Although shocked by the swearing in the script when she was offered the role, she was told it was written especially for her by Lucas, and her real son said it would give him “street credibility.” “.
There was a return to the sitcom when Madoc played Georgie, a dog trainer and “Welsh lady” from the traveling Circus Maestro, in Big Top (2009), although the series took a critical pang and did not succeeded in attracting viewers.
Enthusiastic about musicals, Madoc took on other stage roles, including Lettie in Something’s Afoot (Ambassadors theatre, 1977-78); the title role in Irma La Douce (Theatr Gwynedd, Bangor, 1976); Rose in a 1989 tour of Gypsy; and Mrs Bardell, alongside lead character Harry Secombe, in a revival of the musical Pickwick on a tour that included the Chichester Festival Theater and Sadler’s Wells.
Less well received was a revival of Bless the Bride (Sadler’s Wells, 1987), with Madoc as Suzanne, and Nite Club Confidential (Playhouse theatre, 1988), playing Kay Goodman.
Her 1961 marriage to Madoc ended in divorce 20 years later. In 1982 she married John Jackson; he died in 2021. She is survived by two children from her first marriage, Rhys and Lowri.
• Ruth Madoc (Margaret Ruth Llewellyn Baker), actress, born April 16, 1943; passed away on December 9, 2022