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Gerald Campion (Sunday Independent)

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2002-07-21 Sunday Independent.jpg


The actor who played the part of rotund schoolboy Billy Bunter on television for ten years has died aged 81

Gerald Campion, who has died aged 81, played Billy Bunter In the BBC's early television series about the Fat Owl of the Remove and his antics at Greyfriars; that Campion played the part for 10 years was itself something of a tour de force, since he was a 29-year-old father of two when he began, and aged nearly 40 when he finished.

The producer, Joy Herrington, had almost despaired of finding a suitable candidate for the part when friend suggested she took a look at Campion, who was lunching at the Under 30 Club.

As she saw his only draw-back was that he was insufficiently obese — Campion, who stood 5ft 5 in tall, weighed l1st 12 lb, having recently been on a diet. "He simply isn't fat enough in the tummy," Joy Harrington declared.

Campion later claimed that, to regain weight, he had gorged himself on homemade jam tarts: judicious padding did the rest, as well as protecting him during Bunter's regular kickings and beatings.

When the series began, in February 1952, each episode was screened twice — at 5.40pm for children, and at 8pm for adults — and each was performed live. At the same time Campion was running his own theatrical club at night, and it was said that, in order to cope with so demanding a schedule, he had to resort to taking amphetamines. On the day following transmission of the first episode. the Daily Sketch declared it, "dull, dated, boring" — only to be submerged by an avalanche of complaints from readers whose children had loved it.

Until the series ended in 1961, Campion continued to endure the attentions of the gimlet-eyed Mr Quelch ("Bend over, you wretched boy") and Bunter's sadistic school chums; and the nation's sittingrooms echoed to Campion's cries of "Geroogh", "Yarooh", "Crikey", "Ouch", and "Leggo, you beasts". Meanwhile, during the 120 episodes, Quelches came and went (the first was played by Kynaston Reeves), as did Bunter's schoolmates, among there Michael Crawford and Anthony Valentine.

Campion found himself, to his horror, one of television's earliest celebrities, recognised everywhere he went. "Sweetshops were the worst," he complained later. "I'd be in them and blokes would manhandle their kids round to face me and point at me and shout: "Look there — that's Billy Bunter!"

After the series was axed following the death of Bunter's creator Frank Richards, Campion nonetheless sent in some scripts of his own in an attempt to revive it. One had Bunter captured by cannibals, who put him in a cooking pot and invited him to eat a large clove of garlic; Campion received no reply. The son of the scriptwriter Cyril Campion, Gerald Theron Campion was born at Bloomsbury, London, on April 23 1921; one of his godparents was Sir Gerald du Maurier.

After attending University College School, Hampstead, England, Gerald went to Rada aged 15. By the time he was chosen to play Billy Bunter, he had made 12 television appearances.

At the same time he embarked on a parallel life. In 1950 he opened The Buckstone, a theatrical club opposite the stage door of the Haymarket theatre. On one occasion Campion was irritated to find that a visiting artist had doodled on one of the tablecloths; he threw it out, only to discover later that the culprit had been Antigone. In 1956 Campion started The Key Club — to which each member had his own key — close to the Palladium; and this was followed by Gerry's, in Shaftesbury Avenue, whose members included Michael Caine, Keith Waterhouse, Tony Hancock and Graham Hill.

After the demise of Bunter, Campion continued to work as an actor, although without the same success. Among his film roles were parts in Carry On, Sergeant; Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines; Chttty Chitty Bang Bang; and Half A Sixpence. He also appeared in television series such as Minder, Dr Who, and Sherlock Holmes.

Campion was a lover of French cuisine, and he developed a new and successful career as a restaurateur, running a series of establishments. In 1991 he and his wife retired to France, where he died on July 9.

Gerald Campion married, first, in 1947, Jean Symond. After their divorce he married Susie Marks, In 1972, who had worked as a dancer at Gerry's; she, and three children from his first marriage, survive him.

Caption: CRUMBS: Gerald Campion who played Billy Bunter, has died

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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Gerald Campion (Sunday Independent) | url= | work=Sunday Independent | pages=20 | date=2002-07-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 April 2024 }}</ref>
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