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Examiner Community awards Lifetime award for Gorden Kaye.

Byline: Andrew Hirst ,

MOLDGREEN-born actor Gorden Kaye will receive the special lifetime achievement award at the Examiner community awards.

The 64-year-old has one of the most familiar faces on TV and became a household name with the runaway success of 80s comedy Allo Allo.

He lives in West Yorkshire and has always remained true to his Huddersfield roots, returning in recent years to host charity concerts and give talks.

He battled back against a horrific head injury in 1990 to once more star in the sitcom which gave him worldwide fame.

Gorden - who first appeared on TV in Coronation Street when it was transformed from black and white to colour in 1969 - quite rightly regards his portrayal of comic cafe owner Rene Artois as a milestone in his career.

But he also concedes it could also be seen as a millstone as it tends to shroud his other achievements.

These include years as a respected stage actor and his membership of The Grand Order of Water Rats, the world's oldest showbusiness charity which includes big celebrity names among its fund-raising ranks.

He was elected King Rat for 1999 after being voted to the top post by its members and he initiated Sir John Mills into the Water Rats when the veteran actor was a sprightly 91.

The Rats use their pulling power among celebrities to stage fund-raising shows and concerts.

It is an exclusive invitation-only club. There have only been 850 members in its entire 116-year history and there are now just 112.

Gorden's association started in 1987 when he was invited to speak at the Rats Ball at London's Grosvenor Hotel.

He said: "I did 14 minutes and got a standing ovation. Jimmy Tarbuck came up afterwards and said: `The gags were great and you're no threat because you delivered them in character. You're not a stand-up comedian.'

"I didn't know whether to take that as a compliment or not."

Gorden admits to hiding behind Rene's sometimes bumbling persona to get away with gags.

At one meal honouring tycoon Richard Branson he said: "Apparently Richard runs an airline called Virgin Atlantic. Why anyone would want to fly with an airline that's never done it before or gone all the way is beyond me."

Gorden was born at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital in Huddersfield on April 7, 1941.

He was the only child of parents Harold and Gracie. His mum was 42 when he was born.

"They took one look at me and said `no more'," he quipped.

His dad was a lorry driver for the former Huddersfield General Carrying Company and Gorden remembers sitting alongside him in the cab for trips to cities as far away as Hull and Liverpool.

The family lived at Brook Street in Moldgreen, opposite a boarding house run by Mrs Clark.

She took in actors and footballers and Gorden remembers a young Denis Law staying there.

He attended Moldgreen County School and then Almondbury Grammar School, which later became King James'.

In the early 1960s he became involved in hospital radio with Examiner jazz specialist Laurie Stead and interviewed Ken Dodd and then the Beatles when they famously played the former Ritz in 1963.

"I caught them between two shows and the last thing they probably wanted to see was me holding a microphone," he said.

"But they were good fun and readily agreed to record Christmas messages for our festive special later in the year."

A trip to Bradford Playhouse inspired him to pursue acting and he was voted the top actor in a festival of plays by playwright Alan Ayckbourn in the city.

Gorden never looked back.

He asked Alan Ayckbourn how to get into the profession and was directed to the Octagon Theatre in Bolton. The audition was, to say the least, unusual.

Gorden recited a piece from a play called Next Time I'll Sing To You - a sentence which lasted way over a page - and the artistic director, Robin Pemberton Billing, found it so funny he fell off his chair laughing.

While at Bolton Gorden was discovered by Coronation Street's Pat Phoenix, who played legendary character Elsie Tanner, and she got him an eight-month contract spanning 53 episodes playing her nephew, Bernard, in 1969 and 1970.

Two memories stand out for Gorden.

The programme switched from black and white to colour while he was there. All the scenery needed redoing.

And he was the first man to appear in drag in a soap opera, dressing up as a nurse to wheel Ray Langton down the street in a wheelchair.

Coronation Street remains his favourite soap.

"It's more a sitcom," he said.

"I've stopped watching Eastenders. All they do is shout at one another."

After stage shows and brief TV appearances in the 70s - including comedies It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Are You Being Served? - his big break came in 1982 with the pilot for Allo Allo, after writer David Crofts approached Gorden's agent.

"When I heard the character was called Rene my first thought was `oh my God, a female impersonator'," he said. "But I was wrong and the laughs leapt off every page."

The pilot became a long- running TV series until 1992 and a stage show which the cast took from London to Australia.

The TV programme spanned 91 episodes and the stage show 1,200 performances.

Yet, despite all this experience, Gorden still confesses to getting nervous every time he appears on TV, on stage or even simply doing an after dinner speech.

"The moment I stop getting butterflies in my stomach is the day I'll pack up," he said. "But I don't want to retire yet."

Another highlight was an appearance on This Is Your Life when Eamonn Andrews appeared on stage beside Gorden in 1986 dressed as an airman and carrying the famous red book.

Relatives had been flown in from New Zealand to surprise him.

In true northern form, his cousin Jean didn't believe the TV researcher when he first rang her and told him to "stop mucking about" and put the phone down.

Luckily he rang back.

Gorden is thankful just to be alive after a horrific accident in January 1990 during a storm.

He was driving in Hounslow when fierce winds sent a slice of wood from a billboard smashing through his car windscreen and left it embedded in Gorden's forehead.

An off-duty nurse saved his life.

She made sure no-one removed the wood and the police rushed him to hospital where it was removed by surgeons.

It left him with a nasty scar, but there was clearly no lasting damage to his sense of humour.

"A while later I was standing at Blackpool looking at a poster promoting the stage show of Allo, Allo there," he said.

"A couple came up and she said to her husband `Is that the Rene bloke from the telly?' Her husband replied `No, it can't be him. He's had his head off."'

* Tickets for the awards ceremony at the Galpharm Stadium on the evening of Monday October 17 are on sale at the Examiner customer reception at Queen Street South, Huddersfield. They cost pounds 20 and include a three-course meal.
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 28, 2005
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