Eddie Yeats, the Higginsites and me: a confession

July 31, 2012 at 12:01 am (beer, comedy, good people, Jim D, socialism, SWP, TV, workers)

Geoffrey Hughes, actor, born February 2 1944; died of cancer, July 27, 2012, aged 68

The actor Geoffrey Hughes played many screen and stage roles in his career, including in Doctor Who, as Trinculo in The Tempest, and big-screen parts in films as different as The Bofors Gun and Carry On at Your Convenience. But he will always be best remembered for his stint as the Falstaffian ne’re-do-well Eddie Yeats in Cornonation Street between 1974 and 1983 – a role that effectively typcast him from then on as the archetypal “loveable rogue.”

I feel a particular affinity with the character of Eddie because, in the late seventies, my then-wife told me something along the lines of, “all your friends are like Eddie Yeats and Stan Ogden.” I knew exactly what she meant: at the time, many of my associates were boozy, jokey working class former members of the International Socialists who had just been expelled as part of the so-called “IS Opposition”, aka the “Higgins Group.” Several of these characters, like Eddie, were a bit dodgy. But most of them (also like Eddie) were essentially well-meaning “chancers” who neither knew nor cared much about legality and/or illegality, but who did know and care about the difference between good and evil. Like Eddie, they were invariably sentimentalists and failed romantics – men (and they were all men) whose hopes and dreams would never be realised and whose worldly-wise cynicism usually cloaked a profound generosity and decency… and sometimes great sadness too.

IS expelled them in 1975, as part of its purge of working class members. In truth, their expulsion – ruthless as it was – was probably warranted, but that’s another story. Certainly, no left-wing group would be able to accomodate such people these days (least of all the IS’s successor organisation, the SWP), which is a great pity.

Some of those guys gave me the best laughs and the truest friendships I’ve had in my entire life. I still, very occasionally, meet up with one or two of them, but increasingly rarely. Some, of course (like Higgins himself), are now dead. Whenever Eddie Yeats is mentioned I think of them. The death of Geoffrey Hughes brought back memories of those days, and those friends and comrades, with a degree of force and pathos that took me by surprise.

From the Times obit:

“On Coronation Street he [Eddie] moved in with Hilda and Stan [Ogden] as their lodger and the odd and sometimes awkward relationship between the three of them was one of the main attractions for many viewers. Eddie was forever turning up with dodgy goods for the residents. In one memorable storyline he delights the snobbish Annie Walker by procuring carpeting with her initials on it, until she discovers it came from the Alhambra Weatherfield bingo hall.”

Guardian obit here.

P.S: I should, perhaps, make it it clear that none of the above is intended to imply anything about Geoffrey Hughes’s political views, about which I know nothing. The Times obituary noted that “(He) latterly moved to the Isle of Wight, where he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant. He took an active interest in sailing and folk music and was involved in several charities. He is survived by his wife, Susan.”

15 Comments

  1. Matt said,

    Like you, I know nothing about Hughes’ politics but he does seem to have been an approachable and unprententious guy. In the 1970’s my grandad worked in a tractor factory in Trafford Park, Manchester and told me that Hughes, who had a smallholding, used to pop in for spare parts and then go in the canteen for a chat with the workers.

  2. Geoff Collier said,

    For what it’s worth, I was on the 1981 Right to Work march from Liverpool to Blackpool. Some people were appointed as bucket collectors and raised money on the route from passers by etc. I was told that Bernard Youens (Stan Ogden) was cleaning his car and refused to donate.
    However, I guess that means he was happy to live somewhere that the question could be asked of him. Would any of today’s soapstars live in a place like that?

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Depends on your definition of ‘today’ and ‘soap star’ and ‘place like that’.

      Unless they were equipped by their parents with munificent trust funds (as a surprising number are – just check out how many actors went to Eton frex) or are at the top of the cast your typical supporting player on Eastenders or Corrie or Casualty is probably not that well-paid – and all of them are as insecure as any worker can be (how many of us can be called in by the boss and told that due to a writers whim we’re going to be bludgeoned to death with a picture frame by a fellow actor who has been themselves recently replaced by another actor hailing it appears from an alternate evil universe).

      In fact wasn’t one of the Corrie cast recently photographed pulling pints in a Manchester bar to make ends meet?

  3. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    very nice post Jim

  4. Jim Denham said,

    Thanks Mr Jelly: I always suspected you were an ol’ softie really.

    Btw: was that you commenting over at That Place on their open thread on the Olympic opening ceremony, under the name of “Trespassers Will”?

    You know, this sort of stuff:

    “I ain’t going home until we get to see the duckies, and sheeps, and geeses and horsies and the moo-cows. So there.

    “And where are the chips? There have to be chips, with added scramptions.”

    C’mon, Jelly: ‘fess up.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      is not me that one

  5. Jimmy Glesga said,

    My ma and auntie would not go on holiday to Seaton Sands huts unless my da brought the telly and the ariel along just to watch Coronation Street, early sixties this was. I think the ariel was a metal coat hanger! We took turns walking about with the ariel to get a picture. Jelly is a softy.

  6. neprimerimye said,

    A good post with some interesting reflections on the ‘chancers’ of the ISO. Now in some circumstances I could get snarky about what could be viewed as a derogatory comment but I suspect that was far from Denhams intent. However I do think that he misses the deeper point that he has inadvertently stumbled upon.

    The thing of it is that almost all workers in manufacturing before the restructuring of British capitalism that Thatcher presided over were able to make a few bob on the side by various dodges that could sometimes go as far as outright theft. And it was an accepted part of working class life which is the point and only frowned on when it became too bloody obvious and individuals were seen as taking the piss.

    Alas things have changed for the worse. In todays sweatshops there are no opportunities for a bit of soldiering and it is impossible to steal anything in many jobs other than the odd biro. An attempt to do so recently recounted to me regarding a call centre resulting in mass sacking and prosecution for intent to defraud.

    • Matt said,

      As a student in the early 90’s, I had a summer job in a factory in Manchester. The amount of stuff that went out of the place under people’s coats and piled into car boots from the loading bay was incredible, one bloke was running a market stall with stuff he knocked off from work. The guy next to me used to clock off sharpish at dinner time once a fortnight and pedal off furiously down the road while the rest of us headed to the canteen for the free and generous meals. I’d been there a few weeks before he told me it was his signing-on day at the jobcentre.

      • Jimmy Glesga said,

        A bloke got grassed for having a room in his house decorated as a cabin blagged from the QE2. Carpet and all. Beat that anyone.

  7. shug said,

    r.i.p. Geoffrey.Pint on the bar at the Rovers.

  8. Pinkie said,

    IS expelled them in 1975, as part of its purge of working class members. In truth, their expulsion – ruthless as it was – was probably warranted, but that’s another story.

    Being nostalgic, that is a story I’d like to hear.

    I still think Jim Higgins is worth reading, and would like to know why an expelled member from a then tendency of the IS thinks Higgins should have been expelled.

    • Pinkie said,

      There should be quote marks around the first paragraph, if that matters to anybody.

  9. Jim Denham said,

    “Being nostalgic, that is a story I’d like to hear”: you will, Pinkie, you will. Just give me time.

  10. Linkage « Poumista said,

    [...] D on Eddie Yeats, the Higginsites and me: a confession. Tendance Coates on Richard Seymour (the Palme Dutt of the SWP) versus Hitchens. Gus Tyler [...]

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