The world feels a different place now. A light has gone out as the encroaching gloom grows ever more dense (a tad too dramatic?). He brought colour to an increasingly black and white world, his humour and comic ability deserving of every accolade. His face, alone, ensured little need for words; his expression, so effortlessly, the conduit of all that he wished to convey. His presence was steadfast; reassuring. A reminder of all that was once good in the world; of gentler times. A huge part of my childhood, his demise was one I always feared and, keying his name into the Search bar of Trish-Trash.com on Friday night only served to remind me of that – I mentioned him in so many posts as, one by one, the important figures of my past shuffled off this mortal coil. Please not him. Let him be immortal. He was Geoffrey Palmer … but somehow, to me, he was just a mirror image of Pop!
A turbulent week, it was Friday evening when his name caught my eye on my phone. There it was, the headline: Geoffrey Palmer dies, peacefully at home, aged 93 … I never met him – how I wish I had had the privilege – but he always felt like family! I grew up on classic films of the 50s. It was our thing – Mummy and me. The men of the house would be golfing, on a Saturday afternoon, while we would delight in indulging ourselves in the past. I must have seen them all: Carve Her Name with Pride, Mrs Miniver, Dark Victory, Roman Holiday, High Society, each portraying a time when gentlemen were gentlemen, ladies were ladies and manners, etiquette and decorum were a given. A sense of style was innate and gentlemen could dance! Imagine. Geoffrey Palmer was of that era and I’ll bet he could dance … As though stepping out of a wartime classic, he stepped into ‘Butterflies’, the Seventies sitcom which was adored in every household. Made for family, he played dentist, Ben Parkinson, married to unfulfilled housewife, Ria (Wendy Craig), and father to two layabout teenage sons, one of whom was played by a young Nicholas Lyndhurst. Constantly in a state of bewilderment, he had no idea what was going on as he struggled to navigate Ria’s disastrous cooking, his sons’ hormones, music and fashion sense and, of course, the inevitable – and so familiar – parking dilemmas! It was genius. He was genius.
‘Geoffrey Palmer’s face is what we’ll miss the most. It was a reassuring sitcom face. When it appeared on screen, everything was alright with the world.’
Michael Hogan, The Telegraph, 6 November, 2020.
There it is. Geoffrey Palmer was like a big cosy blanket! Calm, reassuring and oh, so sarcastic, he just made one feel that everything was going to be alright. Just like Pop. They shared so much including their penchant for yellow or green cords, the tweed and the inevitable Regimental or Club tie – oh, and the must-have linen suit for the warmer months! Always immaculately presented, neither seemed to lose that sense of military precision – and pride in his appearance. Shirt and tie, always, and polished shoes. That’s a memory from childhood I shall take to the grave: every night, as we went to bed, we used to put our school shoes outside our bedroom doors. Pop would polish the three pairs and return them, ready for us to step into in the morning. Years later, my children never went to school without polished shoes!
Ben Parkinson, in Butterflies, was a dentist; Pop, a Consultant Psychiatrist; both came home for lunch – at their own peril. The parking! As we, kids, grew up the number of cars increased and my brother was forever pretending to work on some old banger. At one point, he had a little red mini whose boot he painted white and it was very reminiscent of the one in Butterflies. Anyway, suffice to say, Pop (and the neighbours) – like Ben – would, regularly, have to bear witness to the moving car ritual as, one by one, we would pile out of the driveway onto the street to allow him to either enter, or leave the premises – and, then, do it all in reverse! Bemusement and head shaking, aside, we all knew that he dined out on recounting the ‘utter chaos’ to which he was, routinely, subjected!
Such was the talent of Geoffrey Palmer that he was Ben Parkinson. The character’s despair at his layabout sons’ attire and choice in music surely mirrored his own and was so wonderfully familiar and real. Until the day he died – literally – Pop would refer to ‘my music’ as ‘rubbish’, despite the fact that he would drive around in his Saab listening to – and positively enjoying – the mixed tapes I would painstakingly compile of said ‘rubbish’. That was just him; his humour and our own lovely code of endearment.
I realise, now, that Butterflies is Geoffrey Palmer to me. Both have a special place in my heart. Growing up, the popular sitcom made me smile but, today, it is more a nostalgic reflection of that childhood. A box set for Christmas. What, though, of As Time Goes By and Lionel Hardcastle? A lovely premise for the adored series which ran for more than ten years from 1992, it was a staple in Lyndhurst and Pop’s favourite forever more. We can all but recite the lines, for goodness sake – and I mean all! The combination of Judi Dench and Geoffrey is gold but, for me, he is, once more, Ben Parkinson; once more, himself. That is never to take away from his acting skills; more that he chose to play these roles, probably drawn to them because, subconsciously, they were him. I, for one, am glad that he never veered very far off-piste.
‘Constantly bemused, hopelessly resigned and wonderfully sarcastic’. That is how I described Geoffrey Palmer in one of my many references to him in posts of old and that is how I think of him; will remember him. Sadly, that wonderful fictitious dinner party – the guest list of which occupied much of my original lockdown writings – has lost the one most coveted.
‘Palmer could make disappointment and eternal pessimism somehow adorable.’
Michael Hogan, The Telegraph, 6 November, 2020.
In the same article, Hogan wrote that he was ‘always an actor who exuded officer-class.’ That, he did. I don’t like to dwell on the fact that he is no longer here. When Pop died, he was still here; a part of Pop was still here. Now he’s gone and, with him, the wonderful sarcasm I adored but, moreover, that reassurance that everything is alright with the world. It isn’t. I have an urge to lay flowers for him on the West Sands, beside Pop’s. I think I will …
‘He was the kindest, loveliest man you could wish to meet.’
God speed, Geoffrey Palmer.
This is Trish, signing off.