John Sandilands


Mr Pastry

Date published: 1960s
Publisher: This was published in some long-defunct magazine

Richard Hearne, known as Mr Pastry, was a popular children’s television entertainer in the 1950s and 60s


ON A TELEVISION programme a few years ago character comedian Richard Hearne surprised viewers by appearing in immaculate evening clothes. On a prop balcony overlooking a romantic Mediterranean scene, he recited a poem to a beautiful girl. Then he leaned nonchalantly on the balustrade and shot out of sight as it collapsed.

Behind the scenes, studio carpenters had prepared for the stunt by building a platform for Hearne ,to fall onto him just out of sight. But he overshot the safety device and landed twelve feet below the balcony on his head.

Semi-conscious, he had to be led to his place for the next scene which showed him in the familiar grizzled make-up. round brass spectacles and cutaway coat of his famous character Mr. Pastry.

“Dicky took the incident as a grim warning against stepping out of line, ” says a friend. Since Hearne assumed the role of Mr. Pastry, the kindly but misguided old gentleman whose whole existence is fraught with unfortunate accidents, he has had to live a double life.

An accomplished character actor -in 1947 he was offered three parts with the Old Vic company in Shakespearean plays- he has fought a losing battle to retain his identity against the competition of the ageing character he portrays. He received more than three hundred invitations to perform opening ceremonies at fetes, garden parties and other functions last year. “Every one,” says Hearne, “stipulated that I should appear as Mr. Pastry.”

When he visited a hospital during a provincial tour of the show Mr. Pastry Comes To Town he started his round of the wards in an ordinary lounge suit. After patients in the first two wards had greeted him with polite smiles but scarcely a flicker of recognition, he returned to the theatre for his Mr. Pastry costume. For the rest of the visit he received delighted welcomes .

The slapstick antics of Mr. Pastry have brought Hearne rich financial rewards. In one week on American television this year, when he appeared before an estimated 120 million viewers, he received £2,500 in fees. On a previous trip, his earnings were calculated at £125 a minute. At these rates, Hearne can afford to be philosophical about his dual personality, but he confesses to misgivings about the extent to which Mr Pastry dominates his existence.

In appearance and manner be presents an exact antithesis of the ageing character he portrays: youthful, forty-six with Puckish features, humorous blue eyes and a lithe, athletic figure, he has a bounce that completely belies his stage make-up.

One critic described Mr. Pastry as “looking elderly, sincere and dangerously agile-like the nice uncle people avoid talking about”. Hearne admits that once he dons his make-up, he automatically assumes the cranky walk, pronounced stoop and vague air of idiocy that are features of his characterisation. “I feel an immediate urge to get up to Mr. Pastry’s kind of tricks,” he says.

Hearne’s friends and colleagues are frequently amused by his unconscious habit of talking about Mr. Pastry in the third person. The extent of his absorption in the character has helped him through when one of his numerous slapstick effects has gone wrong. In one TV show. Hearne. as Mr. Pastry. was demonstrating how to mend a faulty stove and was to be showered with soot from the stove pipe immediately before the exit line: ” Next week I’ll show you how to decarbonise a steamroller.”

An effects man released the soot too early and Hearne. standing with his mouth open, received it full in the face. Unable to speak, he had to mime his way out of camera range. ” His impromptu exit was perfect Pastry,” says a B.B.C. producer. “It was so good that he never complained about the error.”

Hearne - and Mr. Pastry- conduct a constant search for new comedy ideas. Almost completely independent of script writers-” no one else is crazy enough to think up the situations ” - he worked his way through thirty-six original scripts in the first eighteen months of post-war television broadcasting and is now forced to explore domestic jobs like paperhanging and gardening for a slapstick twist.

He made the erection of a television aerial at his home the subject of a complete sketch, with him clambering unsteadily over his own roof.

Hearne owns an extensive workshop equipped with a forge and anvil, and when necessary he makes properties of surprising complexity. When he wanted a trick bicycle for one sketch. he bought an old frame and worked all night to equip it with collapsible handlebars. folding pedals and wheels which flew off at a touch.

Hearne’s stage career began at the age of six weeks when he appeared with his mother. a straight actress, as the baby in a play called For The Sake of a Child. His father was a member of an acrobatic act and Richard began to learn falls and acrobatic routines as soon as he could walk. His only formal schooling was through reading correspondence courses. “But I spent a lot of time finding out how to avoid dislocations, bruises and cuts,” he says. “It worked on a process of elimination. If you hurt yourself in a fall it was your own fault if you did it that way again.”

For several years, Hearne appeared with his father in a circus, assisting in an acrobatic act and working as a clown.

His first appearance in the West End was in pantomime at the London Hippodrome. where he was a member of an acrobatic act called the Three Marinos. Early in the show’s run Hearne overheard the producer say to one of the principals: “That acrobat Hearne - he can talk!” As a result, when half the cast were laid low by a flu epidemic, he was pushed on to speak the lines of half a dozen characters, including the Demon King.

Leslie Henson was also appearing in the pantomime. Impressed by Hearne’s good looks and acting ability. he offered him a part in his next musical show. Nice Goings On. at the Gaiety Theatre. Hearne expected to be cast as a juvenile lead, but found that he was to play an old man of sixty-five—the forerunner of Mr. Pastry. He did so well that the character became established almost overnight and teaming up with Henson and Fred Emney, he was featured in a run of musical successes that lasted until the war.

When regular television programmes began in 1937, Hearne’s type of comedy quickly established him as one of the first “names” of the new medium.

During the war Hearne travelled long distances entertaining Servicemen, and landed in Normandy shortly after D-day. When the television service was resumed after the war, Hearne’s talents were again in demand.

In 1947, he tried another new medium. Impresario Tom Arnold. who was planning a new ice show, rang him up to offer him a star part if he could skate. Hearne assured him that he could-and then phoned the Queen’s Club to arrange for lessons.

Today Hearne lives with his wife. a former Gaiety showgirl, and two daughters. Cetra and Sarah. in a fourteenth-century farmhouse near Sevenoaks in Kent. When he took it over. the house was derelict. although the foundations and structure were perfect. Removing broken-down partitions and ceilings, he discovered a wealth of oak timbering and open hearth fireplaces.

He began restoration work and the building is now classified under Buildings and Monuments of Historical Interest: It is protected by law from alteration or demolition.

According to his wife Yvonne, Hearne rarely sits down for more than a few minutes at a time. Part of his excessive energy is expended on athletic practical jokes. Travelling down to Sevenoaks by train on one occasion with his neighbours. stage stars Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott, he was chatting animatedly when the train went into a. lengthy tunnel. When it emerged at the other end he had vanished. His companions discovered him lying in the luggage rack above their heads.

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List of John Sandilands articles

John Sandilands

John Sandilands Articles

  1. Obituary, March 2004 >>
  2. Introduction to Articles >>
  3. Article2 >>
  4. When the cure is sun, sea and mud >>
  5. Interview with Ava Gardner >>
  6. Interview with Dustin Hoffman, Los Angeles Times, 1968 >>
  7. Fiji >>
  8. Patrick Moore >>
  9. Mr Pastry >>
  10. Interview with Jane Fonda >>
  11. letters to and from John to editors >>
  12. Ballooning >>
  13. The Toad Cross Code >>
  14. Peter Sellers; that is the problem >>
  15. In bed with John Sandilands plus Jilly Cooper, Zandra Rhodes and Peter Cook >>
  16. Know the Type >>
  17. Animal poems >>
  18. The Toad Cross Code >>
  19. Albert and the Jaguars >>
  20. Herogram >>