Ruth Madoc, actress who found fame as the lovelorn Yellowcoat Gladys in the hit sitcom Hi-de-Hi! – obituary
Ruth Madoc, who has died aged 79, was best-known for her role as the lovestruck Welsh Yellowcoat Gladys Pugh in the popular BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi! (1980-88), set in a fictitious holiday camp in 1959.
Not only was Gladys the Chief Yellowcoat and deputy entertainments manager, but also the announcer on Radio Maplin, the camp’s own radio station, which she identified each morning with a tuneless call-sign rapped out on a xylophone before greeting the campers with a cheery “Hi-de-Hi!”, to which came the wearily shouted reply “Ho-de-Ho!” from her slugabed chalet-bound listeners. Brightly, she would then proceed to itemise the day’s events and attractions, invariably highlighting the evening’s entertainment lined up in the “Hawaiian Ballroom”.
Ruth Madoc’s intense portrayal of Gladys was one of the principal butts of the show. Short, dark and Welsh, she was one several attractive cast members, her character resentful of three pretty subordinate Yellowcoats, whom she suspected of having designs on the upper-middle class entertainments manager Geoffrey Fairbrother (Simon Cadell), with whom she was secretly in love. “I knew Gladys so well,” Ruth Madoc recalled, “because I’d met women like her while growing up in South Wales.
“She was a woman of her time – like two tonnes of nutty slack rolling down the Welsh valleys. Viewers loved Hi-de-Hi! because it had great writing. The lines were so spot-on nothing was ever changed.” She decided to make Gladys smoulder with passion towards Geoffrey, rather than make her affections blatant. But Fairbrother, an emotionally-repressed former Cambridge don, was unresponsive to her passionate overtures, and in the course of their weekly clashes of class and high and low culture she never managed to snare him.
The show was inspired by the experience of Jimmy Perry, who co-wrote it with the producer, David Croft. After being demobilised from the Army, Perry worked as a Redcoat at Butlins holiday camp at Pwllheli in north Wales, during the holiday season.
For several weeks annually during the nine-year run of Hi-de-Hi! Ruth Madoc and the rest of the cast would stay at Warner’s Holiday Camp at Dovercourt, near Harwich, to film the exterior scenes for each series. Interior scenes would be recorded later in front of a studio audience.
She was born Margaret Ruth Llewellyn Baker on April 16 1943 in Norwich, where her father was an administrator at three Norfolk hospitals and her mother a nursing matron. Through her father, George Llewellyn Baker, she was distantly related to the former Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George.
Because both her parents moved around the country in their work, Ruth was brought up by her Welsh grandmother in the mining village of Llansamlet, near Swansea. Her childhood was unconventional, and she felt little emotional attachment to her peripatetic parents.
On leaving school at 16 she spent three months at Nottingham Rep as an assistant stage manager before training at Rada, where her fellow students included Tom Courtenay. One of her earliest professional roles was in a regional touring production of Under Milk Wood with Philip Madoc, whom she later married.
After appearing in the musical Pickwick (1963) and working in the stage version of The Black and White Minstrel Show (Victoria Palace, 1963), she met Jimmy Perry, then running a repertory company at the Palace Theatre, Watford, and she auditioned for one of his pantomimes.
In 1971 Ruth Madoc played Fruma-Sarah in the film version of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and worked with Richard Burton on the film of Under Milk Wood (1972), in which she played Mrs Dai Bread Two.
On the stage her roles included that of Maria in West Side Story, and on television she had a long-running part in ITV’s rural police drama series Hunter’s Walk (1973-76). In the late 1970s she was appearing again in Under Milk Wood when Perry and his comedy-writing partner David Croft invited her to audition for Hi-de-Hi!
“David asked me, ‘Do you always speak like that?’ I got the job and the rest is history.”
Her other television roles included that of the mother of Daffyd Thomas, “the only gay in the village”, in the second series of Little Britain, a part Matt Lucas wrote for her. On the stage she appeared in a production of Calendar Girls and in 2009 she played Dorothy Squires in Say It With Flowers. In the same year she returned to television situation comedy, appearing in Big Top on BBC One, alongside Amanda Holden, John Thomson and Tony Robinson.
Ruth Madoc was awarded an honorary degree by Swansea University in 2006. She was nominated for a Bafta for Best Light Entertainment Performance as Gladys Pugh, and as Daffyd Thomas’s mother in Little Britain.
With her first husband, Philip Madoc, she appeared in the 1981 miniseries The Life and Times of David Lloyd George. They met when she was 17, nine years younger than him, and married in 1961. They had a son and a daughter, but the marriage ended in divorce after 20 years.
Ruth Madoc married her second husband, and manager, John Jackson, in 1982; he died in 2021, and she is survived by her children.
Ruth Madoc, born April 16 1943, died December 9 2022