The character actor and farceur Patrick Cargill eschewed novelty songs or comedy for a 1969 album dedicated to misery and middle-aged angst.
Father, Dear Father,
RCA SF 8060,
Although Major Ronald Cargill was from a proud military family, he was also the driving force behind the formation of the Bexhill Amateur Theatrical Society in 1935. Born in 1918, Major Ronald’s son Patrick grew up sharing his parents’ love of amateur dramatics and the theatre, and from an early age set his sights on pursuing a stage career. After school though, and despite appearances in many amateur productions, Patrick’s father decided that he should enrol at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst rather than take to the stage. Begrudgingly Patrick acquiesced to his father’s wishes and unenthusiastically began a rather lacklustre military career. Parents, they never learn do they?
Posted to India, Patrick Cargill immediately began saving his pay in order to buy himself out of the army and book his passage back home. As soon as the funds were in place, Cargill was true to his word and immediately left Agra, bound for Bexhill on the first steamer back to Britain. On his way back he made the wise decision to cable Matthew Forsyth, who ran the repertory company at Bexhill and who had previously engaged Cargill’s services as an unpaid extra.
Arriving back in England with 10/6 in his pocket (quickly reduced to 8 shillings after buying his mother a cup of tea at the railway station buffet) a letter from Forsyth was awaiting him, requesting Cargill to appear for an audition the following morning.
At any other time that letter would have been brilliant news, but the sudden declaration of war in 1939 meant that Patrick Cargill’s career move from the army to the theatre would not go quite to plan. As the theatres around the country gradually closed, he hung on for as long as he could following the dwindling acting companies from Bexhill to Halifax and then finally on to Dundee. And from there, well, it was back to the army and back to India and yet more nondescript service in His Majesty’s army.
After the war, Patrick Cargill left the army for good and travelled back to Britain a free man at last. Reuniting with Anthony Hawtrey who had ran the actor’s company in Dundee, he resumed a career in repertory theatre. In total Cargill would spend fifteen years in rep, seven of them in Windsor under the auspices of John Counsell.
He would have to wait until 1953 to make his West End debut, when the revue High Spirits (formerly Intimacy At Eight) ditched Ron Moody and transferred from the New Lindsey Theatre in Notting Hill to the Hippodrome. Cargill was in good company in a cast led by Diana Churchill, Cyril Ritchard and a host of other young talent such as Ian Carmichael, Thelma Ruby, Dilys Laye, Leslie Crowther, and Joan Sims.
Other West End plays soon followed such as Meet a Body with Brian Reece and Joy Shelton at the Duke Of York’s Theatre (filmed as The Green Man) and Wolf’s Clothing with Muriel Pavlow and Derek Farr at The Strand. Cargill was also busy writing as well as acting. His first play, Cry In The Night published in 1952, proved popular in rep, even more so when the title changed to the much more salacious Desire In The Night. His big success as a writer was his 1956 work Ring For Catty, which may not be well known these days, but which was popular enough (at least with film producer Peter Rogers) to inspire the two feature films Twice Round the Daffodils, and the phenomenally successful Carry On Nurse.
In1962, after starring in the long-running French farce Boeing-Boeing with David Tomlinson and Carole Shelley, Patrick Cargill found his true niche as a farceur, making over 1500 appearances in the risqué play. His new fame would lead to numerous appearances in feature films including Help! with The Beatles, Inspector Clouseau, and the Charlie Chaplin film A Countess From Hong Kong, alongside Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren.
There were also numerous TV appearances as well, normally requiring Cargill’s services as a master of farce in works by Brian Rix and Georges Feydeau, or as an aloof authority figure playing straight man to various comedians, as witnessed best in his appearances alongside Tony Hancock in the two Hancock episodes The Blood Donor and The Bowmans.
In 1968, at the age of 50 a starring TV role would suddenly arrive for Patrick Cargill that would ensure his fame after years of theatrical support work. Father, Dear Father was a gentle domestic comedy that saw Patrick’s Cargill’s character, the writer Patrick Glover, coping as best he could with two young and attractive teenage daughters after his wife had eloped with his best friend. Aided by ‘Nanny’ (the wonderful dotty Noël Dyson) Patrick’s all-female household would generally drive him to distraction each week, the only solace being his faithful and improbably named St Bernard dog, H.G. Wells.
Written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, the series ran for 49 episodes and even had a cinematic spinoff in 1972. The series came to a natural conclusion in 1973 when Patrick’s eldest daughter managed to find a husband and started exploring ways to annoy him rather than her father. Respite for Patrick and Nanny was short lived though, as in 1978 they for some reason emigrated from England to Australia in order to be bothered by Patrick’s two young and attractive teenage nieces for two further years and another 14 episodes of televisual comedy. Further hilarity of course ensued.
All of which brings me to the curious artefact that is Patrick Cargill’s 1969 album Father, Dear Father. As the title would suggest it was his newly found fame and some strong prompting from James Verner of RCA Records that prompted Patrick Cargill’s attempts to launch himself as a recording artiste.
The music is supplied by band leader and Bee Gees arranger Bill Shepherd and very measured and professional it is too. The lyrics though are a very different matter. Many of the words are by Cargill himself and, as he explains in the sleeve notes, are “a middle-aged man’s light-hearted, tongue-in-the-cheek views of life”. And therein lies the problem. The LP is certainly not light-hearted, and although it may be a middle-aged man’s view of life, it is specifically a very grumpy and cynical middle-aged man’s view of a world that annoys, perplexes and frustrates him in equal measure. Which is of course, precisely what you want from a record made by an actor famous for appearing in a jocular prime-time comedy.
The tone is set from the opening track Father Dear and its painful lament “home every night, nothing is right” onward. Cargill’s baleful mournful sighs seems to dread the imminent return of his daughters, and the eventual arrival of female voices on the track are a dirge rather than a cause for celebration.
Nothing Is The Same Anymore is a cry for all middle-aged men left angry and bewildered by change. “Everyone is a bore” sings Patrick and how right he is. The British Empire has gone, dance moves are strange, the kids are all sweary, shabby and demonstrating about something or other, and everything is just thoroughly ghastly. As Cargill signs off with the lamentation “I wish I was dead” it is hard not to agree with him…
Further tirades are launched against humanity on Alone On The Telephone where everyone seeking to contact Patrick Cargill is treated to equal vitriol and contempt, be they cousins, bankers, his friend Fred (who he specifically wishes death upon) and police officers. Patrick Cargill sounds like Morrissey in his most morose prime, though whether Cargill’s solution to his woes, namely walking his faithful hound H.G. around the park is an ethical vegan solution to misanthropy, only Morrissey can say.
Weight Watchers Guide sees Cargill rail against diets as he is forced to dine on unsweetened lemon juice in lieu of decent fare. He gleefully harbours evil thoughts of mugging children for a slice of strawberry pie, of fighting dogs, cats and canaries for their meagre meals before confessing to secret night-time snacking amid much diabolical laughter worthy of the most evil of Bond villains.
The most spiteful polemic though comes toward the end of side two with the tuneful Women which is probably one of the most embittered and angry songs ever written in the name of comedy. Simply put, women should shut up and leave Patrick alone. They should also refrain from being impetuous, driving cars, dining in restaurants, haggling in shops, washing dishes wrong and generally existing. The vitriolic refrain “it’s a disgrace that they’re part of the human race” is as shocking as it is apparently heartfelt by Patrick. He does state the only good thing about women is that they may eventually give birth to a boy, but it seems a forlorn and desperate hope from an increasingly despondent Cargill.
There are a few songs that offer some sort of hope. Television for instance offers the prospect of being able to watch Charlton Heston films without any form of human company (H.G. excepted) and of course the spectacle of politicians being embarrassed always offers some soothing balm to the senses. Holiday extols the wonders of a break abroad, but only as a means to get as far away from his dreadful home as possible.
The only joy in fact for a middle-aged man is his St Bernard and the prospect of a stroll round the park. The track Walking With Old H.G. details Cargill’s attempts to ‘clear his nervous system’ in the company of H.G. as he forgets the terrors and horrors of existence to skip and whistle through the grass at dawn, discussing literature with an animal probably more interested in befouling lampposts than pondering the existential angst of the modern age.
With the exception of a novelty Christmas single (the predictably titled Father, Dear Father Christmas in case you were wondering), Patrick Cargill was rarely allowed near a recording studio again and for very good reason. If in his later years Patrick Cargill could have worked Johnny Cash style with modern artists, then he may have added a lot to the downbeat oeuvre of The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, The Smiths, Nick Cave or similar. We should refrain from speculation though and be grateful that Patrick Cargill was committing malice, spite, anger and boredom to vinyl way back before ennui and dissatisfaction were fashionable.
Should you feel inclined to pick up the phone and give him a call, Patrick Cargill may be in the mood to tell you to drop dead. Who knows? Let’s see shall we?