Denise Coffey dead, Actor who invested her many stage and TV

Born Dec. 12, 1936; Died March 24, 2022

Few true theater and TV clowns have been as good as Denise Coffey, who has died at the age of 85. She was a key figure in the British comedy television that redefined the post-war era, and seeing her always mischievous and delightful on stage was like devoting two or three hours of precious mental tonic.

She was a key member of the thriving Young Vic Company, founded in London in 1970 with the support of the Old Vic National Theatre, to present classics and new plays to young audiences. Already in the 1960s, she played a number of classic and dirty roles in Bernard Miles’ Mermaid Theater at Puddle Dock.

She appeared in Frank Dunlop’s Young Vic, left behind several film credits and gained notoriety in surreal TV comedies – notably ITV’s Don’t Adjust Your Set (1967- 69) – Influenced by Goons and lead Monty Python’s radio comedy. She and David Jason provided the “legitimate showbiz” element in the college joke company – Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, producer Humphrey Barclay – with music inspired by Vivian Stanshall’s Crazy Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Two hit series on ITV followed: A Girl in the Town (1970-71), in which she lived happily on Acacia Drive with singer Julie Stevens; and Hold the Front Page (1974), in which Coffey leads a group of deranged editorial assistants who call “Mr. Big” embroiled in the Great Rug scandal. The end of the first (1979) is a satirical soap opera in which a straight male couple (Tony Aitken and Coffey as Norman and Vera) are interrupted by a group of celebrities on television to disturb their family’s dullness; I wear those creepy glasses and play Robin Day.

She is absolutely unique: less than 1.50 meters tall, fairy-looking, powerful and eccentric. In her private life she has been single, vegetarian and eventually apathetic, especially after discovering the joys of the country west – she moved from London to Salcombe, Devon – and the seaside life.

She was a regular on a number of Stanley Baxter’s TV comedy series in 1968 and 1971, and played Alexei Sayle’s desperate nightclub comedian Bobby in 1998. Bobby Chariot’s grotesque manager was overdone.

Denise was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, the only child of Dorothy (née Malcolm) and her husband Denis Coffey, a proud native of Cork An Irishman, he was also a squadron leader in the RAF. They moved north to Dorothy’s native Scotland, where Denise was educated at Dunfermline High School, the Glasgow School of Drama and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music.

She made her debut at Dunfermline Opera House in 1954 in various roles in Macbeth. In 1962 she played Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan’s Edinburgh Gateway Film Festival.