Over the weekend we received the very sad news that the actor Sam Kelly has died of cancer aged 70. Although most well known for his roles in Porridge and the situation comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo, those who love the adaptations of the Arthur Ransome books will remember him as The Captain of the Catchalot in the BBC dramatisation of ‘The Big Six’.
Sam Kelly playing Captain of the Catchalot with Jake Coppard as Pete in ‘The Big Six’
Sam Kelly was brilliant as the cheerful pike fisherman of the Norfolk Broads who trusted the local lads to look after his boat and fishing tackle, standing aside to let them take the credit for catching a ‘whoppa’ with his rod.
Jake Coppard, Mark Page, Nicholas Walpole and Sam Kelly officially weighing the great pike
Arthur Ransome did not actually give the Captain of the Catchalot a name. He was named Robin in the BBC credits although the whole point was that his character was nameless. This is unusual in a drama but Pete, of the Death and Glory, who caught bait and helped to catch the massive pike, only ever addressed him as ‘Sir’, and never knew his name. This was a point crucial to the plot as later in the story Pete is forced into a corner when questioned by the police as he had to admit he didn’t actually know the fisherman’s name.
It is maybe for this reason that, despite being a star of the drama, Sam Kelly was left off the IMDb listing for the drama serial ‘The Big Six’. I have written in to set the record straight. Do scroll down on this web-page and add your own ‘Edit’ or create a character page for him by clicking here.
The series ends when they all celebrate the great catch at the pub famously called The Roaring Donkey and drink to the stuffed pike that weighed in at over 30lbs, earning the three boys the huge sum of thirty-shillings and sixpence from the landlord.
Sam Kelly recently appeared in Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang , playing Maggie Smith’s husband Mr Docherty, and on stage in Mike Leigh comedies, until ill-health forced him to stand down. It could be tricky working with Sam as we only had to look his way and we’d all collapse laughing. The more serious the story line, the more we laughed. He was a very generous actor and will be very fondly remembered by us all.
I have received many questions via the internet asking if Sam Kelly ever married, but although often surrounded by pretty girls I think the opportunity passed him by. He once arrived at my house with a bottle of champagne and took me out to a very nice pub on the River Thames but I was seventeen years younger than him and had to explain I was already committed to another.
Costume designer Susannah Buxton on location with Sam Kelly and make-up artist Penny Fergusson
‘The Big Six’ was re-released with ‘Coot Club’ on DVD this summer by Revelation Films under the generic title Swallows and Amazons Forever.
Also starring Colin Baker, who was at drama school with Sam, as well as Patrick Troughton, John Woodvine and Henry Dimbelby it makes very good family viewing. To purchase a copy please click here.
The BBC have this lovely photo of Sam Kelly roaring with laughter that you can find inside the DVD:
Sam Kelly as the Captain of the Catchalot (c) BBCTV
For Sam Kelly’s obituary in the Guardian, please click here