by John Howard
Although not blessed with theatrical talent myself I have been lucky to be born into a talented theatre family, which has been working on stage and in movies for more than 100 years. It’s something I am very proud of. I have developed a website which charts the careers of my mother, father, grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Visit Swing the Gate http://swingthegate.co.uk/ —» to get a slice of British performance history.
My dad, who played Uriah Croup in Cardboard Cavalier —» – available on free-classic-movies.com – was born John Augustus William Howard in 1905. Taking his father’s stage surname he appeared as Jack McNaughton in straight theatre, revue, variety, film and television as an artist and as a director for over 40 years. He left school at the age of 18 and went straight onto the stage.
One of his earliest appearances was in 1924 as Pickles in Cinderella at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Throughout the 1920s Jack appeared in revues including Upsy Daisy and Big Fleas, in which danced, sang and played the ukulele, touring up and down the UK.
This continued until in 1938 Jack toured Australia with Fay Compton and Michael Wilding in Victoria Regina and Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8:30. Then in 1939 Jack joined the army and served as a lieutenant platoon commander with the 2nd Battalion Loyal Regiment in the Far East during WWII. He saw combat action in the jungle, was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942 and was held as a POW between 1942 and 1945. He carried on performing even there. Jack was involved in putting on entertainment, stage shows and lectures in the camps in which he was held -Changi in Singapore, in Keijo, Korea and Omori camp in Tokyo, Japan. In Changi gaol he worked with popular acts including female impersonator Gloria D’earie.
After the war Jack appeared in revue, including The New Irving Revue and the popular annual revue The Greenroom Rag, sang with Norman Hackforth at the Café de Paris and appeared in over 60 films including The Dambusters, Brighton Rock (with Richard Attenborough), The Man in the White Suit, The Purple Plain (with Gregory Peck), The Pickwick Papers, Rough Shoot and Green Grow the Rushes (with Richard Burton). In the 1950s Jack cut down on film work to concentrate on straight theatre in London, England. He directed at the New Lyndsey Theatre and in repertory theatre around London. His credits included Fact and Fiction, The Boy with the Meat Axe, The Final Ace, The Man with the Guitar, The Prisoners of War and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Before he retired he appeared in a couple of episodes of Coronation Street, a popular British soap opera that is still running today, and episodes of various TV thrillers and police dramas. He cut his TV career short when actors’ union Equity went on strike in 1961.
In 1959 he married my mother, Canadian actress Kay Callard, who starred in films like They Who Dare (with Dirk Bogard), The Flying Scot and TV shows of the late 1950s such as The Vise and Knight Errant. They retired from show business to raise a family in rural Cambridgeshire, which is where I was born and brought up amid tales of the theatre and its people.