Monday, 11 March 2013

Harry Greene


We all have to hope that we make it to our 90th year in great fettle. And when the time comes to "switch off", it happens without you knowing about it.

And so, Harry Greene left this world on Monday 4th March 2013. Born 90 years earlier in 1923 in the Rhymney Valley, I had only known "Harryboyo" since I first dated his eldest daughter Sarah, 32 years ago. My own dad had died back in '76 - so Harry became particularly important to me.

He was one of those driven people. Largely self-employed from teenage years and working his way from Wales to London via Art College, Cardiff University, stage management, design, building, acting, writing and teaching special needs children. He modified and built his own property with his own hands. He ensured that his 3 children were educated, informed, loved and sent on their way in life.

Born Henry Howard Greenhouse, he realised that his name would be too long to go on the canopy of a theatre or cinema. In 1950 he changed his surname to Greene by deed poll. Harry to us and tv viewers, Howard on his IMDB profile.

He married his true love in 1955, the year I was born. Marjie Lawrence, a gorgeous English actress, worked alongside Harry with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford, East London. Harry toured the country for Theatre Workshop - sourcing the company's succession of battered old vans, building sets, acting. His contemporaries included Sean Connery, Sheila Hancock - and he was even at TW the day Michael Caine got rejected by Joan Littlewood : "You're going to be a star, but not here. F*** off to the West End" said the never-diplomatic Littlewood.

Harry & Marjie fell in love and were together for 55 years, until Marjie passed away in 2010. Marjie was Harry's star. When she started to get large West End roles and film parts, Harry became the all-supportive husband and father at home, championing his wife's right to have a career.

In 1955, when they married, they became 2 of ITV's first stars - a soap opera called Round at the Redways featured the two of them as a married couple - with Harry playing the part of the DIY husband. From that, he actually became television's first DIY expert.

It was his DIY career that I got to know. In the 80s he worked for Greg Dyke at TV-AM, devising, writing & producing a great series called Dream Home. Harry found a tumbledown small house, persuaded TV-AM to buy it (cheers, Greg!) and then they filmed the whole conversion & building process. At the end, the house was given away in a competition.

Later, for the BBC, he did a similar operation in the bizarre surroundings of the car park at Pebble Mill studios, Birmingham. On The House was a project to build and complete a house from scratch - and Harry and his team rose to the challenge.

If it wasn't for Harry Greene, none of those DIY tv shows of the 90s would have happened. He made DIY fashionable and accessible. Some of his best ideas were "borrowed" by various tv executives and put on-air - with no recompense for Harry. That's telly.

For 10 years he was QVC's original DIY presenter, showing and selling hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of new products for DIY every Sunday morning. He was in demand from the likes of B&Q and the Ideal Home Show. People loved his personality and his high jinks on-air.

If you can find copies of his published DIY books, do. The Harry Greene Complete DIY Problem Solver is a bible, produced by him and only him. I know - because I helped him with photos & contracts. That book has his DNA all over it.

So - I became very close to my father-in-law, particularly over the past decade as his wife declined and eventually left him on his own. I started to really appreciate his foundation, his dedication, his skills from the past. He was never without a camera - so we all have plenty of memories to savour in his multitudinous albums.

It's going to take a while to absorb the shock of his passing. Sarah, Harry and I had just returned from a holiday together - something we've done every winter since Marjie passed away. On that holiday he got to see his grandchildren who live in the US, and his older sister.

3 days after we got back, Harry came home from shopping, parked his car - and didn't get as far as his house. He just switched-off and collapsed. Neighbours rallied, paramedics arrived within minutes and we were called. The NHS went into its brilliant mode, trying to save a life. But he never regained consciousness and died 4 hours later. His attending medics assure us that he would have known nothing, nor felt any pain.

Some of his most distraught neighbours are kids who simply loved him. He always had a bit of magic for any children he met. When we were going through his travel documents this week, out fell some rubber bands and playing cards : Magic Harry's kit for everyone's amusement.

I never had a chance to tell him how great he was. How I really liked it when he played the spoons at our wedding. How I loved when he hugged me, grabbed my thighs and called me "muscular". How he gave me the most incredible wife a man could ever have.

I took him from his Smith Corona typewriter to computing, in the early 90s. Once he got to grips with an iMac and printer - he was off. In the last few years, with his sparkling MacBook never far away, he has been researching & writing his own life story. Here was a man in his 80s, embracing new technology and wandering with purpose around the web. It's 3 completed volumes and several hundred pages long with photos and his own drawings. A true legacy.

So, cheers Harryboyo. We shall lay you to rest as you wished. Everybody attending will wear something pink and you are no doubt entertaining elsewhere by now, with stories, spoons and magic tricks.