Obituary: JOHN BENNETT ; Billy Bush in the Soap 'Honey Lane'

By Hayward, Anthony | The Independent (London, England), April 16, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: JOHN BENNETT ; Billy Bush in the Soap 'Honey Lane'


Hayward, Anthony, The Independent (London, England)


It was conceived as the story of cockney folk in a bustling London East End street market, made at Elstree Studios and quickly topped the television ratings. Two decades before EastEnders cornered its own market in friction-fiction at the same studios, Market in Honey Lane began as a weekly, one-hour drama in 1967, with each episode focusing on a particular character, before it was turned into a twice-weekly soap the following year under the shortened title Honey Lane.

One of its stars was John Bennett, who played a fruit-and-veg stallholder called Billy Bush. The actor spent a lifetime taking character roles on screen but found his face, if not his name, widely recognised during the programme's two-year run (1967-69). It was an immediate success, attracting more than 20 million viewers at its peak, but many were lost with the switch to a serial format because it no longer enjoyed a network slot on ITV: some regions screened it during afternoons, others late at night.

Honey Lane became one of many attempts by both ITV and the BBC in the 1960s to emulate the successful formula of Coronation Street. Shops, market stalls and a pub were built on an Elstree Studios back- lot by its producers, ATV, only to be taken down again and rebuilt when the BBC bought the studios and launched EastEnders in 1985.

Born in Beckenham, Kent, in 1928, John Bennett abandoned ambitions of becoming an architect to train as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama. After making his stage dbut alongside Leslie Phillips in The Man from the Ministry (Croydon Hippodrome, 1949) and spending many years in repertory theatre, he made his screen dbut in the heist film The Challenge (1960), starring Jayne Mansfield.

After his first television role, as Injun Joe in the children's series The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1960), he was also a regular as the editor in Front Page Story (1965), set in the offices of a national newspaper.

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