I take my hat off to Askern's pitmen

HE'S best known as the man who dropped his pants 12,000 times on British stage and screen... but he was a bit more of a prude when he worked down the pit in Askern.

So much so, that he even tried to mine coal with GLOVES on – to keep his hands nice for acting!

HAYLEY PATERSON caught up with the king of the bedroom farce, Lord Brian Rix to hear about his Doncaster days as a Bevin boy.

SHIVERING and shaking, a young Brian Rix arrived with a certain splash at the bottom of Askern pit – when he turned up in a pair of GLOVES, to keep his hands nice for acting!

The splash wasn't all his own... it came as the cage hit the pool of

water at the bottom of one of Yorkshire's deepest mines.

But the 19-year-old's unusual workwear drew the attention of his foreman, who looked at the gloves and promised him: "If you wear them, lad, you'll end up with hands like mine"...

The pitmen then held up a hand that had only THREE fingers on it, as proof!

Consigned to the "ghastly" world of Askern pit by his dodgy sinuses, Lord Rix was one of the Bevin Boys, who helped Britain's war effort in 1943.

And as he exclusively shared with the Newsletter, his memories of pit life in the town, he took off his hat, to the courage and hard work of Askern's colliers.

He explained: "I was a Bevin Boy for a while. I was sent to Askern from the air force – who gave me the ghastly alternative of going to Askern pit because of medical problems I had during flying.

"I had really bad sinuses, so they sent me to do some voluntary work.

"But it turned out my sinuses were just as bad, if not worse, while I was down the pit at 19-years-old.

"I was there about seven months in total and it was good while I was there, I have many memories.

"The one that still haunts me is when you got into the cage to the be sent down to the bottom.

"Because Askern was one of the deepest mines in South Yorkshire, you were going at 30mph – that wasn't pleasant!

"I remember shivering at the top, waiting for the cage and then being sent down... then there was a loud splash when you got to the bottom."

Lord Rix remembered: "I can still picture it now, when I was asked by my foreman why I was wearing gloves whilst down the mine.

"I tried to explain to him that I was an actor and had to protect my hands.

"But he just laughed and said 'if you wear them, you'll end up with hands like mine!'... and held up his hand which only had three fingers on it.

"He'd got them caught and the only way he could be freed was for his friends to cut them off. That was my introduction to pit life."

"I was just a labourer shovelling and sweeping."

"A lot of my friends would go to the Danum Hotel. When we walked in with our mining boots on, the landlord always told us off.

"We used to have to stay in huts and hostels near to the pit while we were working."

Lord Rix added: "Looking back, mining was a terrible job. It was so damaging to your health.

"But the colliers were all heroes, and it was prestigious being a Bevin Boy."

The Bevin Boy tag came from British Labour Party politician Ernest Bevin – who was minister of Labour and national service during the wartime coalition government.

The Bevin Boys helped ease the UK's coal shortage and made a huge contribution to the war effort.

But they were only honoured 67 YEARS after the conflict when, this March, 27 'Boys' – including Lord Rix and Top of the Pops DJ Jimmy Savile – collected medals from Number 10 for their war service.

Jimmy was a miner after being a member of the Air Training Corps, while another famous Bevin Boy – comic genius Eric Morecambe – also put in an 11-month stint at Accrington Colliery.

Brian Norman Roger Rix was born the son of a Hull ship owner, in nearby Cottingham, on January 27, 1924.

He became a professional actor at 18 – but during his first brief spell on the stage, he was drafted into the RAF , and then sent to Askern pit.

After the war, the comedian formed his own theatre company in 1947 and later married his first love, Elspet Gray, in Hornsea.

After his first ever production – Reluctant Heroes – hit the big time at London West End's Whitehall theatre, Rix's career took off.

In bedroom farce, he was catapulted to fame on the stage and in the coming medium of TV, as he romped around without his trousers on!

Aside from his own series, he also made it to the big screen, starring in films such as 1973's Don't Just Lie There, Say Something!

In more than 70 productions, over a 50-year showbiz career, he worked with a host of other household names, such as debonair smooth-talking Leslie Phillips to former Avengers girl Joanna Lumley.

He and Elspet had four children but tragically their eldest, Shelley, suffered Down's Syndrome. She died aged 53, three years ago.

Rix has since retained a particular personal interest in fund-

raising for disability charities.

He has been both chairman and president of Mencap, and his selfless giving and glittering 50-year showbiz career merited the numerous honours bestowed on him.

Along with eight honorary degrees and three fellowships, he was made a CBE in 1977, and knighted in June 1986 – becoming a Life Baron in the 1992 New Year's Honours.

Now as Lord Rix, he's "Baron of Whitehall in the City of Westminster and Hornsea in Yorkshire"! He has produced two autobiographies – My Farce From My Elbow in 1974, and 1989's Farce About Face, two historical theatre productions – Tour de Farce and Life in the Farce Lane – and an anthology of travel stories by famous people, called Gullible's Travails.

The book raised cash for the Mencap Blue Sky Appeal which gives help and support to people with disabilities and their families.

He added: "Now I've retired I can look back on my life with a smile.

Being 83 years old now, I thought I might have some spare time... but that's still not the case.

"I'm just solely putting all of my efforts into the work of Mencap and

my family."

Backstage with Brian

APART from his short-lived career as an Askern miner, here are five things not everyone knows about Lord Brian Rix:

He dropped his trousers over 12,000 times in his acting heyday.

He is the brother of former actress Sheila Mercier, who played Emmerdale Farm matriarch Annie Sugden from the soap's very first episode in 1972, until 1994.

He has a pink rose named after him called The Brian Rix or Mencap Rose.

He presented the first-ever BBC programme for disabled people, called Let's Go.

Daughter Shelley lived at the Normansfield Hospital, and parents Brian and Elspet founded a League of Friends which raised money for a new school, a shop, a boutique and hydrotherapy pool, as well as a holiday home for the residents.