The following article is reproduced from The Sunday Tribune, December 2, 1984 (Durban, South Africa)

Meet the men (and woman) in Springbok Radio's longest running comedy series...

17 years and still going strong

Story and Pictures by WANDA HENNIG
Edited and published to the Internet by Robin Davis

Durban, South Africa, January 2002

THE MINISTRY TEAM ... lady first and going up: Maureen Adair, Tommy Read, John Simpson, Roger Service, Frank Graham (back left) and the distinguished Tom Meehan

TAKE a dizzy office secretary with stick-on eyelashes that tend to get caught in her typewriter, an office boss whose greatest talent is to do no work, a bumbling sidekick who carries a brolly, wears a bowler and rides a broken-down bicycle - plus a few eccentric extras - and what have you got?
You have, the best-known team of office workers (should that read shirkers?) in the country. The department of exquisite (d)efficiency that visits you in your home at 6.30 pm each Sunday.
These are The Men From The Ministry.
The characters outlined above form part of the core of Springbok Radio's longest running comedy series.
Now into its seventeenth year of broadcast, its marathon run was interrupted only once - some years ago when a plan was made to end it. But within days a flood of letters of complaint threatened to swamp the programme controller and within three weeks it was back on the air.
It's been there ever since, not dampened by the introduction of TV. During the run, there has been only one cast change - Frank Graham replaced radio actor Pat Simpson who died in 1970. Never has a recording been missed through illness.
This week the printed word focuses on the people behind the voices that give life to the characters. After all this time they've got to know each other and their roles so well they can ad lib lines and record with the minimum of rehearsal.
Yet somehow, even for them, the magic remains. They still break down in mirth on occasions while doing a show - corpsing. it's called in the profession, when the tapes in the Durban recording studios have to stop to rub out guffaws that should only come from the listeners.

During its run, only one woman has uttered lines in the show, although a dozen-plus female parts are regularly featured. She is Maureen Adair who plays, among others, Tanya the Russian spy, a Scots matron, a brash American tourist, occasionally Mrs Rampersad Haribhai Spoonilal V Muckerjee, a baby crying ("That's my piece de resistance"). But best known, and Maureen's two favourite characters, are the irrepressible Mildred and the decrepit, but vampy, Lolita Snethersthwaite.
"Mildred ... I visualise her as a sexy little piece, blonde and dizzy. I don't know why one tends to associate dizziness with blondes ... She's petite and perky, aged about 28 and. in her spare time -which is often during office time, she paints her nailsand puts on her eyelashes.

Maureen was born in Dublin and came to South Africa in 1952 to wed of the late Harold Lake whom she met when they both played lead roles in a romantic comedy The Desert Song. At the time, he had gone to England to work, in but later returned to South Africa. Maureen had been offered a part in the Goon Show which was about to begin it's famous run on BBC radio, but turned it down to come to South Africa.
With 32 years radio experience (you saw her on TV in Winchester). she spends at least part of each day recording. Ask her to count the roles she has played over the years and she'll tell you it's impossible.
Her "big one" at the moment is that of Emma Harte in A Woman of Substance on Springbok Radio every week night at nine."That's been one of my biggest challenges. As Emma I have to age from 17 to 79."
She is also on Springbok playing the lead role in The Fields of Heaven, daily at 12:45.
Then, like some of the Ministry men, there's Father Dear Father, The Navy Lark and 15 many other radio character parts.
Maureen, who plays bowls (she's the Albert Park club champ), and reads for Tape Aids for the Blind in the little spare time she has, holds as her record, seven different female parts in a single episode of Men From The Ministry. "I love that show as much now as I ever did. We're all just like one happy family," she enthuses.

NUMBER One, brolly-carrying Roland Lennox-Brown, is, in the words of John Simpson, the man who plays him and who has been in radio since 1949: "The opposite of a workaholic. He's the sort of man who usually has his weekends planned by Monday lunchtime. "He is head of the General Assistance Department but only by virtue of years of service. Certainly ability doesn't come into it - unless it is ability to pass the buck. I'd say his greatest ability is to do no work.
"How would I compare myself with Lennox-Brown? "I'd say we're exactly the same. That's how I got the part. It was perfect typecasting."
The 61-year-old British-born actor, an RAF airman in World War 2, might tell you that very earnestly. But, within minutes of chatting to this veteran of scores of serials and plays, it is obvious he is quite the opposite.
A grandfather, his day is spent rushing between the recording studio and the office in central Durban from which he conducts his internal telephone and radio communications business. When he can slip away, he plays golf "badly".
Of Men From The Ministry, he says: "This is one of the few comedy series I've been in that I've never got tired of. As far as I'm concerned, it's never gone stale and I can still laugh when I read the script."

ROGER Service, who plays Richard Lamb, Number Two in the General Assistance Department, has been a professional radio actor since 1948. In recent years, he has turned more and more to writing for radio and has three serials and 107 plays to his credit. "That's more than Shakespeare -- but it doesn't make me rich," he says dourly. He describes Lamb as: "A bit of a bumbler. Not overly bright. A typical silly ass, in fact. But he's warm and, I think, generous. For me he typifies the sort of person you find in the Civil Service -in England of course."
A 44-year-old father of three and a husband who describes his wife as "an unliberated housewife who loves it", Service says he thinks a bit of Lamb's character has probably rubbed off over the years. "He's always in trouble and so am I."
An obvious workaholic who feels guilty if he's not writing "...who can afford to take a day off with this monstrous inflation?") he describes Men From The Ministry as "One of the major comedy success stories in south Africa. It's become our answer to Coronation Street.
"For me, it's become a brotherhood. I can't imagine life without it."

TOMMY Read, who plays the ancient Humbert Snethersthwaite who 'splashes', Mr Rampersad Haribhai Spoonilal V Muckerjee straight from India (and also Mr. Creepy Crawly, Major Trumble, Arthur Bollett the newsreader, Mildred's boyfriend Bernard - and you name it, he's done it), came to South Africa from England in 1948 as an apprentice jockey. He rode professionally until 1955 then smashed his left arm. "That and weight problems forced me out," the extremely versatile 52-year-old actor, who has been in radio for 20 years, says. Tommy is married to Rhona, sister of actor Dale Coutes of Villagers and Westgate fame. The two men were doing a play in Durban in 1965. Rhona went along to a rehearsal. She and Tommy met. Dale later invited Tommy round to his family's Durban home for dinner. "And that was it."
The couple have two teenage children. Tommy is a professional actor with some TV work and several commercials as well as mountains of radio work to his credit. "Coming from England, I recognise many of the Ministry characters and each has aspects with which I can identify," he says.

FRANK Graham rattles off the parts he plays as fluidly as he rattles out his roles. "There's Venables. the man who always puts a 'bubble' at the end of his words. Then very often I play tile fruit who says 'hello, hello, hello . . .'I do Matthews the hall porter, and then the mad Italian opera singer who appears from time to time."
Frank, a professional entertainer who does cabaret as well as his radio work and voice-overs for many radio and TV ads, was a teacher at Northlands Boys High for 17 years until March 1983. He joined the cast of "Men" after the death of Pat Simpson in the early seventies.
Eventually, he found the double life of teacher and entertainer too much. "The vocal strain was unbelievable," he says. This doesn't necessarily mean he raised his voice in the classroom - he was officer commanding the cadets and he trained the drill squad.
He loves comedy and has played dozens of parts in the course of a serial. "My record for a half hour was seven different parts in Friends and Neighbours."

FINALLY in our Ministry line-up, we have the pair who put it all together - father and son team, Tom and Barry Meehan. (Professionally, son Barry works under the name Brian Squires).
Distintuished Tom, whose wife Joy works as secretary for the production house he runs and which supplies scripts to the SABC, looks every bit the part of an imaginary Sir Gregory Pitkin - and rather like the mental picture of his secondary role, newsreader Mortimer Thripp.
He was the person who first put Men from The Ministry on the map.
He picked up a script on a trip to England 18 years ago. A series had been written by Edward Taylor (who still sends an episode across now and then) for the BBC.
A pilot show was put on over here - and the rest is history.
Tom once served in the Indian Army Sikh Regiment, was a prisoner of war for three years, became the Sunday Tribune's first columnist in 1950 and has been in radio for 37 years. He not only acts in Ministry, but, with Barry who doubles as producer, he also writes scripts for it.
They have in the region of 2 000 comedy scripts to their combined credit - including about 600 Ministry scripts.
The pair introduced Snethersthwaite and Muckerjee, neither of whom was in the original.
Barry, 35, has worked in radio for the past 16 years. He recently joined a promotional company and now spends his evenings and weekends on radio work.
"Spare time. What's that?" he asks.
They expect a time will come when the public has had enough of Men From The Ministry. But no one can see that happening yet. As it is, it's become an institution.


FOOTNOTE:
Due to the presence of television which began transmissions in 1976, Springbok Radio was forced to close down on 31st December 1985.
The second to last recording session of
Men from the Ministry and Father, dear Father took place at the Nederburg Theatre at the Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery Co-op in New Germany outside Durban in October the same year.

Men from the Ministry moved to Radio South Africa (later known as SAfm) where it ran for another 2 or 3 years with Durban radio drama producer/actor Don Ridgway at the helm. Programme changes on SAfm caused Men from the Ministry to be dropped from the programme schedule. A short article was written for the SABC's Durban office in-house staff magazine "Sanibonani".

Sadly Maureen Adair passed away tragically in 1998.


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Published to the Internet in January 2002
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