|Born||John Lancelot Blades Percival
26 July 1933
Sevenoaks, Kent, England
|Died||6 January 2015
John Lancelot Blades Percival, known as Lance Percival (26 July 1933 – 6 January 2015), was an English actor, comedian and singer, best known for his appearances in satirical comedy shows of the early 1960s and his ability to improvise comic calypsos about current news stories. He later became successful as an after-dinner speaker.
He was born in Sevenoaks, Kent, and was educated at Sherborne School in Sherborne, Dorset, where he learnt to play the guitar. He then did national service with the Seaforth Highlanders as a lieutenant and was posted to Egypt. In 1955 he emigrated to Canada where he worked as an advertising copywriter, writing jingles for radio. He also formed a calypso group as "Lord Lance" which toured the US and Canada.
Percival first became well known in the early 1960s for performing topical calypsos on television shows such as That Was The Week That Was, after having been discovered by Ned Sherrin, performing at the Blue Angel Club in Mayfair. A tall thin man with a distinctive crooked nose and prominent ears, he also appeared in several British comedy films including the Carry On film Carry On Cruising (1962). Percival had a cameo role in The V.I.P.s (1963) and another in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964). He also appeared in his own BBC TV comedy series Lance at Large (also 1964), with writers Peter Tinniswood and David Nobbs.
Working, like many British comics of the era, with George Martin at Parlophone, Percival had one UK Singles Chart hit, his cover version of a calypso-style song entitled "Shame and Scandal in the Family" which reached number 37 in October 1965, and recorded several other comedy songs, including "The Beetroot Song" ("If You Like Beetroot I'll Be True To You", 1963), written by Mitch Murray, and "The Maharajah of Brum" (1967), written with Martin.
Later he provided the voice of both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr for the cartoon series The Beatles (1965), leading to his voicing the central character "Old Fred" in the Beatles' animated film Yellow Submarine. He also appeared as an "upper class tramp" in the Herman's Hermits film vehicle Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter (1968).
He starred alongside Julie Andrews, Rock Hudson and Jeremy Kemp in the musical film Darling Lili (1970) and also appeared in There's a Girl in My Soup. However, on 14 December 1970, he was involved in a fatal car crash near Farningham, Kent, apparently while racing another driver at high speed in his Jaguar XJ on a dangerous stretch of road near Brands Hatch. Percival almost lost the sight of one eye and was summoned to court where he agreed to pay "substantial" damages of £12,250  following the death of a third, uninvolved driver, Paul Young.
Percival returned to film work in the Frankie Howerd vehicles Up Pompeii (1971), Up the Chastity Belt (1971), and Up the Front (1972), sustaining a film career until 1978. Between 1972 and 1978 the Thames Television game show Whodunnit! was written by Percival and Jeremy Lloyd, who died two weeks before Percival and who also had a Beatles movie connection, appearing in A Hard Day's Night (1964).
Percival appeared on BBC Radio light entertainment programmes such as Just a Minute throughout the 1980s and is also the author of two books of verse, Well-Versed Cats and Well-Versed Dogs, both illustrated by Lalla Ward. Subsequently he gained a reputation as a writer and later as an after-dinner speaker.
Percival died in January 2015, aged 81. His son Jamie said: "When he spoke about his showbiz life, he spoke fondly of his time on That Was the Week That Was, and he always loved Ned Sherrin, who discovered him performing at the Blue Angel Club". He was cremated at Putney Vale Cemetery on 20 January 2015.