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‘Goodbye campers!’: Tributes to ‘one of a kind’ Ruth Madoc as Hi-de-Hi! Star dies

Hi-de-Hi! actress Ruth Madoc has died aged 79, her agent has confirmed in a statement.

Best known for playing Gladys Pugh in 1980s holiday camp sitcom Hi-de-Hi!, she had been due to star in the Christmas pantomime Aladdin in Torquay, but had been forced to pull out earlier this week following a fall.

Hi-de-Hi! stars (L-R): Su Pollard, Simon Cadell, Michael Knowles and Ruth Madoc
Image: Hi-de-Hi! stars (L-R): Su Pollard, Simon Cadell, Michael Knowles and Ruth Madoc

Phil Belfield of talent agency Belfield & Ward Ltd, described her as “one of a kind and a unique talent loved by many”.

He said: “It is with much sadness that we have to announce the death of our dear and much-loved client Ruth Madoc.

“Ruth passed away on the afternoon of Friday 9 December while in hospital following surgery for a fall she had earlier in the week, which had led her to have to withdraw from panto in Torquay.

“From film work such as Fiddler On The Roof and Under Milk Wood with Richard Burton and her iconic TV performance as Gladys Pugh in Hi De Hi! and more recently in Little Britain and on stage with Calendar Girls (the play and the musical), plus recent acclaim in short films Skinny Fat and Cardiff, she was truly a national treasure and was looking forward to getting back on the road in 2023 with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

“A real legend of the British entertainment scene, she was one of a kind and a unique talent loved by many. She is gone far too soon. Our hearts are broken!

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“Thoughts are with her daughter Lowri, her son Rhys and all of her family.”

One of the first stars to pay tribute was Blackadder actor Sir Tony Robinson, who had performed with her in 2009.

Robinson wrote on Twitter: “So sad to hear my lovely friend Ruth Madoc has passed. She was not only funny and highly intelligent, she was smart, kindly, a loyal trade unionist, and wore her heart on the left. She’ll be much missed.”

Madoc had a lead role in long-running BBC comedy Hi-de-Hi!, for which she was BAFTA-nominated. Set in the late 50s in the fictional holiday camp Maplins, the show ran for nine series, and 58 episodes, from 1980 to 1988.

Her character, Gladys, was the chief Yellowcoat, famed for her camp tannoy announcements preceded by three signature notes played on a mini xylophone, followed by her saying, “Hello campers,” and then the title phrase, “Hi-de-Hi!”

Her recurring storyline centred around her unrequited love for camp entertainment manager Jeffrey Fairbrother, played by Simon Cadell. She later played the role in a touring stage version of the show.

Calling her “a very lovely person” and “wonderfully gifted actress,” broadcaster Gyles Brandreth wrote on Twitter: “I was lucky enough to get to know her through my best friend from school, Simon Cadell.

“In Hi-De-Hi they were irresistible. RIP Ruth Madoc & thanks for the memories. Goodbye campers!”

Former Family Fortunes presenter Les Dennis wrote on Twitter: “So very sad to hear that lovely Ruth Madoc has passed away. She was such a talented and lovely woman. Thoughts with her family.”

Madoc had been due to play the empress in the pantomime Aladdin, which at the Princess Theatre in Torquay, alongside EastEnders actor Ricky Norwood and X Factor star Jay Edwards, but she had to withdraw from the role the week before opening night after suffering a fall.

The theatre had tweeted on Thursday: “Following an accident earlier this week, after medical assessment, regretfully Ruth Madoc is no longer able to appear in this year’s pantomime of Aladdin at the Princess Theatre in Torquay.”

Madoc arriving at the press night for the Full Monty in 2014
Image: Madoc arriving at the press night for the Full Monty in 2014

Following news of her death, they wrote: “We are devastated to hear of the news of Ruth’s passing. Everyone at the theatre and ATG are sending all our love to Ruth’s family.”

A panto veteran, she had appeared in over 30, playing roles including principle boy in Dick Whittington in Edinburgh, the bad fairy in Sleeping Beauty in Rhyl and the fairy godmother in Cinderella in Mansfield.

A star of the stage and screen she had starred in an array of roles in theatre and musicals around the world, including Phantom of the Opera, Gypsy and Annie.

In 2018, she performed in the ladies’ version of The Real Full Monty alongside stars including Coleen Nolan, Victoria Derbyshire and Michelle Heaton, raising awareness about breast cancer.

A year later, she broke her hip in a fall while rehearsing for her role in Calendar Girls, but confounded doctors with her speedy recovery.

Born in April 1943 in Norwich, Madoc was brought up in Llansamlet near Swansea, largely by her grandparents.

She went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and got her break-out role playing Fruma Sarah in the film version of the musical Fiddler On The Roof in 1971.

Aside from Hi-de-Hi!, other highlights of her career include Mrs Dai Bread Two in 1972 comedy film Under Milk Wood and later the role of the mother of Daffyd Thomas, played by Matt Lucas, in the second series of Little Britain.

In 1984 she was presented with the big red book when she was the subject of a This Is Your Life episode.

Swansea University awarded her an honorary degree in 2006, and she was also a fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

She married twice, first to Welsh actor Philip Madoc, with whom she had her two children. Married for 20 years, they divorced in 1981. Her second husband, John Jackson, died last year.

She had been due to join stars including Belinda Lang, Paul Nicholas and Tessa Peake-Jones in UK theatre tour of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, about a group of British retirees in India, in January 2023.

Madoc is survived by her daughter Lowri her son Rhys.