Been and Gone: Frankenstein screenwriter and Cha Cha from Grease

By Nick Serpell
Obituary Editor, BBC News

image captionSAS soldiers entered the embassy on 5 May 1980

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported - people of the past month.

TV viewers enjoying the World Snooker Championships on 5 May 1980 suddenly found themselves watching black-clad SAS soldiers storming the Iranian embassy in London. L/Cpl John McAleese was a member of the team involved in the bid to free a group of hostages being held by Iranian separatists who had taken over the building. McAleese and his comrades scaled down ropes on to a balcony where they blew out the window before firing CS gas into the building. Five of the separatists were killed during the raid and all but one of the hostages was released unharmed. After 23 years of Army service McAleese became a security consultant and also hosted the BBC series SAS: Are You Tough Enough? in which contestants went through the gruelling SAS training routine. In 2009 his son, Sgt Paul McAleese was killed in Afghanistan while trying to rescue a wounded comrade.

When Hammer films revived the gothic horror genre in the 1950s they turned to Jimmy Sangster to write the scripts. He was actually employed as the company's production manager and later insisted he had only done the screenplays because no-one else wanted to. In The Curse of Frankenstein, released in 1957, he brought a new dimension to Mary Shelley's deranged professor, played by Peter Cushing, which owed nothing to previous film incarnations. He worked the same magic on the following year's Dracula, where Christopher Lee's eponymous count brought a gripping mixture of sexual charm and pure evil to the screen. After service in the RAF during the war Sangster worked on a string of B movies in the early 1950s before joining Hammer. While best remembered for his horror films he actually preferred psychological thrillers, best shown in his work with Bette Davis in the 1965 film, The Nanny.

image captionThe Curse of Frankenstein in 1957

The cinema also lost actress Annette Charles whose best-known role was that of Charlene "Cha Cha" DiGregorio in the musical Grease. Her raunchy dance routine with Danny Zuko, played by John Travolta, was one of the high points of a film that wowed critics and audiences alike. Her character, the girl who was no better than she should be, was in stark contrast to that of Sandy, the film's demure and wholesome female lead, played by Olivia Newton-John. Charles had a solid career as a TV actress before her appearance in Grease, with roles in series such as Bonanza, The High Chaparral and Gunsmoke. Despite the impact she made with Travolta she struggled to find work and returned to playing bit parts on television. Eventually she retired from acting and worked as a teacher under her own name, Annette Cardona.

Dave was billed as the last of the great Delta bluesmen, a select band of musicians whose influence underpinned the music of white rock artists including Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Edwards left home at 14 to wander the South playing in dance halls and on street corners, and getting arrested a number of times for vagrancy. In 1935 he fell in with blues legend Robert Johnson and was present when Johnson succumbed to poisoned whisky, allegedly given to him by a lover's jealous husband. Edwards, like so many others, took his music north to Chicago where he recorded for Chess records and worked in a factory to make ends meet. In the 1960s he recorded with Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy although he never achieved the fame of either. He set out on a tour of Europe at the age of 92 and was still performing a few months before his death.

image captionMichael Bukht used the pseudonym Michael Barry for his TV work

It was a series of letters written to a former school friend which launched Betty Thatcher Newsinger's career as a lyricist. The school friend was Jane Relf who, together with her brother, former Yardbirds front man Keith, had formed the progressive rock band Renaissance. Impressed by her writing style Keith asked her to write some song lyrics and she said she accepted the invitation because she "was too young to be afraid". She wrote the lyrics for most of the band's early albums including Illusion and Turn of the Cards, as well as their only top 10 hit, Northern Lights, released in 1978. Many of her lyrics were based on her own, sometimes troubled, experiences. Although academically gifted, she had found school difficult and often refused to participate in exams. She eventually moved to Cornwall where the rugged coastline inspired songs such as Running Hard and Sounds of the Sea.

Michael Bukht was a ferocious workaholic who founded the radio station Classic FM but became better known to the public as the "crafty cook" on the BBC TV series Food & Drink. He used the pseudonym Michael Barry for his television work. His unstuffy approach to cooking was a change from more earnest programmes of the past and helped define the new generation of TV chefs. He applied the same populist approach to classical music with the launch of Classic FM in 1992 which played bite-size pieces of the work of the great composers, much to the annoyance of serious music critics whom he dubbed "the white tie and penguin suit" brigade. Bukht started his career with the BBC, piloting The World At One and going on to edit the current affairs programme 24 Hours. In 1971 he helped launch Capital Radio, which became one of the most successful commercial stations in the country.

Among others who died in August were former child actor and producer of Fawlty Towers, John Howard Davies; co-composer of Hound Dog and Stand By Me, Jerry Leiber; sardonic radio and television presenter, Robert Robinson and Yorkshire author Stan Barstow whose best-known novel was A Kind of Loving.