Thursday 12th February 2004
All content © New Journal Enterprises, 2004

Harry starred in Max Bygraves first film, and later instructed him on his TV series

Harry at work in the first DIY show in 1957

The finer points of DIY demonstrated on Harry’s TV show
The original handyman
Harry Greene made a career as TV DIY man out of a soap opera in 1957, so blame him for today’s makeover shows, says
Kim Janssen

Harry Greene’s Complete DIY Problem Solver
by Harry Greene, Lawpack £19.99

LADDERS, according to twinkly-eyed 80-year-old DIY pioneer Harry Greene, are not strictly necessary.
Not if you can “shimmy up the scaffolding like a monkey – and I still can” he claims.
If you think there are too many makeover shows on TV these days, you can blame it on Harry.
The avuncular Welshman hosted Britain’s first DIY show in 1957, when a ‘Handy’ Andy was still something you wiped your nose with.
Bosses at fledgling independent broadcaster Associated Rediffusion had cast him and his wife Marjie in Round the Redways, a soap opera about a couple who run a DIY store; Harry, ironically, played an inept repair man.
Desperate to fill the hours of the empty schedule cheaply, they jumped at Marjie’s idea of a show about Harry fixing up their Primrose Hill flat.
With its emphasis on practical demonstrations that viewers could copy at home, Handy Round the Home with Harry Greene was a hit with post-war home-owners looking to economise.
His catchphrase, “Safety first; DIY second” made him a household name.
Nearly half a century later Harry, who still lives in Glenhurst Avenue, is going as strong as ever, with a new TV series and a book that distils a lifetime’s experience into 300 pages.
Harry Greene’s Complete DIY Problem Solver takes the complete novice through tasks from fitting a switch to replacing a chimney – and comes with the endorsement of 32 show business celebrities whose homes he has worked on.
Sitting in a Camden Town café, Harry doesn’t have any regrets that the acting career he began in 1950 after seeing a church hall play in his home town of Rhymney, Wales, ended up where it did.
He said: “It wasn’t a choice I made – it was made for me.
“I was lucky enough to act with people like Sean Connery, Sir John Gielgud, Melina Mercouri, Lana Turner and Jean Seberg in more than 40 films.
“But my training was as a draughtsman’s assistant and an architect in Cardiff – I’d been interested in tools and using my hands since I was ten.
“I’m still fascinated by the way things are made – every time I come into a room I’m looking at details.
“People loved my show when it first came out because there was nothing like it and they couldn’t afford to hire professionals to do everything they wanted done around the house.
“But people soon find they love it – people like the actress Barbara Windsor, who can certainly afford to have things done, prefer to do things themselves because its good for your soul to have something made with your own hands.”
And, unlike some, he does all the work himself; he was the brains behind his friend Barry Bucknell’s BBC show, fondly-remembered for its wobbly sets and no-nonsense approach.
Bucknell, father of Camden Councillor Johnny, had most of the work prepped by Harry.
Harry said: “I drilled all the holes in his Eton Avenue basement and gave him a screwdriver to finish the job up – he didn’t actually do much, most of the time!”
The best DIYers, according to Harry, are women, because they read the instructions, whereas men tend to blunder ahead and refuse advice.
He illustrates the difference with an anecdote about Patsy Palmer, who played Bianca in Eastenders and built an Ikea bookshelf faster than three men in a TV challenge by sawing the top off an allen key and fitting it into a power drill – “lateral thinking, which women are good at” says Harry.
Harry is visibly proud of his children’s success – his first daughter Sarah hosted Blue Peter in the 1980s, Laura is an anchor on the National Geographic channel in Washington, and Robin runs a business in Switzerland.
At ease on or off the camera, he’s as enthusiastic about a romany coat stand he’s just built for his home as his show business past.
“Oh I wish you could see it!” he exclaims with a twinkle in his eye.