Actor George Gaynes, who has died aged 98, may not be an instantly recognisable name to UK viewers. But to those of a certain age, his face, his uniquely sonorous voice, and one particular scene in a particular 80s comedy film certainly will be.
I was 11 when the original Police Academy movie came out in 1984, and probably just into my teens when I first saw it. Among my group of adolescent friends the heady mixture of one-liners, innuendo, slapstick – and boobs – made it an instant classic.
Among several memorable scenes there was one in particular that stood out, the moment when the endearingly inept Commandant Eric Lassard stepped up to the Police Academy lectern to give a speech, unaware that crouched beneath was an enthusiastic prostitute with time on her hands.
The idea that any woman’s first reaction in such a situation would be to unzip the trousers in front of her would probably set back feminism a few years, but as teenaged boys that didn’t even enter our minds. We just knew it was risqué, titillating and very funny.
You may wonder if focusing on a scene like this is a fitting way to mark the death of a 98-year-old actor who, in a 60-year career, played numerous other roles (including that of the foster father in 80s US sitcom Punky Brewster) but Gaynes really was best known for Police Academy – he starred in all seven films – and I would argue that the real hilarity in that moment, the thing that means it is still funny to this day, is Lassard’s valiant determination, a tremor in his voice, to continue with his speech despite what is happening to him.
That would not have worked had Gaynes not been game, and had he not been such a great deadpan comic talent.
So that’s what I want to celebrate today – a man who made me laugh when I was 13 years old and still makes me laugh today.
Commandant Lassard, we salute you! RIP.