AN era ended last week with the death of veteran British comic actor Derek Nimmo. He died in hospital following a fall in his London home in December. He was 68. For more than 20 years, his Playhouse dinner theatre shows at the Hong Kong Hilton Hotel and then, when that was demolished, at the Conrad charmed audiences devoted to a certain kind of hammy comedy and to the idea of watching a line-up of stars that often a theatre in London's West End could not have equalled. Stars like David Jason, Thora Hird, Sylvia Simms and Tim Brooke-Taylor came to see Asia with his touring theatre group and they came out of love for the gentlemanly Nimmo. Elizabeth Hurley had one of her first leading roles with the group. Nimmo's dinner theatres, outdated concepts though they were, reminiscent of colonial times of tiffin and cricket on the lawn, were not about anything so high-minded as bringing British culture to other nationalities. They were about having a laugh with a very particular brand of humour - very British and all innuendo. Nimmo, with his bushy brows, his trademark stutter and lugubrious brand of comedy, said he only peddled merriment in escapist comedies. It made him one of the great comic television actors. It didn't matter that all these sweet, slightly risque comedies - invariably about adultery, a subject Nimmo felt travelled well - were often limp, the cast too jetlagged to inject much spark into their acting. It didn't matter that they didn't play too much on the emotions or tax the intellect too much. Perfectionist Nimmo's shows were always professional and slick, the scripts well-chosen, the one-liners well-timed. He started his Playhouse here with a Ray Cooney farce, Why Not Stay For Breakfast? and carried on in the same vein. He chose farces by playwrights like Ray Cooney, Alan Ayckbourn, William Douglas Home and Noel Coward. This year, in May, the Playhouse at the Conrad will show Coward's Private Lives. He was often accompanied by his wife of more than 40 years, Pat, with whom he started married life in a caravan. But at least it was in a car park behind the old Metropolitan Theatre in London's Edgware Road. Two years later, they moved to a flat in Kensington and stayed. Nimmo was a creature of habit. During his stays at the Hong Kong Hilton he always had room 901, a place he said he could find his way to in the dark. He appeared in films and on television and wrote several books, but theatre was his first love. For him, the thrills were on stage. From his earliest start as a toadstool at the age of four, when he got a laugh and got hooked on comedy, he always said he had been trying to get typecast. No one could accuse Nimmo, who went on to become known as the actor who played priests and vicar and became known to Hong Kong audiences in the ecclesiastical television series All Gas And Gaiters, of failing to recognise a bandwagon when he saw one. It was Nimmo who invented the dinner-theatre concept more than two decades ago and when he died he was putting on shows in 36 countries. He called it the only original idea he had had in his life and, after nearly 20 years, it had earned him a loyal following both here and throughout Asia.