Obituaries

May 032020
 

Dave Greenfield

29 March 1949   –   3 May 2020



Dave Greenfield, who put the beauty at the rotten heart of the Stranglers, dies aged 71

Music writer Pete Paphides’ recent memoir, Broken Greek, contains a vivid description of its seven-year-old author encountering the Stranglers for the first time, during a 1977 Top of the Pops appearance. “They landed in the living room while I was totally unsupervised,” he writes, “and scared the shit [out] of me. By now I would have seen images of punk rockers … but they looked like circus entertainers compared to [the Stranglers]. They looked too old to be punk. They looked like the sort of people you pass in the street and your mother puts her arm round you, stares at the pavement and doubles her walking speed … The point at which it all got too much was when the camera cut to Dave Greenfield – who has died from Covid-19 aged 71 – jabbing his keyboard while looking straight ahead with what seemed, beyond doubt, to be the eyes of a murderer, an effect somehow compounded by the army-surplus boiler suit he had decided to wear. Just like that, my list of phobias had got a little longer: worms, biting into mushrooms, insects, the fibreglass King Kong which stood next to a ring road in Birmingham city centre and, now, Dave Greenfield from the Stranglers.”

It’s funny writing, but it’s also very incisive about the Stranglers: in real life Greenfield was, by all accounts, the band’s most approachable and charming member, but otherwise Paphides has it spot-on. The Stranglers complained relentlessly about not being accepted by the punk cognoscenti, but what did they expect? They didn’t look like punks, particularly Greenfield, who defiantly sported that least punk of facial accoutrements, a moustache. They were old, at least by the standards of the day, old enough to have the kind of musical pasts it was wise to keep your mouth shut about in the scorched-earth environment created by the Sex Pistols: Hugh Cornwell had played bass in a band with Richard Thompson, later of Fairport Convention; Greenfield had been in a prog rock band called Rusty Butler.

Worse, Greenfield declined to keep his mouth shut about his past, at least metaphorically speaking. He played keyboards, sometimes several at once: nothing compared to the banks of equipment behind which Rick Wakeman plied his trade, but far more than most punk bands would countenance. Sometimes his playing recalled the reedy organ sounds found on 60s garage rock singles by ? and the Mysterians or the Standells, which was just about acceptable under punk rules. More often, he played exactly like someone who’d been in a prog rock band, decorating songs with complex arpeggios, which absolutely wasn’t. Moreover, his playing was the Stranglers’ signature sound: with the greatest of respect to Hugh Cornwell’s gruff vocals, or Jean-Jacques Burnel’s fluid bass playing, when you think of the Stranglers’ most famous songs – from Peaches and No More Heroes to Waltzinblack and Golden Brown – you think first of Greenfield’s keyboards.

His contributions were the solitary aspect of the Stranglers’ music you might describe as beautiful. Everything else about them was as relentlessly, wilfully nasty as their song titles suggested: Ugly, Tits, Bring on the Nubiles, Nice N’ Sleazy, Peasant in the Big Shitty, Down in the Sewer and – oh God – I Feel Like a Wog. If it makes for profoundly uncomfortable listening now – “problematic” barely begins to cover the lyrical content – their music had a remarkable power, a sense of unceasing, misanthropic hostility. But they sounded less like a punk band than a band that predated punk, that sprang out of that weird, liminal period immediately prior to 1976, where the bleakness of mid-70s Britain had seeped into rock’s fringes – the tougher end of the pub-rock scene, the more thuggish bits of late-period glam – but not yet become codified into series of musical diktats. Which is precisely what they were: they had formed in 1974 as the Guildford Stranglers, Greenfield joining a year later.

It meant that the Stranglers were always regarded with suspicion by the music press – a state of affairs not helped much by the band’s propensity for violence – but it also meant that the Stranglers weren’t constrained by punk. Grimly powerful as their debut album Rattus Norvegicus and its follow-up No More Heroes were, there’s a compelling argument that the band really hit their stride on 1978’s Black and White, by which time Greenfield’s keyboard playing had become more expansive and experimental. It’s never really hailed as such, but Black and White has a claim to be the first post-punk album: the taut dance rhythms, jagged guitars and synthesiser tones of Enough Time and Threatened, the attempt to meld dub reggae with Captain Beefheart on In the Shadows, the claustrophobic racket of Curfew and the stabbing, angular, curiously homoerotic Death and Night and Blood (Yukio) were all adventurous explorations beyond stripped-down rock’n’roll.

On the best of their subsequent singles, Greenfield seemed ever-more integral: their extraordinary cover of Walk On By – on which the Stranglers somehow contrived to turn Dionne Warwick’s exquisite original into six minutes of brooding, barely contained aggression – was dominated by his organ playing; his rolling piano underpinned Don’t Bring Harry, an authentically chilling song about heroin; on 1979’s fantastic Duchess, his arpeggios are no longer a striking embellishment, but appeared to have consumed the band’s sound entirely. And then there was Golden Brown, which seemed astonishing at the time – a Stranglers single that got played on Radio 2! – and seems more astonishing still in retrospect: a harpsichord-led song about heroin in a strange time signature that went to No 2 in the charts. The lyrics were frontman Hugh Cornwell’s, but it was Greenfield’s show: he wrote the music with drummer Jet Black, his performance is the song’s heart.

They were adaptable enough to keep having hits long after most of their peers had split up or faded away, but a certain sense of diminishing returns eventually set in: by the time of 1990’s 10, they sounded perilously close to being Another Rock Band, not an accusation even their loudest detractors could have pinned on the authors of No More Heroes or the deranged concept album The Gospel According to the Meninblack.

Yet the Stranglers proved to be weirdly unstoppable – neither the departure of Cornwell nor the retirement of Jet Black, aged 78, really dented their live following. That might have been the flipside of the Stranglers’ lack of critical acclaim or latterday reappraisal, and the kind of refusal to play by the era’s rules that Greenfield seemed to embody: never fashionable to start off with, they weren’t subject to fashion’s vagaries, instead building a huge, devoted cult following born out of being outsiders.

Obituries

Apr 302020
 

Florian Schneider

7 April 1947   –   30 April 2020



The co-founder of the electronic group Kraftwerk, whose influence reaches across the entire musical landscape, has died at the age of 73

As one of the chief architects of the electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, Florian Schneider, who has died of cancer aged 73, helped revolutionise popular music. Where guitars, bass and drums had long been considered its essential building blocks, Kraftwerk paved the way for synth-pop, techno, hip-hop and electronica, in the process proving that microchips and machines could have not only soul, but a sense of humour too. The list of artists whose work is indebted to Kraftwerk, even if they did not always know it, is endless, but includes David Bowie, Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, New Order, The Orb, Madonna, Neil Young, Jay-Z, Afrika Bambaataa, Coldplay and Daft Punk. In 1997 the New York Times described Kraftwerk as “the Beatles of electronic dance music”.

With Schneider and Ralf Hutter proving the main creative impetus, Kraftwerk (German for “power station”) reached their pivotal moment with the release of their fourth album, Autobahn (1974), whose 23-minute title track – a euphoric electronic ode to the joys of driving on Germany’s high-speed motorways, delivered with a light and whimsical touch – became emblematic of the group’s sound and approach. The album reached No 4 in Britain, while the single version of Autobahn reached the the UK Top 20 and the German Top 10. This revolution in synthetic music earned Kraftwerk a spot on BBC television’s science programme Tomorrow’s World in 1975. They subsequently scored two UK chart-topping singles, Computer Love and The Model (both 1981), but Kraftwerk’s influence was much further-reaching than mere chart positions would suggest.

The albums Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977) and The Man Machine (1978) saw the group steadily streamlining their sound as they embraced technological innovations and refined their vision. Trans-Europe Express drew inspiration from Bowie’s Station to Station, while Bowie’s track V2 Schneider, from Heroes, was a nod back to Kraftwerk. The Man Machine, a precisely etched depiction of a society defined by cybernetics, robotics and fashion, was like a curtain-raiser for the imminent arrival of synth pop (it reached No 9 on the UK album chart). Its sleeve image, by Günther Fröhling, inspired by the Russian “Suprematism” art movement and depicting the group dressed like mannequins in red shirts and black ties, crystallised the notion of Kraftwerk as a conceptual project, not a mere pop group.

“Kraftwerk is not a band,” said Schneider in 1975. “It’s a concept – ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’, the human machine. We are not the band. I am me; Ralf is Ralf. Kraftwerk is a vehicle for our ideas.”

On Computer World (1981) they took a shrewd look at the dawning computer age, utilising gadgets such as the Texas Instruments Language Translator to create some of the vocal parts and concocting a tongue-in-cheek ode to the electronic calculator in Pocket Calculator – “by pressing down a special key it plays a little melody”.

While Kraftwerk revelled in presenting a manufactured facade to the world, Schneider was particularly careful to cultivate an enigmatic persona. This was epitomised by a 1998 interview with a Brazilian TV reporter in which he studiously supplied one-word answers to her list of questions.

It was said that Schneider and Hutter had taken their cue from the British conceptual art duo Gilbert & George, having visited their exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf in 1970 and been enamoured with both their work and their carefully controlled image. They developed Kraftwerk into a precision-tooled mechanism for presenting their designs for a fresh musical language, looking into a new future and turning their backs on the wreckage of the post-second world war Germany in which they grew up, and in which such pop culture as there was comprised feeble imitations of Anglo-American originals.

Florian was born in Ohningen in the French occupation zone of the then West Germany. His parents were Paul and Eva Maria Schneider-Esleben, his father a modernist architect who designed Cologne Bonn airport as well as Germany’s first multi-storey car park.

Schneider and Hutter founded Kraftwerk in 1970, having met while studying at the Academy of Arts in Remscheid. Subsequently they both attended the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Dusseldorf, during a time of ferment in music and art. In 1967-68 Schneider was in a group called Pissoff, before joining Hutter in the quintet Organisation, which released the album Tone Float (1969). The group split, and Schneider and Hutter formed Kraftwerk with a fluctuating crew of musicians (including Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, who went on to form Neu!). Schneider’s main instrument was originally the flute, but he became increasingly interested in synthesizers and dabbled with using electronic effects to modify the sound of the flute and the violin.

“I found that the flute was too limiting,” Schneider confessed. “Soon I bought a microphone, then loudspeakers, then an echo, then a synthesiser. Much later I threw the flute away – it was a sort of process.”

Kraftwerk’s first albums, Kraftwerk (1970) and Kraftwerk 2 (1972), were instrumentals, using conventional instruments with some tape effects and overdubs. Ralf und Florian (1973) saw the duo deploying drum machines, synthesizers and vocoder. Schneider and Hutter, who had opened their own Kling Klang studio in Dusseldorf, collaborated with engineer Conny Plank, and it was in Plank’s studio in Cologne that the bulk of the recording for the game-changing Autobahn was done, the group at that time completed by Wolfgang Flür and Klaus Roder. Subsequently Schneider and Hutter tackled all their production work at Kling Klang.

After Computer World, Kraftwerk didn’t release another album until the less-than-stellar Electric Cafe (1986) . Then 17 years elapsed before the appearance of Tour de France Soundtracks, their final studio album. Schneider, who had never enjoyed playing live – the group had been known to leave the stage while the machinery played on without them – last performed with Kraftwerk in 2006, and supposedly left the band in November 2008. In 2015, he paired up with Dan Lacksman of Telex to release the track Stop Plastic Pollution, in aid of the environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans.

Obituries

Apr 122020
 

Tim Brooke-Taylor

17 July 1940   –   12 April 2020



Tim Brooke-Taylor, who has died aged 79 of coronavirus, was one of those Oxbridge graduates who brought surreal, anarchic humour first to the stage, then television, where he was one of the trio adding slapstick to the mix in The Goodies.

Typical of the humour of The Goodies was a medieval vasectomy sketch with Brooke-Taylor standing in a park, back to the camera and trousers around his ankles, while a knight on a charger rushes him with a lance aimed at the appropriate area. He once reflected: “There are moments when I’m standing in the middle of some high street dressed as a rabbit and I say to myself, ‘I’ve not only got a degree, but I’m an honorary doctor of laws. Doctor Tim Brooke-Taylor. What am I doing hopping down this high street in floppy ears and a furry tail?’”~~~~With his fellow Cambridge graduates Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, Brooke-Taylor created The Goodies, which ran on the BBC for 10 years from 1970 to 1980. All three wrote the scripts at the start, while in later years they were provided by Garden and Oddie. ITV revived the show with a 1981 Christmas special and a six-part series the following year. Cartoon-style humour came from the three contrasting characters portrayed on screen – the pompous Brooke-Taylor, the professorial Garden and the untidy but raffish Oddie.

The programme was most striking for its sight gags – such as Brooke-Taylor, dressed as an Edwardian nanny, falling into a river – with significant location filming and special effects. “Our pre-production meetings with the art designers and production designers were almost more important than the writing of the scripts,” he revealed.~~~~A cat toppling over the Post Office Tower in London was the centrepiece of the Kitten Kong episode, which won the Silver Rose at the 1972 Montreux television festival. Three years later, the same award went to a Goodies show paying homage to the silent film greats that included Brooke-Taylor grappling with a lion.

Nevertheless, radio was the medium where Brooke-Taylor made his most enduring contribution to comedy. He was a panellist and occasional writer throughout all nine series of BBC Radio’s anarchic, revue-style sketch show I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (1964-73), a cocktail of silly voices, awful puns and smutty humour. Alongside Garden and Oddie, as well as others including John Cleese, Jo Kendall and David Hatch, Brooke-Taylor was most memorable as the screeching Lady Constance de Coverlet, an ageing dowager reputed for her size, variously heard in the guise of Anne of Cleavage or an elephant in a parody of the TV adventure Daktari.

The show was spun off into the even longer-running I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, a parody of panel games, with those taking part given “silly things to do” and Brooke-Taylor ever-present from its launch in 1972 until his death. It became one of BBC Radio 4’s most popular programmes and the original presenter, Humphrey Lyttelton, described him as “prone to argue with the chairman, slightly vulnerable, perspires a lot, a favourite with the crowd”.

Tim was born in Buxton, Derbyshire, to Rachel (nee Pawson), a former games teacher at Cheltenham Ladies’ college who played lacrosse at international level, and Edward Brooke-Taylor, a solicitor and veteran of the first world war, who won the Military Cross for gallantry and was then a home guard commander during the second world war.

Following the death of his father when he was 12, Tim attended Winchester college, then spent a year teaching at schools in Hertfordshire and Derbyshire before gaining a law degree from Pembroke College, Cambridge. He joined the university’s Footlights drama club in 1960, performing alongside his fellow students Oddie, Cleese and Graham Chapman. He was Footlights president when A Clump of Plinths, its 1963 revue for the Edinburgh festival, transferred to the West End, retitled Cambridge Circus, then in 1964 to Broadway.

Just as Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore found a path into television satire following the success of their revue Beyond the Fringe, an Oxford-Cambridge collaboration, Brooke-Taylor headed for BBC radio, joining I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.

No BBC television opportunities were immediately presented to him, so in 1965 he joined ITV’s topical consumer affairs show On the Braden Beat, parodying a rightwing business executive in satirical sketches. He then joined the scriptwriting team – along with Oddie and most of the future Monty Python members – on David Frost’s BBC satirical show The Frost Report (1966-67), then was both a writer and performer in two comedy series starring Marty Feldman – At Last the 1948 Show (1967) and Marty (1968-69).

Broaden Your Mind (1968-69) was a sketch show that proved to be the precursor to The Goodies. Brooke-Taylor and Garden created it, and were joined in the second series by Oddie. Brooke-Taylor, John Junkin and Barry Cryer also wrote and starred in the BBC Radio 2 sketch show Hello Cheeky (1973-79), but their 1976 TV version was less successful.

Sitcoms extended Brooke-Taylor’s career beyond such programmes. After taking a supporting role as the neighbour Toby Burgess in His and Hers (1970-72), he teamed up with Junkin to script and star as two flatmates on the look out for women in the 1971 pilot The Rough With the Smooth, followed by a 1975 series.

In Me and My Girl (1984-88), he played Derek Yates, supporting his widowed best friend and ad agency partner Simon Harrap (Richard O’Sullivan) in bringing up a teenage daughter. He then starred in You Must Be the Husband (1987-88) as Tom Hammond, coming to terms with the success his wife, Alice (Diane Keen), finds in writing a racy romantic novel.

Bolstered by Oddie’s musical skills, the Goodies had a string of chart singles, including the Top 10 hits The Inbetweenies/Father Christmas Do Not Touch Me (1974) and The Funky Gibbon/Sick Man Blues (1975), both double A-sides. They also voiced the superhero cartoon TV series Bananaman (1983-88).

Brooke-Taylor was appointed OBE in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Christine (nee Wheadon), whom he married in 1968, and their sons, Ben and Edward.

Obituries

Jan 212020
 

Terry Jones

1 February 1942   –   21 January 2020



TereryJones, writer, actor and director, and member of Monty Python has died aged 77.

One morning Brian Cohen, completely naked, flung open the shutters at his bedroom window to find a mob below hailing him as the Messiah. Mrs Cohen, played by Terry Jones, who has died aged 77, had something to say about that. “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy,” she told the disappointed crowd. It became a classic cinema moment.

The 1979 film Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a satire about an ordinary Jewish boy mistaken for the Messiah, which Jones directed and co-wrote with his fellow Pythons Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin, was banned by 39 British local authorities, and by Ireland and Norway. Jones and his chums were unrepentant: they even launched a Swedish poster campaign with the slogan: “So funny it was banned in Norway.”

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As for Jones’s performance as Mandy Cohen, it united two leading facets of the funnyman’s repertoire: his fondness for female impersonation, and his passion for historical revisionism. The latter was evident not just in his work for Monty Python – in which his historian’s sensibility proved essential to the satire of Arthurian England in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), which he co-directed and co-wrote – but also in several documentaries and books in which he stood up for what he took to be the misrepresented Middle Ages.

“We think of medieval England as being a place of unbelievable cruelty and darkness and superstition,” he said. “We think of it as all being about fair maidens in castles, and witch-burning, and a belief that the world was flat. Yet all these things are wrong.”

Arguably, without Jones, Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-74) would not have revolutionised British TV comedy. He was key in developing the show’s distinctively trippy, stream-of-consciousness format, where each surreal set-up (the Lumberjack Song, the upper-class twit of the year show, the dead parrot, or the fish-slapping dance) flowed into the next, unpunctuated by punchlines.

For all his directorial flair, though, Jones may well be best remembered for creating such characters as Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson, Cardinal Biggles of the Spanish Inquisition, the Scottish poet Ewan McTeagle and the monstrous musician rodent beater in the mouse organ sketch who hits specially tuned mice with mallets.

Thanks to the show’s success, Jones was able to diversify into working as a writer, poet, librettist, film director, comedian, actor and historian. “I’ve been very lucky to have been able to act, write and direct and not have to choose just the one thing,” he said.

Jones was a second world war baby, born in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, and brought up by his mother, Dilys (nee Newnes), and grandmother, while his father, Alick Jones, was stationed with the RAF in India. He recalled meeting his father for the first time when he returned from war service: “Through plumes of steam at the end of the platform, he appeared – this lone figure in a forage cap and holding a kit bag. He ran over and kissed my mum, then my brother, then bent down and picked me up and planted one right on me. I’d only ever been kissed by the smooth lips of a lady up until that point, so his bristly moustache was quite disturbing.”

When he was four, the family moved to Surrey so his father could take up an appointment as a bank clerk. Terry attended primary school in Esher and the Royal Grammar school in Guildford. He studied English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and developed a lifelong interest in medieval history as a result of reading Chaucer.

At Oxford, he started the Experimental Theatre Company with his friend and contemporary Michael Rudman, performing everything from Brecht to cabaret. He also met Palin and the historian Robert Hewson, and collaborated with them on a satire on the death penalty called Hang Down Your Head and Die. It was set in a circus ring, with Jones playing the condemned man. He and Palin then worked together on the Oxford Revue, a satirical sketch show they performed at the 1964 Edinburgh festival, where he met David Frost as well as Chapman, Idle and Cleese.

After graduation, he was hired as a copywriter for Anglia Television and then taken on as a script editor at the BBC, where he worked as joke writer for BBC2’s Late Night Line-Up (1964-72). Jones and Palin became fixtures on the booming TV satire scene, writing for, among other BBC shows, The Frost Report (1966-67) and The Kathy Kirby Show (1964), as well as the ITV comedy sketch series Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69).

In 1967, he and Palin were invited to write and perform for Twice a Fortnight, a BBC sketch show that provided a training ground not only for a third of the Pythons (Jones and Palin), but two-thirds of the Goodies (Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie) and the co-creator of the 1980s political sitcom Yes Minister, Jonathan Lynn.

Jones and Palin wrote and starred in The Complete and Utter History of Britain (1969) for LWT. Its conceit was to relate historical incidents as if TV had existed at the time. In one sketch, Samuel Pepys was a chat show host; in another, a young couple of ancient Britons looking for their first home were shown around the brand-new Stonehenge. “It’s got character, charm – and a slab in the middle,” said the estate agent.

In the same year, he became one of the six founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. They expected the show to be quickly decommissioned by BBC bosses. “Every episode we’d be there biting our nails hoping someone might find it funny. Right up until the middle of the second series John Cleese’s mum was still sending him job adverts for supermarket managers cut out from her local newspaper,” Jones recalled. “It was only when they started receiving sackfuls of correspondence from school kids saying they loved it that we knew we were saved.”

After Python finished its run on TV, Jones went on to direct several films with the troupe. The first, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was, he recalled, “a disaster when we first showed it. The audiences would laugh for the first five minutes and then silence, nothing. So we re-cut it. Then we’d show it in different cities, saying, ‘We’re worried about our film, would you come and look at it?’ And as a result people would come and they’d all be terribly worried about it too, so it was a nightmare.”

He had more fun co-writing and directing two series for the BBC called Ripping Yarns (1976-79) in which Palin starred as a series of heroic characters in mock-adventure stories, among them Across the Andes by Frog, and Roger of the Raj, sending up interwar literature aimed at schoolboys.

Jones directed and starred in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which some religious groups denounced for supposedly mocking Christianity. Jones defended the film: “It wasn’t about what Christ was saying, but about the people who followed him – the ones who for the next 2,000 years would torture and kill each other because they couldn’t agree on what he was saying about peace and love.”

In 1983 he directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, in which he made, perhaps, his most disgusting appearance, as Mr Creosote, a ludicrously obese diner, who is served dishes while vomiting repeatedly.

During this decade Jones diversified, proving there was life after Python. In 1980, he published Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary, arguing that the supposed paragon of Christian virtue could be demonstrated to be, if one studied the battles Chaucer claimed he was involved in, a typical, perhaps even vicious, mercenary. He also set out to overturn the idea of Richard II presented in the work of Shakespeare “who paints him more like sort of a weak … unmanly character”. Jones portrayed the king as a victim of spin: “There’s a possibility that Richard was actually a popular king,” he said.

He wrote children’s books, starting with The Saga of Erik the Viking (1983), which he composed originally for his son, Bill. A book of rhymes, The Curse of the Vampire’s Socks (1989), featured such characters as the Sewer Kangaroo and Moby Duck.

In 1987, he directed Personal Services, a film about the madam of a suburban brothel catering for older men, starring Julie Walters. The story was inspired by the experiences of the Streatham brothel-keeper Cynthia Payne. Jones proudly related that three of four films banned in Ireland were directed by him – The Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life and Personal Services.

Two years later, he directed Erik the Viking, a film adaptation of his book, with Tim Robbins in the title role of a young Norseman who declines to go into the family line of raping and pillaging. In 1996, he adapted Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows for the big screen, giving himself the role of Mr Toad, with Ratty and Mole played by Idle and Steve Coogan. But it was rarely screened in cinemas. “It was ruined by studio politicking between Disney and Columbia Tristar,” he said. “We made a really nice film but no one saw it. It didn’t make any money, even though it was well reviewed.”

Jones was also unfortunate with his next film project. Absolutely Anything, based on a script he wrote with the screenwriter Gavin Scott, concerned aliens coming to Earth and giving one person absolute power. Plans were scuppered when a movie with a similar premise, Bruce Almighty, starring Jim Carrey, was released in 2003. Only in 2015 did Jones manage to film Absolutely Anything, in which Simon Pegg, playing a mild-mannered schoolteacher, is given miraculous powers by a council of CGI aliens voiced by Jones and his former Monty Python colleagues. Robin Williams, in one of his last roles, voiced Pegg’s dog.

Jones made well-received history documentaries, including in 2002 The Hidden History of Egypt, The Hidden History of Rome and The Hidden History of Sex & Love, in which he examined the diets, hygiene, careers, sex lives and domestic arrangements of the ancient world, often appearing in the films as an ancient character, sometimes dressed as a woman.

In his book Who Murdered Chaucer? (2003), he wondered if the poet had been killed on behalf of King Henry IV for being politically troublesome.

He wrote for the Guardian, about the poll tax, nuclear power and the ozone layer. He became a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, and his articles on the subject were collected under the title Terry Jones’s War on the War on Terror (2004).

In his 2006 BBC series Barbarians, Jones sought to show that supposedly primitive Celts and savage Goths were nothing of the kind and that the ancient Greeks and Persians were neither as ineffectual nor as effete as the ancient Romans supposed. Best of all, he sought to demonstrate that it was not the Vandals and other north European tribes who destroyed Rome but Rome itself, thanks to the loss of its African tax base.

When Jones was asked what he would like on his tombstone, he did not want to be remembered as a Python, perhaps surprisingly, but for his writing and historical work. “Maybe a description of me as a writer of children’s books or maybe as the man who restored Richard II’s reputation. I think those are my best bits.”

In 2016, it was announced that Jones had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of dementia that impairs the ability to communicate. He and his family and friends spoke about his experiences to help others living with the condition.

Jones is survived by his second wife, Anna (nee Söderström), whom he married in 2012, and their daughter, Siri; and by Bill and Sally, the children of his first marriage, to Alison Telfer, which ended in divorce.

Obituries

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Dec 102019
 

Jim Smith

17 October 1940   –   10 December 2019



Former Pompey manager and assitant manager dies aged 79.

There was a good reason why Sir Alex Ferguson once said that Jim Smith, who has died at 79, was ‘legendary’ and that to be in his company was ‘one of the pleasures of my job’.

The South Yorkshireman’s glories were relatively sparse — promotions to the First Division with Oxford United and Birmingham City and to the Premier League with Derby County — but an hour or so in his company was precious to all who knew him.

‘The Bald Eagle’, as Smith was known, will be remembered for the humour, charm and humility he brought to a managerial career which took him to nine clubs and made him a part of the fabric of Oxford United, where he was eventually a director.

Smith brought an expansive brand of football, too. His own playing style, at Lincoln City and Colchester United, had been dour and he seemed to want to compensate for that, bringing Archie Gemmill and Frank Worthington to Birmingham City.

He loved Trevor Francis, selling him to Nottingham Forest for £1million while at St Andrew’s but buying him back at QPR.

And when things did not go to plan, he revealed that comedian’s timing which characterised some managers of that era.

‘Trevor told me he had a system for taking penalties,’ he said after Francis had missed one at Loftus Road. ‘I don’t know what it is but it’s obviously bloody useless…’

There was the same deadpan delivery when he was describing the challenging fit between functional English players and stylish continentals which he oversaw in those changing times — such as Italian midfielder Stefano Eranio at Derby.

‘He could stop the ball dead with his toe,’ Smith once said of Eranio.

‘One game, at half time, he said to our big, ugly centre half Spencer Prior, “Spencer, why you always put ball in stand? No players in stand”.’

At Derby, Smith unearthed Igor Stimac, Aljosa Asanovic and Paulo Wanchope for modest sums.

But Newcastle was his best shot at the big time. He arrived in 1988, declaring that ‘the day will come’ when he could call up Ferguson and ask for his best players. Newcastle fans are still waiting for it.

Money was flooding into the game and lining the pockets of agents in a way which made Smith, like so many of his managerial generation, deeply suspicious. ‘It’s turning into a spivs’ market place,’ he once said.

The man with deep pockets with whom he aligned himself was the millionaire publisher and former MP Robert Maxwell at Oxford, who he led from the Third Division to the First Division between 1982 and 1985. Maxwell wasn’t all bad, Smith always said, talking in football terms rather than about the Mirror pensions scandal.

It was when Maxwell refused him a pay rise that Smith moved on to QPR, only to suffer the indignity of being thumped 3-0 by his old club in the 1986 League Cup final.

He returned to Oxford in the twilight of his career, fighting a losing battle to keep them in the Football League. He handled that with style, just as always. Even the very worst of officialdom brought out his class.

‘I understand Walter Smith has described the referee as diabolical,’ he once said after a punishing afternoon at Everton. ‘I didn’t think he was as good as that.’

Obituries

Dec 082019
 

René Auberjonois

1 June 1940   –   8 December 2019



René Auberjonois, actor best known for his roles on the television shows “Benson” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” has died. He was 79.

The actor died Sunday of metastatic lung cancer at his home in Los Angeles his son Rèmy-Luc Auberjonois told the Associated Press.

René Auberjonois worked constantly as a character actor in several golden ages, from the dynamic theater of the 1960s to the cinema renaissance of the 1970s to the prime period of network television in the 1980s and ’90s — and each generation knew him for something different.

For film fans of the 1970s, he was Father John Mulcahy, the military chaplain who played straight man to the doctors’ antics in “MA.SH.” It was his first significant film role and the first of several for director Robert Altman.

For sitcom watchers of the 1980s, he was Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, the hopelessly highbrow chief of staff at a governor’s mansion on “Benson,” the ABC series whose title character was a butler played by Robert Guillaume.

And for sci-fi fans of the 1990s and convention-goers ever since, he was Odo, the shape-shifting Changeling and head of space-station security on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

“I am all of those characters, and I love that,” Auberjonois said in a 2011 interview with the “Star Trek” website. “I also run into people, and they think I’m their cousin or their dry cleaner. I love that, too.”

Auberjonois was born in New York in 1940, the son of Fernand Auberjonois, Swiss-born foreign correspondent for U.S. newspapers, and the grandson of a Swiss post-Impressionist painter also named René Auberjonois.

The younger René Auberjonois was raised in New York, Paris and London, and for a time lived with his family in an artists’ colony in Rockland County, N.Y., whose residents included actors John Houseman, Helen Hayes and Burgess Meredith.

After graduating from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon, Auberjonois hopped around the country joining theater companies, eventually landing three roles on Broadway in 1968, including playing the Fool in a long-running version of “King Lear.”

The following year he would play Sebastian Baye opposite Katharine Hepburn in “Coco,” about the life of designer Coco Chanel that would earn him a Tony for best actor in a leading role in a musical.

He would later see Tony nominations for 1973’s “The Good Doctor,” 1984’s “Big River” and 1989’s “City of Angels.”

In 1970, Auberjonois began his run with Altman, playing Mulcahy in “MASH.”

In his most famous exchange from the movie, Sally Kellerman’s Margaret Houlihan wonders how such a degenerate doctor as Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye Pierce could reach a position of responsibility in the U.S. Army.

A Bible-reading Auberjonois responds, deadpan: “He was drafted.”

“I actually made that line up when we were rehearsing the scene,” Auberjonois said on the podcast “The Gist” in 2016. “And it became a kind of an iconic line for the whole film.”

The same year he played an off-the-wall ornithologist in Altman’s “Brewster McCloud” and a saloonkeeper alongside Warren Beatty in the director’s western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” in 1971. He appeared in Altman’s “Images” in 1972.

He spent much of the rest of the 1970s doing guest spots on TV before joining the cast of “Benson” in its second season in 1980, where he would remain for the rest of the show’s seven seasons, playing the patrician political advisor and chronic hypochondriac Endicott.

Much of his later career was spent doing voices for animation, most memorably as the French chef who sings the love song to fish-killing “Les Poissons” in Disney’s 1989 “The Little Mermaid.”

He played Odo on “Deep Space Nine” from 1993 to 1998 and became a regular at “Star Trek” conventions, where he raised money for Doctors Without Borders and signed autographs with a drawing of Odo’s bucket, where the character would store himself when he returned to his natural gelatinous state.

Auberjonois was also a regular on the ABC law-firm dramedy “Boston Legal” from 2004 to 2008.

Late in his career, Auberjonois would work with independent filmmakers including the artful director Kelly Reichardt, for whom he appeared in 2016’s “Certain Women” and 2019′s “First Cow,” his final role.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 56 years, writer Judith Auberjonois; sisters Marie-Laure Degener and Anne Auberjonois; daughter Tessa Auberjonois; son-in-law Adrian Latourelle; daughter-in-law Kate Nowlin; and three grandchildren.

Obituries

Jun 032019
 

Paul Darrow

2 May 1941   –   3 June 2019



British actor Paul Darrow, best known for his role as Kerr Avon in sci-fi BBC TV series Blake’s 7, has died at the age of 78.

Most recently, Darrow voiced soundbites for independent radio stations Jack FM and Union Jack, where he was known as the “Voice of Jack”.

The character of Avon was second-in-command on Blake’s 7, which ran for four series between 1978 and 1981.

Darrow shared a flat with John Hurt and Ian McShane while studying at Rada.

While best-known for his Blake’s 7 role, he appeared in more than 200 television shows, including Doctor Who, The Saint, Z Cars, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Little Britain.

The Surrey-born actor also enjoyed a significant stage career, including four seasons at the Bristol Old Vic and roles in the West End.

In the mid-1960s, Paul Darrow married actress Janet Lees-Price, who he met when they co-starred in the popular ITV show Emergency Ward 10.

They were together for 48 years before she died in 2012.

Ian Walker, CEO of the Jack brand, said: “Paul Darrow has been Jack’s shining star. Over the past 12 years I have had the pleasure of spending countless hours with Paul listening to his life stories and have shared many bottles of his favourite Bordeaux, whilst enjoying his quirky jokes and sense of humour.

“When we first launched Jack in the UK, we cast over 85 voices for the role and we could not have asked for anyone more unique. Paul’s rich tones and flippant delivery style always brought a smile to everyone who knew him and of course heard him on Jack FM and Union Jack radio. I could not have asked for a better friend.”

Tim Parker, programme director at Jack FM, added: “What an amazing, colourful character Paul was. He has mixed with the greats over the last 50 years and had a story to tell you for every occasion. His voice acting skills were like no other. We will remember and celebrate his character, personality and amazing skills for years to come.”

Maureen Marrs, Darrow’s friend and PA, said: “Over three decades I have been Paul’s confidante and have had the immense privilege of being part of his life. A star has gone out today; the world will be a darker place without him.”

Obituries

Mar 042019
 

Luke Perry

11 October 1966   –   4 March 2019



Luke Perry, Buffy movie actor, dies aged 52

Luke Perry, who has died aged 52 from complications following a stroke, was a popular screen heart-throb of the 1990s. With his aloof manner and sharply defined handsomeness, he became an obvious pin-up – a poster boy for poster boys. He was a regular on the hit television show Beverly Hills, 90210, which was watched by more than 21 million US viewers at its peak and syndicated across the world.

Along with Jason Priestley, Tori Spelling and Shannen Doherty, Perry was part of the original cast of this glossy teen phenomenon about the lives and loves of a group of wealthy and blemishless southern Californian students (the digits in the title refer to a renowned Beverly Hills postcode).

But Perry arguably received a more intense dose of idolatry than his co-stars. Tabloids compared him to James Dean and linked him romantically to Madonna; a character in the 1995 film comedy Clueless is said to be “saving herself for Luke Perry”. Countless fans were similarly devoted. After one public appearance, Perry had to be smuggled to safety in a laundry basket to avoid being mobbed. He never hid his profound discomfort with the hysteria that accompanied his fame.

His character, the rebellious loner Dylan McKay, did not appear in the pilot episode in 1990. But the producer, Aaron Spelling, best known for Dynasty, called for a character who was “a little dangerous, a little on the edge”. The show’s creator, Darren Star, said: “When Luke walked into the audition, it was like ‘Wow, that’s the person.’ He seems exactly like James Dean to me, but it isn’t a conscious imitation – he’s really being himself.” Before the first two seasons were over, Dylan had struggled with alcoholism, seen his tycoon father arrested for white-collar crimes, taken his girlfriend’s virginity on prom night and moved in with her against her parents’ wishes.

The show itself was not an instant smash. Ratings were initially poor but they improved after new episodes were screened during the summer, a time when the US TV schedules are traditionally dominated by repeats. When it tackled difficult subjects, such as Aids, rape and cancer, it could be compulsive viewing. (Responding to its penchant for tragedy and sensationalism, Mad magazine nicknamed it Beverly Hills 911.)

As the series went on, the plots became somewhat strange. Perry’s storylines alone were a mark of how detached the show was becoming from its origins. His character’s heroin addiction and near-bankruptcy were one thing. But by the time Dylan was discovering a past life while undergoing hypnotherapy, or setting out to avenge his father’s death by wooing the daughter of the gangster who killed him, only to then fall in love with her, the early seasons seemed like social realism by comparison.

After the gangster nonsense, Perry sensibly jumped ship. He had already proved himself an appealing film actor in the original movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), which later spawned the successful TV series with a different cast, and as the rodeo rider Lane Frost in 8 Seconds (1994). Having left the show, he was free to accept challenging roles that went against the grain of his image.

The most rewarding of these was Normal Life (1996), in which Perry swapped his 90210 pompadour for a seedy moustache to star as a rookie cop in love with an all-round bad girl played by Ashley Judd, who turns up to his father’s funeral on rollerblades. Falling under her spell, he robs banks to support her. The film came close to trashy John Waters territory but Perry’s muted and vanity-free performance gave it an emotional grounding. Few of his other roles were anywhere near as interesting, and he rejoined Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1998, staying until the show ended two years later.

He was born Coy Luther Perry III in Mansfield, Ohio. His father, Coy Luther Perry Jr, was a steelworker, while his mother, Ann (nee Bennett), raised Luke and his two siblings, Tom and Amy. He grew up mainly in Fredericktown, also in Ohio, which he described as a redneck backwater and a rural paradise. “Both are true,” he said.

He was 12 when he realised he wanted to be an actor. After graduating from Fredericktown high school, he moved to Los Angeles to take acting lessons, though it was in New York that he got his first work, appearing on the daytime soaps Loving (1988) and Another World (1988-89). He was doing odd jobs, including laying asphalt and working in a doorknob factory, when he was cast as Dylan.

Once the series finished, he had a recurring role in the tough, highly original HBO prison drama Oz (2001-02) and appeared in many other TV series. He took the Billy Crystal part in a 2004 London stage adaptation of When Harry Met Sally, though most critics agreed his looks worked against the character’s supposed awkwardness. Matt Wolf in Variety said, “he’s in no way right for the role” while Michael Billington in this paper called his interpretation “under-cooked”.

He chose not to participate in a 90210 reboot planned for this year. Recent work included playing a grizzled but gentle divorcee in the popular television drama Riverdale (2016-19). His last completed performance came n Quentin Tarantino’s thriller Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (due to be released this summer), set in Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s, and also starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Perry is survived by his fiancee, Wendy Madison Bauer, his children, Jack (also known by his professional wrestling name, “Jungle Boy” Nate Coy) and Sophie, from his marriage to Rachel Sharp, daughter of the screenwriter Alan Sharp, which lasted from 1993 until the couple’s divorce in 2003, and his mother, brother and sister.

Obituries

Feb 092019
 

Mick Kennedy

9 April 1961   –   9 February 2019



Pompey are mourning the death of Mick Kennedy, who has passed away at the age of 57.

Tributes have been flooding in after the passing of former Portsmouth great and Clare man Mick Kennedy.

The former Republic of Ireland international passed away last weekend at 57 years of age, having spent his later years in Ennistymon.

Mick’s parents hailed from Kilmaley, and moved to Salford where Mick was born in 1961.

His first club was Halifax, and during his career he made over 500 league appearances for 10 different clubs.

Described as the quintessential hard-man in midfield, Kennedy was known for his no nonsense style.

Portsmouth was where he came to real prominence, after he was signed by the then manager Alan Ball for a fee of £100,000. He quickly became a cult figure at the club, and captained his beloved Pompey to the First Division in 1987. He made 144 appearances for Portsmouth, and in 2018 was inducted into their Hall of Fame.

Mick also came to the attention of Irish manager Jack Charlton during this period, and was capped twice during a competition held in Iceland in May 1986. Ireland faced the hosts and Czechoslovakia, and won both games to capture the trophy. It was Mick’s only time to be included in an Irish senior squad, with controversy surrounding an alleged tackle on one of the Czech players. He also made four appearances for the Irish U-21 side, scoring twice, including against former England international David Seaman.

There was uproar at the Portsmouth club when Kennedy was sold to Bradford midway through their first season back in the top flight, with several fans expressing their discontent at the time.

During the latter part of his career, Kennedy moved to a number of clubs including Leicester City, Luton, Stoke City, Chesterfield and Wigan Athletic.

He made the move back to Clare in the late 1990’s, and got involved in coaching with Clare Youth teams and Kennedy Cup squads. This was thanks in part to the involvement of Mick’s uncle Frank Healy who was chairman of the CDSL at the time.

Mick developed a great affinity with the Lifford club in Ennis, and was in charge of the club’s junior and youth sides over a ten-year period from 2000-2010.

He was also manager of his native Kilmaley United, guiding them to the Premier League Cup title.

The FAI have announced it will pay its respects to Mick at the upcoming UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier against Georgia on March 26 in the Aviva Stadium.

Mick is survived by his mother Mary, brother Larry, sister Noreen and is pre-deceased by his father Flan.

Obituries

Dec 062018
 

Pete Shelley

17 April 1955   –   6 December 2018



Pete Shelley, singer with the Buzzcocks, dies aged 63.

Pete Shelley and his band Buzzcocks became indelibly linked to the UK’s punk movement when they played their first gig supporting the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in July 1976, but they never conformed to any of punk’s cliches about rage, anarchy and rebellion. Shelley, who has died of a heart attack aged 63, proved to be a songwriter of wit and subtlety, able to probe the angst and confusion of adolescent love and lust with shrewd insight.

He was innovative musically as well as lyrically, taking inspiration from David Bowie, Brian Eno, Roxy Music and the Velvet Underground, as well as from German bands such as Neu and Can. While the music of many of the punk bands remains firmly of its time, Buzzcocks’ best songs still sound fresh and inventive, mixing dense guitar patterns with infectious melodies. Their influence can be heard on bands from Primal Scream and the Jesus and Mary Chain to REM and Nirvana. Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet said: “Pete was one of Britain’s best pure pop writers, up there with Ray Davies.”

Buzzcocks achieved success with their first recording, the Spiral Scratch EP, which was released on their own label, New Hormones, in January 1977 (the band having supported the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy tour in late 1976). It was one of the first independent releases of the punk era, and to the band’s surprise sold its first thousand copies in four days. “We made quite a bit of money from Spiral Scratch,” Shelley recalled. “It ended up selling about 16,000 copies and we were able to buy some new equipment.”

They then signed to United Artists. Their first single, Orgasm Addict, was released in November 1977 but the BBC declined to play it because of its subject matter and it did not make the charts. The follow-up, What Do I Get, released in February 1978, reached 37, and their debut album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978) climbed to 15. Their second album, Love Bites, which came out later that year, contained what remains their best-known hit, the zingingly propulsive Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), which made No 12. Shelley borrowed the title from a line in the musical Guys and Dolls. The 1979 album A Different Kind of Tension reached 26 in the UK.

Continued singles success came with Promises (20), Everybody’s Happy Nowadays (29) and Harmony in My Head (32). However, growing tensions in the band coupled with friction with EMI, which had purchased United Artists, prompted Shelley to break up Buzzcocks in 1981.

He was born Peter McNeish in Leigh, Lancashire. His father, John, was a fitter at Astley Green colliery, and his mother, Margaret, a former mill worker. Peter began writing songs while still at Leigh grammar school, and while studying for an HND in electronics at Bolton Institute of Technology he bought a Tandberg four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder and began making recordings of his own songs. (“I think of my career in music more as a songwriting career than anything else,” he said in 1983.) He formed a group called Jets of Air, the name inspired by a college lecture on Newtonian physics, and while “we played only about six gigs in three years”, Shelley built up a stockpile of songs.

He then dabbled in a project called Sky, where he experimented with electronic music and recorded the album Sky Yen, released later, in 1980, on his own label, Groovy Records. He subsequently tried making “heavier, more rhythmic” music with Smash, which he described as “a non-existent group”, but which supplied more raw material for Buzzcocks.

The band came about when Shelley spotted an advertisement on a college noticeboard from Howard Devoto (real name Howard Trafford), wanting to form a band in the vein of the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. “That was much in line with the Smash idea, so I phoned him up straight away,” said Shelley. Buzzcocks originally planned to make their debut at the first Sex Pistols concert at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976, but the bass player and drummer pulled out.

For their eventual appearance the following month, Shelley and Devoto were joined by the drummer John Maher and the bassist Steve Diggle. When Devoto quit after the release of Spiral Scratch and went on to form Magazine, Shelley became lead vocalist, Diggle switched to guitar and the original bass player, Garth Smith, rejoined temporarily, later replaced by Steve Garvey.

In 1981 Shelley launched his solo career with the single Homosapien, from the album of the same name, produced by the Buzzcocks producer Martin Rushent (who was about to help make Human League’s electropop epic Dare). Shelley had returned to his earlier fondness for electronica, and found himself in controversial waters when the BBC banned Homosapien for its “explicit reference to gay sex”. In 2002 Shelley commented that his sexuality “tends to change as much as the weather”. The track reached 14 on the US dance chart.

In 1983 his second solo album, XL1, brought him a minor hit single with Telephone Operator. In 1987 he contributed the song Do Anything to the soundtrack of the John Hughes movie Some Kind of Wonderful.

In 1989 Buzzcocks reformed and toured the US, and released Trade Test Transmissions (1993), the first of a series of albums, the most recent of which was The Way (2014). In 2002, Shelley reunited with Devoto to record the album Buzzkunst. “Devoto is not the life and soul of the party or a born raconteur, but he sees things as funny and I think that’s how we hit it off with each other,” Shelley observed drily. “I always had this idea that me and Devoto were like Gilbert and George. As long as you approach it from that angle you can do anything you want, and you just call it art.”

In 2005, following the death of the DJ John Peel, Shelley recorded a tribute version of Ever Fallen In Love with a multi-platinum lineup of stars including Elton John, Robert Plant, David Gilmour and Roger Daltrey.

In 2012 he moved to Tallinn, Estonia, with his second wife, Greta. She survives him, as do his younger brother, Gary, and a son from his first marriage.

Obituries

Jan 152018
 

Dolores O'Riordan

6 September 1971   –   15 January 2018



Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, dies aged 46

‘I have a lot of secrets about my childhood [but they] are just for me,” Dolores O’Riordan told the Guardian in 1995. She and her Limerick rock quartet, the Cranberries, were then at the peak of their success, well on the way to selling 40m albums, and O’Riordan was one of the highest profile female singers in the English-speaking world. It was nearly 20 years later that she revealed that she had been abused for four years from the age of eight by someone close to her family. By her own account, O’Riordan, who has died aged 46 of a cause as yet unknown, spent most of her adult life seeking a balance between depression and anorexia, and the rewards of great professional success.

She was 21 when the Cranberries reached the US Top 10 with their second single, Linger, which established them as a headline act there. In the UK, the influential music press decreed them unexcitingly traditional, but the public were enchanted by the group’s melodies, and especially by O’Riordan’s haunting voice; their debut album topped the British chart and the next three were Top 10 hits. It was a similar story in the rest of Europe and Australia. O’Riordan became a symbol of pride for both Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

The Cranberries’ rapid ascent exacerbated O’Riordan’s “terrible self-loathing”, generating anorexia and an eventual breakdown. A suicide attempt in 2013 was followed by a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Last year, she spoke vividly of being “at the hypomanic side of the spectrum on and off for a long period”, and a hypomanic episode was cited when she was arrested for erratic behaviour on a transatlantic flight in 2014. She told the police: “I am an icon. I am the Queen of Limerick.” There were also physical problems: a Cranberries reunion tour scheduled for 2017 in support of their first album in five years was cancelled due to O’Riordan’s back pain.

Born in Ballybricken, Co Limerick, O’Riordan was the youngest of nine children (two of whom died in infancy) of Terence O’Riordan, a former farm labourer who was left unable to work after an accident, and his wife, Eileen, a school caterer, and went to Laurel Hill, a Roman Catholic school in Limerick. She was a tomboy, burying her dolls in the garden and spending most of her time with her heavy-metal-loving brothers. Yet she also played the organ in church and, well into her teens, wore flowery dresses bought for her by her mother. The influence of her church music and the heavy rock she heard at home instilled a desire to join a band – specifically, “a band with no barriers, where I could write my own songs”. That’s what she got.

At 18 she landed a job with a Limerick group called the Cranberry Saw Us by playing an early version of a song she had written, Linger (it was inspired by her first kiss, aged 17: “I’d always thought that putting tongues in mouths was disgusting, but when he gave me my first proper kiss, I did indeed ‘have to let it linger’,” she said last year).

Equally in thrall to rock and Gaelic folk music, her voice was startling and steely, and gelled uncommonly well with the band’s melodicism. Her Doc Martens-shod, spiky-haired look provided a visual anchor, overshadowing the rest of the group entirely. Despite being out of step with the prevailing Britpop and grunge scenes, they were taken on by the Smiths’ former manager, Geoff Travis, and courted by 32 record companies. The pivotal moment came when the successful label Island booked them as the support act on the fast-rising band Suede’s 1993 American tour.

Suede’s seedy ambiguity cut no ice in the US, but the Cranberries returned home as stars. Their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, and 17m-selling 1994 follow-up, No Need to Argue, made O’Riordan so famous that, to her distress, she could not leave her hotel room. Linger and the next single, Zombie – written in response to the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington – were ubiquitous on MTV, increasing her sense of isolation.

Despite having a metal rod put into her leg following a 1994 skiing accident, she was contractually compelled to tour throughout that year, and played some of the shows in a wheelchair. That was also the year she married Don Burton, then Duran Duran’s tour manager. Most of her happiness seems to have stemmed from their three children; when her attempt to take her life in 2013 failed, she saw it as a sign that she was meant to stay with them.

After the Cranberries split in 2003, O’Riordan launched a fitful solo career that yielded two albums, Are You Listening? (2007) and No Baggage (2009). She worked with the Smiths bassist Andy Rourke on a project called DARK, and was a judge on one season of the Irish version of the TV show The Voice. Still esteemed by other musicians, she appeared on records by Zucchero and Jam & Spoon, and at the time of her death had come to London to re-record Zombie with a rock band, Bad Wolves.

Her goal, she said in 2017, was to make at least one more album and go on tour again: “I haven’t been doing too much over the last five years. Sometimes you go through periods where you’re not writing music, you’re just dealing with your personal life.”

She and Burton divorced in 2014. Her children, Taylor, Molly and Dakota, survive her.

Obituries

Jan 252017
 

John Hurt

22 January 1940   –   25 January 2017



John Hurt, widely admired stage and screen actor, dies aged 77.

British actor became an overnight sensation after playing Quentin Crisp in the 1975 television film The Naked Civil Servant

Few British actors of recent years have been held in as much affection as Sir John Hurt, who has died aged 77. That affection is not just because of his unruly lifestyle – he was a hell-raising chum of Oliver Reed, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris, and was married four times – or even his string of performances as damaged, frail or vulnerable characters, though that was certainly a factor. There was something about his innocence, open-heartedness and his beautiful speaking voice that made him instantly attractive.

As he aged, his face developed more creases and folds than the old map of the Indies, inviting comparisons with the famous “lived-in” faces of WH Auden and Samuel Beckett, in whose reminiscent Krapp’s Last Tape he gave a definitive solo performance towards the end of his career. One critic said he could pack a whole emotional universe into the twitch of an eyebrow, a sardonic slackening of the mouth. Hurt himself said: “What I am now, the man, the actor, is a blend of all that has happened.”

For theatregoers of my generation, his pulverising, hysterically funny performance as Malcolm Scrawdyke, leader of the Party of Dynamic Erection at a Yorkshire art college, in David Halliwell’s Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, was a totemic performance of the mid-1960s; another was David Warner’s Hamlet, and both actors appeared in the 1974 film version of Little Malcolm. The play lasted only two weeks at the Garrick Theatre (I saw the final Saturday matinée), but Hurt’s performance was already a minor cult, and one collected by the Beatles and Laurence Olivier.

He became an overnight sensation with the public at large as Quentin Crisp – the self-confessed “stately homo of England” – in the 1975 television film The Naked Civil Servant, directed by Jack Gold, playing the outrageous, original and defiant aesthete whom Hurt had first encountered as a nude model in his painting classes at St Martin’s School of Art, before he trained as an actor.

Crisp called Hurt “my representative here on Earth”, ironically claiming a divinity at odds with his low-life louche-ness and poverty. But Hurt, a radiant vision of ginger quiffs and curls, with a voice kippered in gin and as studiously inflected as a deadpan mix of Noël Coward, Coral Browne and Julian Clary, in a way propelled Crisp to the stars, and certainly to his transatlantic fame, a journey summarised when Hurt recapped Crisp’s life in An Englishman in New York (2009), 10 years after his death.

Hurt said some people had advised him that playing Crisp would end his career. Instead, it made everything possible. Within five years he had appeared in four of the most extraordinary films of the late 1970s: Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), the brilliantly acted sci-fi horror movie in which Hurt – from whose stomach the creature exploded – was the first victim; Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, for which he won his first Bafta award as a drug-addicted convict in a Turkish torture prison; Michael Cimino’s controversial western Heaven’s Gate (1980), now a cult classic in its fully restored format; and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980), with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft.

In the latter, as John Merrick, the deformed circus attraction who becomes a celebrity in Victorian society and medicine, Hurt won a second Bafta award and Lynch’s opinion that he was “the greatest actor in the world”. He infused a hideous outer appearance – there were 27 moving pieces in his face mask; he spent nine hours a day in make-up – with a deeply moving, humane quality. He followed up with a small role – Jesus – in Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part 1 (1981), the movie where the waiter at the Last Supper says, “Are you all together, or is it separate cheques?”

Hurt was an actor freed of all convention in his choice of roles, and he lived his life accordingly. Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, he was the youngest of three children of a Church of England vicar and mathematician, the Reverend Arnould Herbert Hurt, and his wife, Phyllis (née Massey), an engineer with an enthusiasm for amateur dramatics.

After a miserable schooling at St Michael’s in Sevenoaks, Kent (where he said he was sexually abused), and the Lincoln grammar school (where he played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest), he rebelled as an art student, first at the Grimsby art school where, in 1959, he won a scholarship to St Martin’s, before training at Rada for two years in 1960.

He made a stage debut that same year with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Arts, playing a semi-psychotic teenage thug in Fred Watson’s Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger and then joined the cast of Arnold Wesker’s national service play, Chips With Everything, at the Vaudeville. Still at the Arts, he was Len in Harold Pinter’s The Dwarfs (1963) before playing the title role in John Wilson’s Hamp (1964) at the Edinburgh Festival, where critic Caryl Brahms noted his unusual ability and “blessed quality of simplicity”.

This was a more relaxed, free-spirited time in the theatre. Hurt recalled rehearsing with Pinter when silver salvers stacked with gins and tonics, ice and lemon, would arrive at 11.30 each morning as part of the stage management routine. On receiving a rude notice from the distinguished Daily Mail critic Peter Lewis, he wrote, “Dear Mr Lewis, Whooooops! Yours sincerely, John Hurt” and received the reply, “Dear Mr Hurt, thank you for short but tedious letter. Yours sincerely, Peter Lewis.”

After Little Malcolm, he played leading roles with the RSC at the Aldwych – notably in David Mercer’s Belcher’s Luck (1966) and as the madcap dadaist Tristan Tzara in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (1974) – as well as Octavius in Shaw’s Man and Superman in Dublin in 1969 and an important 1972 revival of Pinter’s The Caretaker at the Mermaid. But his stage work over the next 10 years was virtually non-existent as he followed The Naked Civil Servant with another pyrotechnical television performance as Caligula in I, Claudius; Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the Fool to Olivier’s King Lear in Michael Elliott’s 1983 television film.

His first big movie had been Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons (1966) with Paul Scofield (Hurt played Richard Rich) but his first big screen performance was an unforgettable Timothy Evans, the innocent framed victim in Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington Place (1970), with Richard Attenborough as the sinister landlord and killer John Christie. He claimed to have made 150 movies and persisted in playing those he called “the unloved … people like us, the inside-out people, who live their lives as an experiment, not as a formula”. Even his Ben Gunn-like professor in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) fitted into this category, though not as resoundingly, perhaps, as his quivering Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s terrific Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984); or as a prissy weakling, Stephen Ward, in Michael Caton-Jones’s Scandal (1989) about the Profumo affair; or again as the lonely writer Giles De’Ath in Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island.

His later, sporadic theatre performances included a wonderful Trigorin in Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in 1985 (with Natasha Richardson as Nina); Turgenev’s incandescent idler Rakitin in a 1994 West End production by Bill Bryden of A Month in the Country, playing a superb duet with Helen Mirren’s Natalya Petrovna; and another memorable match with Penelope Wilton in Brian Friel’s exquisite 70-minute doodle Afterplay (2002), in which two lonely Chekhov characters – Andrei from Three Sisters, Sonya from Uncle Vanya – find mutual consolation in a Moscow café in the 1920s. The play originated, like his Krapp, at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.

His last screen work included, in the Harry Potter franchise, the first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), and last two, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two (2010, 2011), as the kindly wand-maker Mr Ollivander; Roland Joffé’s 1960s remake of Brighton Rock (2010); and the 50th anniversary television edition of Dr Who (2013), playing a forgotten incarnation of the title character.

Because of his distinctive, virtuosic vocal attributes – was that what a brandy-injected fruitcake sounds like, or peanut butter spread thickly with a serrated knife? – he was always in demand for voiceover gigs in animated movies: the heroic rabbit leader, Hazel, in Watership Down (1978), Aragorn/Strider in Lord of the Rings (1978) and the Narrator in Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2004). In 2015 he took the Peter O’Toole stage role in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell for BBC Radio 4. He had foresworn alcohol for a few years – not for health reasons, he said, but because he was bored with it.

Hurt’s sister was a teacher in Australia, his brother a convert to Roman Catholicism and a monk and writer. After his first short marriage to the actor Annette Robinson (1960, divorced 1962) he lived for 15 years in London with the French model Marie-Lise Volpeliere Pierrot. She was killed in a riding accident in 1983. In 1984 he married, secondly, a Texan, Donna Peacock (divorced in 1990), living with her for a time in Nairobi until the relationship came under strain from his drinking and her dalliance with a gardener. With his third wife, Jo Dalton (married in 1990, divorced 1995), he had two sons, Nicolas and Alexander (“Sasha”), who survive him, as does his fourth wife, the actor and producer Anwen Rees-Myers, whom he married in 2005 and with whom he lived in Cromer, Norfolk. Hurt was made CBE in 2004, given a Bafta lifetime achievement award in 2012 and knighted in the New Year’s honours list of 2015.

Obituries

Aug 292016
 

Gene Wilder

11 June 1933   –   29 August 2016



Comedy legend Gene Wilders has died

Gene Wilder, who established himself as one of America’s foremost comic actors with his delightfully neurotic performances in three films directed by Mel Brooks; his eccentric star turn in the family classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”; and his winning chemistry with Richard Pryor in the box-office smash “Stir Crazy,” died early Monday morning at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 83.

A nephew, the filmmaker Jordan Walker-Pearlman, confirmed his death in a statement, saying the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr. Wilder’s rule for comedy was simple: Don’t try to make it funny; try to make it real. “I’m an actor, not a clown,” he said more than once.

With his haunted blue eyes and an empathy born of his own history of psychic distress, he aspired to touch audiences much as Charlie Chaplin had. The Chaplin film “City Lights,” he said, had “made the biggest impression on me as an actor; it was funny, then sad, then both at the same time.”

Mr. Wilder was an accomplished stage actor as well as a screenwriter, a novelist and the director of four movies in which he starred. (He directed, he once said, “in order to protect what I wrote, which I wrote in order to act.”) But he was best known for playing roles on the big screen that might have been ripped from the pages of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He made his movie debut in 1967 in Arthur Penn’s celebrated crime drama, “Bonnie and Clyde,” in which he was memorably hysterical as an undertaker kidnapped by the notorious Depression-era bank robbers played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. He was even more hysterical, and even more memorable, a year later in “The Producers,” the first film by Mr. Brooks, who later turned it into a Broadway hit.

Mr. Wilder played the security-blanket-clutching accountant Leo Bloom, who discovers how to make more money on a bad Broadway show than on a good one: Find rich backers, stage a production that’s guaranteed to fold fast, then flee the country with the leftover cash. Unhappily for Bloom and his fellow schemer, Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel, their outrageously tasteless musical, “Springtime for Hitler,” is a sensation.

The part earned Mr. Wilder an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Within a few years, the anxious, frizzy-haired, popeyed Mr. Wilder had become an unlikely movie star.

He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the wizardly title character in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971). The film was a box-office disappointment, partly because of parental concern that the moral of Roald Dahl’s story — that greedy, gluttonous children should not go unpunished — was too dark in the telling. But it went on to gain a devoted following, and Willy Wonka remains one of the roles with which Mr. Wilder is most closely identified.

His next role was more adult but equally strange: an otherwise normal doctor who falls in love with a sheep named Daisy in a segment of Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask,” in 1972. Two years later, he reunited with Mr. Brooks for perhaps the two best-known entries in either man’s filmography.

In “Blazing Saddles,” a raunchy, no-holds-barred spoof of Hollywood westerns, Mr. Wilder had the relatively quiet role of the Waco Kid, a boozy ex-gunfighter who helps an improbable black sheriff (Cleavon Little) save a town from railroad barons and venal politicians. The film’s once-daring humor may have lost some of its edge over the years, but Mr. Wilder’s next Brooks film, “Young Frankenstein,” has never grown old.

Mr. Wilder himself hatched the idea, envisioning a black-and-white film faithful to the look of the Boris Karloff “Frankenstein,” down to the laboratory equipment, but played for laughs rather than for horror. He would portray an American man of science, the grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein, who tries to turn his back on his heritage (“that’s Frahn-kahn-STEEN”) but finds himself irresistibly drawn to Transylvania to duplicate his grandfather’s creation of a monster in a spooky mountaintop laboratory.

Mr. Brooks’s original reaction to the idea, Mr. Wilder recalled, was noncommittal: “Cute. That’s cute.” But he eventually came aboard as director and co-writer, and the two garnered an Oscar nomination for their screenplay.

Serendipity played a role in the casting. Mr. Wilder’s agent asked him to help find work for two new clients, and thus Marty Feldman became Frankenstein’s assistant, Igor (“that’s EYE-gor”), and Peter Boyle the monster. Madeline Kahn, whose performance as the chanteuse Lili Von Shtupp had been a highlight of “Blazing Saddles,” played the doctor’s socialite fiancée. Cloris Leachman was Frau Blücher, the sound of whose name caused horses to whinny in fear.

The name Blücher, Mr. Wilder said in a 2008 interview with The San Jose Mercury News, came from a book of letters to and from Sigmund Freud: “I saw someone named Blücher had written to him, and I said, ‘Well, that’s the name.’” And Mr. Wilder certainly knew a lot about Freud.

His first of many visits to a psychotherapist is the opening scene in the memoir he published in 2005, “Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art.”

“What seems to be the trouble?” the therapist asks.

“I want to give all my money away,” he says.

“How much do you have?”

“I owe three hundred dollars.”

Soon the jokes and evasions give way to the torments of sexual repression, guilt feelings and his “demon,” a compulsion, lasting several years, to pray out loud to God at the most embarrassing times and in the most embarrassing places. But never onstage or onscreen, where he felt free to be someone else.

Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee on June 11, 1933. His father, William, a manufacturer and salesman of novelty items, was an immigrant from Russia. His mother, the former Jeanne Baer, suffered from rheumatic heart disease and a temperament that sometimes led her to punish young Jerry angrily and then smother him with regretful kisses.

He spent one semester at the Black-Foxe Military Institute in Hollywood. His mother saw it as a great opportunity; in reality, it was a catch basin for boys from broken families, where he was regularly beaten up for being Jewish.

Safely back home after that misadventure, he played minor roles in community theater productions and then followed his older sister, Corinne, into the theater program at the University of Iowa. After Iowa, he studied Shakespeare at the Bristol Old Vic Theater School in England, where he was the first freshman to win the school fencing championship.

He next enrolled part time at the HB Studio in New York, while also serving a two-year Army hitch as an aide in the psychiatric unit of the Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania — an assignment he requested because, he said, “I imagined the things I would see there might relate more to acting than any of the other choices.” He added, “I wasn’t wrong.”

After his discharge, he won a coveted spot at the Actors Studio, and it was then that he adopted the name Gene Wilder: Gene for Eugene Gant, the protagonist of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel,” and Wilder for the playwright Thornton Wilder.

In his first major role on Broadway, Mr. Wilder played the chaplain in a 1963 production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.” The production ran for less than two months, and he came to believe that he had been miscast. The good news was that he met the boyfriend of the star, Anne Bancroft: Mel Brooks, who wore a pea coat the night he met Mr. Wilder backstage and told him, “You know, they used to call these urine jackets, but they didn’t sell.”

So began the conversation that ultimately led to “The Producers.”

Mr. Wilder’s association with Mr. Brooks led, in turn, to one with Richard Pryor, who was one of the writers of “Blazing Saddles” (and Mr. Brooks’s original choice for the part ultimately played by Mr. Little). In 1976, Mr. Pryor was third-billed behind Mr. Wilder and Jill Clayburgh in “Silver Streak,” a comic thriller about murder on a transcontinental train. The two men went on to star in the 1982 hit “Stir Crazy,” in which they played a hapless pair jailed for a crime they didn’t commit, as well as “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” (1989) and “Another You” (1991).

Mr. Wilder’s first two marriages, to Mary Mercier and Mary Joan Schutz, ended in divorce. In 1982, he met the “Saturday Night Live” comedian Gilda Radner when they were both cast in the suspense comedy “Hanky Panky.”

One evening, he recalled in “Kiss Me Like a Stranger,” he and Ms. Radner innocently ended up at his hotel to review some script changes. The time came for her to go; instead, she shoved him down on the bed, jumped on top of him and announced, “I have a plan for fun!” He sent her home anyway — she was married to another man — but before long, they began a relationship.

By his account, Ms. Radner was needy, obsessed with getting married and, once they married in 1984, obsessed with having a child, a project that ended in miscarriage just months before she learned she had ovarian cancer in 1986.

Of their first year of living together, he wrote: “We didn’t get along well, and that’s a fact. We just loved each other, and that’s a fact.” He left, only to find that he needed to go back.

Ms. Radner died in 1989. “I had one great blessing: I was so dumb,” Mr. Wilder once said of her last years. “I believed even three weeks before she died she would make it.”

In memory of Ms. Radner, he helped to found an ovarian cancer detection center in her name, in Los Angeles, and Gilda’s Club, a network of support centers for people with cancer. He also contributed to a book, “Gilda’s Disease” (1998), with Dr. M. Steven Piver.

Mr. Wilder himself developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1999. With chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant, he was in remission by 2005.

In 1991 Mr. Wilder married Karen Boyer, a hearing specialist who had coached him in the filming of “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” in which his character was deaf and Mr. Pryor’s was blind. She survives him, as does a daughter from an earlier marriage. His sister died in January.

Even before he became ill, Mr. Wilder had begun slowing down. He made his first and last attempt at a television series, the short-lived and little-remembered comedy “Something Wilder,” in 1994.

He returned to the theater in 1997 in a London production of Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” In 1999 he was a writer for two TV movies in which he starred, “Murder in a Small Town” and “The Lady in Question,” playing a theater director turned amateur sleuth. In 2001 he appeared at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut in a program of one-act farces. Shortly after appearing in an episode of “Will & Grace” in 2003 — he won an Emmy for that role — he declared that he had retired from acting for good.

“I don’t like show business, I realized,” he said in 2008. “I like show, but I don’t like the business.”

He was by then enjoying a new career as a novelist. His “My French Whore,” published in 2007, was the story of a naïve young American who impersonates a German spy in World War I. (“Just fluff, but sweet fluff,” the novelist Carolyn See wrote in her review in The Washington Post.) It was followed by two more novels, “The Woman Who Wouldn’t” and “Something to Remember You By,” and a story collection, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

But it was, of course, as an actor that Mr. Wilder left his most lasting mark. In his memoir, he posed a question about his life’s work, then answered it:

“What do actors really want? To be great actors? Yes, but you can’t buy talent, so it’s best to leave the word ‘great’ out of it. I think to be believed, onstage or onscreen, is the one hope that all actors share.”

Obituries

May 242016
 

Burt Kwouk

18 July 1930   –   24 May 2016


Burt Kwouk, who has died aged 85, was best known for his role as Cato Fong, the long-suffering manservant of Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) in the Pink Panther films.

As well as answering the telephone and dealing with the inspector’s daily needs, Cato’s chief role was to keep Clouseau vigilant by attacking him whenever he least expected it. Their encounters became a running joke throughout the Pink Panther series and the scenes involving their preposterous karate-style sparring – interspersed with loud screams – generally resulted in the destruction of Clouseau’s flat and Cato himself being knocked out, usually because of one of Clouseau’s underhand tricks.

“But Cato,” the inspector tells him before kicking him in the face in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), “your fly is undone… and so, my friend, are you.”

Pink Panther fans (including the Prince of Wales and Elvis Presley, who could quote chunks of dialogue verbatim) loved the gag – particularly the slow-motion martial arts yowls and Cato’s ingenious hiding places, such as the canopy of a four-poster bed and a freezer. (“You know, Cato, your freezer ambush ploy. I really congratulate you.”)

Although Kwouk appeared in three James Bond films (including the spoof Casino Royale in 1967) and had a successful subsequent career on British television, his fondest professional memories were of his time in the Pink Panther films, and his friendship with Sellers endured until the actor’s death in 1980. “I learnt a lot from Peter,” he later recalled. “Particularly how to be ‘second banana’ – by which I mean like a straight man to him.”

He was sanguine about Clouseau’s affectionate references to Cato as his “little yellow friend”. “They can call me anything they like,” he once said, “as long as I get paid and my name is spelt correctly.”

Herbert Tsangtse Kwouk was born on July 18 1930 at Warrington while his parents were touring Europe. His father, a textile tycoon, was a descendant of a Tang dynasty general and Kwouk was brought up in the wealthy, mannered world of pre-war Shanghai. Between the ages of 12 and 16 he attended the Jesuit Mission School in the city, which he described as “the Far East equivalent of Eton”. He was then sent to the US to complete his education. He left China in 1947.

In 1949 Kwouk’s parents and sister were caught up in the Chinese revolution. Kwouk’s British passport enabled his mother and sister to leave for Hong Kong, but his father stayed in China. “I think my father supported the revolution,” Kwouk recalled, “because, morally, a person could not fail to support it: the mass of Chinese people were starving on the streets.”

He remained in America and continued his education until 1954 when he decided to tour Europe. Arriving in Britain he found a room in Ladbroke Grove and began looking for work. “I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said, “but I went into catering because at least there you get to eat.” He worked as a dish-washer for Joe Lyons before moving on to a variety of jobs including mortuary attendant and later “butter-wrapper” at a factory in Clapham.

He spent his free time “hanging around the cheap end of Chelsea” with a group of friends. “We were the gestation period for the Swinging Sixties,” Kwouk explained. “We used to drink wine and talk about what we were going to do with our lives.”

After his girlfriend persuaded him that acting would make a suitable career and arranged for Kwouk to have some publicity photographs, he auditioned and got the part of a Malayan in Windom’s Way (1957), having persuaded the casting director that he spoke fluent Malay (he did not).

Kwouk was spotted by a talent scout who offered him a role in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958). He then spent the next four years working consistently in a variety of film and television roles. “It made me very unpopular with a lot of the Oriental/American actors,” he said. “They had all been in the business for years and I just arrived from England and walked straight into non-stop work.”

After a part in the 1962 film 55 Days at Peking, Kwouk returned to Britain to appear in various television comedy shows, resisting advice from agents who suggested he change his name to Charlie Chan or Mr Woo. Through the early 1960s he was cast as a villain in series such as Danger Man, The Saint and The Avengers.

In 1964, having appeared as a baddie in Goldfinger, Kwouk was offered the part of Kato (later changed to Cato) in A Shot in the Dark. After reading the script Kwouk turned the part down. “I couldn’t see the point,” he recalled, “the character didn’t have a lot of screen time, didn’t say very much, and kept getting knocked down.” His agent eventually persuaded him that he needed the money and Kwouk accepted the role.

“Peter Sellers made me,” he said later, “there’s no doubt about it. He raised me to higher level and was a very generous actor, he kept finding ways for Cato get a bigger laugh.” Despite Sellers’s eccentricities Kwouk maintained that they had a good working relationship. “Peter was odd,” he admitted, “but few geniuses are not odd. I learned a lot about comedy acting just by watching his eyes before a take.” Cato proved so popular that he was written into all but one of the subsequent films. “1 loved playing the part,” Kwouk recalled, “but it was mayhem, half the time I was petrified I was actually going to get hurt by one of Peter’s wild lunges.”

Kwouk then alternated between playing villains in films such as The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) and You Only Live Twice (1967) and playing Cato, which he did through the 1970s in The Return of the Pink Panther (1974), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and The Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978). After Sellers’s death Kwouk wanted to give up the part and possibly against his better judgment he accepted roles in both The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) and Curse of the Pink Panther (1983). Both films were made after Seller’s death and both flopped. He made a small appearance in the Meryl Streep vehicle Plenty (1985) before concentrating on his television career.

He took roles in television drama series such as Tenko (1981-83), in which he played a chilling, sadistic Japanese commandant. While admitting that many of the parts he played were seen by the Chinese community as “derogatory to their race” Kwouk rarely refused a role. “If I don’t do it someone else will,” he reflected.

Kwouk returned to filmmaking with appearances in Air America, opposite Mel Gibson, in 1990, and in Leon the Pig Farmer, a low-budget British production, in 1993. That year he revisited the role of Cato one final time in The Son of the Pink Panther. He became familiar to a new generation on television, with a recurring role as Entwistle in Last of the Summer Wine, and in The Harry Hill Show (as himself).

He was appointed OBE in 2011.

Burt Kwouk was an affable man who liked a glass and a smoke. He is survived by his wife Caroline, whom he married in 1961, and a son.

Burt Kwouk, born July 18 1930, died May 24 2016

Obituries