Obituaries

David Kossoff (1919 - 2005)

David Kossoff David Kossoff became a familiar and well-loved figure on television throughout the 1950s and 1960s thanks to playing the hen-pecked husband of Peggy Mount in the hugely successful sitcom The Larkins.

Born on November 24th, 1919 to Russian parents in the East End of London, David Kossoff made his first stage appearance in 1942. In 1945 he joined the BBC Repertory Company, where he remained for six years, appearing in hundreds of radio plays. Often taking on roles older than his true age, Kossoff made many memorable film appearances, one of which won him a BAFTA for 'A Kid For Two Farthings' and had great success on stage creating the Jewish tailor in Wolf Mankowitz's 'The Bespoke Overcoat' as well as his own one-man show, 'With One Eyebrow Slightly Up' which he also took to Broadway. In 1956 he appeared in the very first Armchair Theatre production; 'The Outsider'. But it was as put-upon husband Alf Larkin that David Kossoff won the affections of the British television-viewing public before moving on to another successful sitcom, A Little Big Business in the 1960s. His warm and sincere voice meant that he became a huge hit in the 1960s reading bible stories on BBC radio, a success that spawned a Sunday evening TV series and a host of bestselling books. When one critic rounded on him for playing Alf Larkin, Kossoff quickly replied: "Alf earns 10 times as much as Kossoff, mate. He helps Kossoff to choose the parts he wants in straight plays and to say 'No' to the others. I like Alf ... A lot of hard work went into creating him. He's probably the best thing I've ever done." In 1976 tragedy struck when his younger son, Paul, lead guitarist with the rock group Free, died of drug-induced heart failure at the age of 25. Kossoff went on to campaign passionately against the danger of drug taking and performed a critically acclaimed one-man show, 'The Late Great Paul', at the Queen Elizabeth Hall before taking it on a tour of schools and universities. He wrote a prayer book entitled "You've Got A Moment, Lord?" and in the 1980s he published "Stories From A Small Town", based on folk stories of 19th-century Jewish Russia. He also did several TV commercials, pointing out that Bible stories didn't pay very well, but commercials did - and that, anyway, "it just occurred to me that God might have guided my hand to J Walter Thompson."

David Kossoff passed away on March 23rd 2005, aged 85.

Geoffrey Lancashire (1933 - 2004)

Geoffrey LancashireOne critic once wrote when reviewing Geoffrey Lancashire's work, "If Geoffrey Lancashire didn't exist, he would have to have been invented." Geoffrey Lancashire was born, fittingly enough, in Oldham, Lancashire on 12th March 1933, the only child of two council-office workers. Having passed his 11-plus examination he won a place at Oldham Municipal High School for Boys where he was encouraged to write by his English teacher. On leaving school Lancashire pursued a career in journalism working for the Oldham Evening Chronicle in Union Street. Later, he and Roy Bottomley - also destined to join Granada - started a paper of their own, the Oldham Mirror. Following his National Service, during which time he learned to speak Russian, he returned to reporting on a freelance basis. When Sidney Bernstein's Granada won one of the first Independent Television franchises in the UK, Lancashire offered his services writing broadcast links and continuity announcements. He joined Granada in May 1956, just nine days before the network began broadcasting. The department he joined also employed the likes of John G. Temple, Jack Rosenthal and Tony Warren, the latter of whom created Coronation Street, and it was thanks to Warren that Lancashire got his breakthrough as a scriptwriter. He ended up writing over 200 episodes for 'Corrie' and at the same time he also contributed to Granada's output with a six-part adaptation of Howards Spring's Shabby Tiger as well as numerous other adaptations and his own play Purple Twilight.

In 1970 Lancashire joined forces with a former flatmate, John G. Temple, to create a comedy series, The Cuckoo Waltz. Both writers had previously shared a two-up, two-down terraced-house in Oldham. But the inspiration for The Cuckoo Waltz was down to another friend and writer, Jack Rosenthal. Geoffrey had married Hilda and they had started a family when Rosenthal moved in to the Lancashire home as a temporary lodger, as Hilda Lancashire told Television Heaven: "Jack Rosenthal moved into the Lancashire home for a few weeks when his first marriage broke up... and stayed for three years..." The Cuckoo Waltz starred David Roper, Diane Keen and Lewis Collins. This was followed by Foxy Lady another starring vehicle for Keen, and a collaboration with Jack Rosenthal produced The Lovers starring Richard Beckinsale and Paula Wilcox. Sadly, a series he and Temple wrote six episodes for was lost when Southern Television had their franchise taken away from them in the 1980s. Among Lancashire's other credits were contributions to the BBC series' United and All Creatures Great and Small, although he was notorious for delivering his scripts at the eleventh hour. In the 1980s Lancashire suffered a debilitating stroke and, coupled with the break up of his marriage, his health deteriorated. Although he and Hilda never divorced, Lancashire lived alone in Oldham and suffered three further strokes before moving into Denville Hall, the actors home in North London, just three months before his death, aged 71, on October 3rd, 2004.

Following in her father's footsteps, Lancashire's daughter, Sarah took a starring role in Coronation Street as Raquel Wolstenhulme and went on to be one of the series all-time favourite characters. His former partner, Temple (himself an ex-'Corrie' producer) says that Lancashire was cheered by Sarah's success and even though suffering from ill health in later years his passion for television never diminished. "I will always remember their fond frienship, his good humour, our shared love of cricket and his loud, distinctive laugh in the studio audience." He wrote: "Geoff created 'real' characters and placed them in credible, recognisable situations. He wrote lines that exuded wit, warmth and charm, with wry understatement that defied you not to laugh. And they played so beautifully, that rarely did a word have to be altered or a comma moved."

Bryan Pringle (1935 - 2002)

Bryan PringleBryan Pringle's craggy, down-to-earth looks made him a perfect character actor. These usually got him cast as unsavoury but comic roles. "I don't particularly like playing nasty characters," he once said, "I was just born with a face that nobody would think well of." Often cast in working class parts, he was in fact educated at public school although he rarely admitted it to casting directors. Born on January 19th 1935 in Glascote, Staffordshire, Pringle was educated at St Bees in Cumbria. He went to RADA in 1954 where among his fellow classmates was Peter O'Toole. While there, Pringle was awarded the Bancroft Gold Medal for acting. On leaving he joined the Old Vic company where he stayed from 1955 to 1957 playing in Shakespeare and the classics. He then went into rep appearing at Nottingham and Liverpool. Alongside regular stage work, he landed occasional parts in films, entering film work in 1960 playing in the gritty northern drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. During a particularly creative period for British films Pringle was seen often and among his many appearances were parts in The Challenge (starring Jayne Mansfield, 1960), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Early Bird (with Norman Wisdom, 1965), Berserk! (with Joan Crawford, 1967), Diamonds for Breakfast (1968) and in Ken Russell's The Boy Friend (1971). On the West End stage he had a long run as Michael Crawford's father in Billy at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1974 but it was for his television work that he became a household name. Pringle appeared in the three-part BBC surreal sitcom Three Rousing Tinkles (1966), but it was his role in Jack Rosenthal's 1969 series The Dustbinmen that propelled him to fame. Although not appearing in the original Playhouse production, There's a Hole in Your Dustbin, Delilah (1968), Pringle took over the role played by Jack MacGowran of the rascally foreman Cheese and Egg. Complete with beret and round-rimmed spectacles, Pringle was the leader of the crew of Thunderbird Three, a corporation dustcart in a northern town. The comedy was described by many as crude, offensive and it was abhorred by the Clean Up TV campaign. The first series of six episodes topped the television ratings every week.

Pringle subsequently sported a moustache for Roy Clarke's sitcom The Growing Pains of PC Penrose (1975) to play Sergeant Flagg, under whose wing the innocent young probationer (Paul Greenwood) was taken. His duties changed to that of the senior waiter, Charles Spooner, when he starred in Room Service (1979), created by Jimmy Perry. That same year Pringle gave perhaps his most moving performance in the TV drama On Giant's Shoulders, in which he and Judi Dench played a couple who want to adopt an abandoned thalidomide child. Other straight roles included Mr Monk in The Pallisers (1974), Mr Garland in The Old Curiosity Shop (1975), Pistol in BBC productions of Henry IV, Part II (1979) and Henry V (1979). He was one of the members of a struggling 1930s touring concert party in Alan Plater's nine-part television adaptation of J.B. Priestley's novel The Good Companions (1980-81) and he also appeared in the second series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet (1986). Later performances included the butler Smith in A Dance to the Music of Time (1997) and Raggles in Vanity Fair (1998). Pringle would often turn up in guest starring roles in a number of established series' such as Inspector Morse, Rumpole of the Bailey and Perfect Scoundrels. By now his was one of the most recognisable faces on British television.

Pringle was married to the actress Anne Jameson who died in 1999. He passed away on May 15th 2002 aged 67. His last performances; Walter Hawthorn in My Uncle Silas and Mr. Cooper in Barbara (starring Gwen Taylor) were shown the following year.

Allan Prior (1922 - 2006)

Allan PriorAllan prior was a prolific novelist and writer and television dramatist, one of the founding writers of the BBC's famous police series, Z Cars, writing five of the first ten episodes. He went on to become one of the foremost TV writers who emerged from the fifties and sixties. Born in Newcastle-upon Tyne on January 13th 1922 he spent most of his boyhood in Blackpool. His father, a first world war officer, spent most of his civilian life gambling and getting involved in small furtive deals, as described by Allan in two semi-autobiographical novels, The Old Man and Me (1994) and The Old Man Again (1996). The family depended mainly on a shellfish business his mother inherited. Whilst serving in the RAF between 1942 and 1946 Prior wrote his first ever story, a short story for a forces' magazine competition, which he won. However, his own personal highlight of his time serving his country was when he captained the RAF HQ Northern Ireland cricket XI. Upon leaving the RAF he went into the civil service but walked out of his job to concentrate on writing a novel. According to his second wife, Norma Prior "He felt entitled to take a risk as his generation had been taking much bigger risks for a long time." The novel, A Flame in the Air, about men returning from the war was typed out by his first wife, Edith, and was published in 1951. By that time he had also begun writing for BBC radio.

In 1948, with Norman Swallow - who later became a distinguished name in television documentary - he wrote a radio programme about Blackpool for the BBC’s North Region. This led to more radio work, including a dramadocumentary about Gypsies that won a glowing review from the Manchester Guardian. It was his first attempt to write dialogue for actors and he realised that he had a natural aptitude for it. The Joy Ride, set in Blackpool, consolidated his reputation as a novelist of promise and in 1956 he wrote his first television play, a comedy called The Common Man for the ITV anthology series Armchair Theatre. Transmitted on November 11th 1956 the play starred Peter Butterworth. During the 1950s he wrote two or three radio plays a year and moved into television, a BBC soap opera, Starr and Company (as a replacement for The Grove Family in 1958), another serial, Yorky, with Bill Naughton, and episodes of the ITV series Deadline Midnight. By the time he was approached to write for Z Cars he was an experienced writer. The Z Cars format, devised by Troy Kennedy Martin, went on air at the beginning of 1962. Prior wrote five of the first ten. One of them, Big Catch, was described by the critic Philip Purser as "the best series drama, live or filmed, I have ever seen on television." Prior wrote more than 80 Z Cars scripts during the programme’s 16-year run. Prior became a regular contributor the Armchair Theatre and in 1964 he wrote a trilogy of teleplays, the common theme being the people of Blackpool and it's Golden Mile. The first, They Throw it at You starred Julia Foster, Megs Jenkins, Lennard Pearce and Jack Smethurst. It was broadcast on October 25th at 9:35pm and was the only play in that week's National Top Ten of TV shows. The second of his trilogy, The Girl in the Picture, introduced Nicola Pagett and give a TV debut to Peter Purves. The show made number 8 in the TV charts. The third and final play in the trilogy was broadcast in January 1965. I've Got a System starred Derek Francis, Avis Bunnage, Keith Baxter and Kika Markham and had betting and gambling as its theme. The One Eyed Monster, a story about a north country seer taken up by television, went into publication in several European languages. It too was dramatised for television by Prior. In it Rupert Davies played a street trader who dispensed homely advice with each sale, and who went on to become a famous TV personality. During this time he also contributed to popular series such as Dr Finlay’s Casebook and in the 1970s he continued to alternate between original plays, adaptations and episodes of series, the latter including The Onedin Line, Sutherland’s Law and The Expert. He wrote many radio plays for the BBC North Region as well as 20 novels and 50 original TV plays in addition to episodes of the Z Cars spin-off Softly Softly, Barlow and other police series such as The Sweeney and Juliet Bravo, although his work remained varied and he was never typecast into a particular genre. Amongst his last television dramas were The Charmer and A Perfect Hero, both starring Nigel Havers and he was the original writer of Howard's Way. In all he wrote 300 television scripts. He also wrote 70 radio plays and a number of film scripts but preferred television drama to film despite a stint in Hollywood.

Prior kept up a steady output of novels and in 1991 he published Führer, a study of Adolf Hitler which he described as "90 per cent factual and 10 per cent informed guesswork." He adapted it as a four-hour radio serial, broadcast on Radio 4 in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversay of the end of the Second World War. Prior passed away on June 1st 2006, aged 84. He was survived by his second wife Norma and three children. His daughter, Maddy Prior, is of Steeleye Span fame.

Kent Walton (1917 - 2003)

Kent WaltonFor years television viewers in the UK would tune in to hear Kent Walton's opening line "Greetings, grapple fans" as he introduced Saturday afternoon wrestling as part of ITV's long running World of Sport programme. Kenneth Walton Beckett was born in Cairo on August 22nd, 1917 (the son of the Minister for Finance in the colonial government) and grew up in Surrey and was educated at Charterhouse. He studied acting at the Embassy School of Acting in London and then appeared in rep before the start of World War Two at which time he joined the RAF as a radio operator and front-gunner. At the same time he began to modulate his public school accent while mixing with Canadian airmen. After the war he briefly returned to acting but soon became both a sports commentator and a Radio Luxembourg DJ. When ITV was given the green light to broadcast to the nation in the mid 1950s Walton sent in his application and was hired by head of Associated-Rediffusion, Roland Gillett. Walton was assigned to sport, covering such events as tennis, badminton and football. He also introduced one of the earliest commercial TV pop music shows, Cool for Cats. Soon promoted to Sports Programme Organiser, Walton became very much involved in the planning and operation of ITV's weekly Cavalcade of Sport.

Walton was chosen by A-R's Head of Sports, Ken Johnstone, to commentate on the first televised wrestling bout in 1955. Walton was given the job with just a week's notice despite never having been to a bout, so a couple of days before he went down to the gym with Mick McManus and got him to demonstrate the various holds. Soon Walton had mastered the terminology and allegedly began to make up names for moves himself. On 9th November 1955, at 9pm he introduced TV viewers to All In Wrestling for the first time. The show was broadcast from West Ham Baths and signalled the start of a 30 + year run which was only ended in 1988 by ITV's Head of Sport, Greg Dyke, because he felt it 'presented the wrong image' to the channel's viewers and advertisers. But during that run wrestlers such as Mick McManus, Steve Logan, Les Kellett, Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy became household names. It was a poor decision by Dyke and a few years after wrestling was axed, backed by the big US networks, American Wrestling became a multi-million dollar industry. At the height of its popularity Saturday afternoon wrestling in the UK attracted a regular audience of 12 million viewers. Finishing just before the football results, Walton would sign of with his trademark "Have a good week - till next week." Reportedly among wrestling's biggest fans were Margaret Thatcher and the Queen.

Walton did numerous voice-overs for television commercials and was one of the founders of Pyramid Films responsible for making a number of easily forgettable 1970s cheap 'skin-flicks'. But to wrestling fans of a certain age throughout Britain, Kent Walton will be always be remembered quite simply as "The Voice of Wrestling". Kent Walton passed away on August 24th, 2003, just two days after his 86th birthday.

Richard Wattis (1912 - 1975)

Richard WattisRichard Wattis was a British character actor who for over 40 years was the face of pompous officialdom whether he was portraying a civil servant, a secretary, or an administrative assistant. He was the man who began a sentence with a rather disinterested "Can I help you?", would listen to you explain your predicament and then frustrate you with an equally dispassionate "I'm awfully sorry, there's absolutely nothing I can do to help you." He was the man who would look down his nose at you with an air of superiority and dismissive-ness in the safe knowledge that the sluggish wheels of bureaucracy would always turn in his favour. And he played that part so well that he rose to, as Bruce Eder writing for All Movie Guide observed, "something akin to star power in non-starring roles."

Richard Cameron Wattis was born on 25th February 1912 in Wednesbury, Staffordshire and was moved to Walsall at the age of four. His uncle was MP for Walsall in the mid-1920's and as a child Wattis became star-struck, idolising the screen actor Robert Donat who he frequently wrote to asking for advice on acting. Wattis attended King Edward's School, Birmingham and Bromsgrove School, and upon finishing his education went to work for the family electrical engineering firm. It is doubtful that he ever showed any interest in the job (and during this time he became involved in amateur dramatics in Walsall at Her Majesty's Theatre) and he soon left. Having avoided one lacklustre career Wattis then managed to manoeuvre himself away from chartered accountancy and secured a position (on the advice of Donat) at Croydon Rep in 1935. Here he learned his craft with the likes of John Barron, John Le Mesurier, Jon Pertwee and Dennis Price. By the end of the decade he was acting regularly on stage as well as producing and also appeared on the BBC's pre-World War II television broadcasts. One of the first actors to do so. He made his big-screen debut with a role in the 1939 feature A Yank at Oxford with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, but like most in his profession his career was interrupted by the outbreak of hostilities and he spent the war serving in the Royal Medical Corp., as a Second Lieutenant. Upon being demobbed he returned to acting and soon found himself much in demand, first on radio and then in films, playing "pompous, dry, deadpan authority figures, snooping civil servants, and other comical pests."¹

During the 1950s Wattis starred in numerous Ealing comedies as well as the St Trinian films of Launder and Gilliat. He also appeared in Around The World in 80 Days and made his international debut in The Prince & The Showgirl. Later he appeared in ‘Carry On's,’ Norman Wisdom films, and starred in over 100 films in all. On television he became a comic foil for Tony Hancock, Dickie Henderson and other comedians of the day. When Eric Sykes made his first television sitcom he wrote a character called Mr Brown; a next-door neighbour who, far from being neighbourly, was snooty, pompous and fastidious. When casting the series Sykes made it quite clear that he wanted no one else but Richard Wattis. In return, Wattis was delighted to be given the part, because as he developed the role, Mr Brown became much more vulnerable and amiable than the type of character he usually played. According to Graham McCann in his book 'Spike & Co' Wattis was far removed from his screen persona: "A cheerful, somewhat camp and relatively worldly bon vivant, he was a great thrower of parties and frequenter of high-class restaurants, a cultured quaffer of good vintage Haut-Brion and Aloxe-Corton and an avid student of history, the arts and literature. He was also quite mischievous and a good sport." For the second series of Sykes and A... Wattis's agent asked for Richard's fee to be increased. The BBC's reaction was to ask Sykes to write Mr Brown out of the series. Sykes refused. In his autobiography, 'If I Don't Write It, Nobody Else Will' Eric Sykes wrote "...it is my firm belief that you can't buy talent on the cheap, so my cast remained unchanged, and I made sure that Richard was with us until the day he died many years later."

Richard Wattis died of a heart attack whilst dining in a Kensington restaurant on 1st February 1975, just three weeks before his 63rd birthday. His Memorial Service was held at St Pauls Church in Covent Garden (The Actor's Church), where there is a plaque in memory of him not far from his friend and colleague Hattie Jacques.

(¹)Bruce Eder

Billie Whitelaw (1932 - 2014)

Billie WhitelawAcclaimed actress Billie Whitelaw, famous for her roles on stage and screen, worked in close collaboration with Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, who described her as a perfect actress.

Whitelaw was born on 6 June 1932 in Coventry, Warwickshire, and grew up in a working class part of Bradford. At age 11, she began performing as a child actress on radio programmes, including the part of Bunkle, an extrovert prep-schoolboy on Children's Hour from Manchester. After training at RADA, Whitelaw made her stage debut at age 18 in London in 1950. She made her film debut in The Sleeping Tiger (1954), followed by roles in Carve Her Name With Pride (1958) and Hell Is a City (1960) and quickly became a regular in British films. She starred alongside Albert Finney in Charlie Bubbles (1967), a performance which won her a BAFTA award as Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She would win her second BAFTA as the sensuous mother of college student Hayley Mills in the psychological study Twisted Nerve (1969). Whitelaw gained international acclaim for her chilling role as Mrs. Baylock, the evil guardian of the demon child Damien in The Omen (1976). Her performance won her the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress. She also appeared frequently on television beginning with 1952 with the BBC's 1952 adaptation of The Secret Garden. She appeared in her first regular role in 1955 on Dixon of Dock Green as Mary Dixon. In 1958 Whitelaw appeared in the ITV series Time Out for Peggy and was often seen in various one-off plays on both of the main channels throughout the 1960s. She starred in Alun Owen's first play for television; Lena, O My Lena - a terse story of a Liverpool student who falls in love with a factory worker, in the acclaimed ITV series Armchair Theatre and won a BAFTA award as Best Actress for her performance in The Sextet (1972). But it was her work with Beckett that won her most plaudits. By the time the playwright died in 1989, Whitelaw had established herself as one of his favourite interpreters and one of his trusted confidantes. When he saw her in his work Play in a National Theatre production at the Old Vic in 1964 he determined to write especially for her. The result was Not I, a 16-minute monologue which critics raved over when it was performed at the Royal Court theatre in London the following year. She called the experience "the most telling event of my professional life".

Whitelaw married the actor Peter Vaughan, nine years her senior, in 1952, and started a relationship with the writer and critic Robert Muller as the marriage failed; it ended in divorce in 1966. The following year she married Muller, and they had a son, Matthew.

Billie Whitelaw passed away on 21 December 2014 aged 82 years.