Date of Birth: 9 May 1932, Old Windsor, Berkshire, UK
Birth Name: Geraldine McKeown
Nicknames: Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan, could purr like a kitten, snap like a viper and, like Shakespeare’s Bottom, roar you as gently as any sucking dove. She was a brilliant, distinctive and decisive performer with a particular expertise in high comedy whose career incorporated West End comedy, Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre, and a cult television following in EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia.
She was also notable on television as a controversial Miss Marple in a series of edgy, incongruously outspoken Agatha Christie adaptations (2004-09). Inheriting a role that had already been inhabited at least three times “definitively” by Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson she made of the deceptively cosy detective a character both steely and skittish, with a hint of lust about her, too.
This new Miss Marple was an open-minded woman of the world, with a back story that touched on a thwarted love affair with a married man who had been killed in the first world war. Familiar thrillers were given new plot twists, and there was even the odd sapphic embrace. For all her ingenuity and faun-like fluttering, McEwan was really no more successful in the part than was Julia McKenzie, her very different successor.
Although she was not easily confused with Maggie Smith, she often tracked her stylish contemporary, succeeding her in Peter Shaffer roles (in The Private Ear and The Public Eye in 1963, and in Lettice and Lovage in 1988) and rivalling Smith as both Millamant and Lady Wishfort in Congreve’s masterpiece The Way of the World in 1969 and 1995.
And a decade after Smith won her Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, McEwan scored a great success in the same role on television in 1978; Muriel Spark said that McEwan was her favourite Miss Brodie in a cluster that also included Vanessa Redgrave and Anna Massey.
McEwan was born in Old Windsor, where her father, Donald McKeown, was a printers’ compositor who ran the local branch of the Labour party in a Tory stronghold; her mother, Nora (nee Burns), was working-class Irish. Geraldine was always a shy and private girl who found her voice, she said, when she stood up in school and read a poem.
She had won a scholarship to Windsor county school, but she felt out of place until she found refuge in the Windsor Rep at the Theatre Royal, where she played an attendant fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1946. Leaving school, she joined the Windsor company for two years in 1949, meeting there her life-long companion, Hugh Cruttwell, a former teacher turned stage manager, 14 years her senior, whom she married in 1953, and who became a much-loved and influential principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1965.
Without any formal training, McEwan went straight from Windsor to the West End, making her debut at the Vaudeville theatre in 1951 in Who Goes There? by John Deighton, followed by an 18-month run in For Better, For Worse… at the Comedy in 1952 and with Dirk Bogarde in Summertime, a light comedy by Ugo Betti, at the Apollo in 1955.
Summertime was directed by Peter Hall and had a chaotic pre-West End tour, Bogarde’s fans mobbing the stage door every night and in effect driving him away from the theatre for good; McEwan told Bogarde’s biographer, John Coldstream, how he was both deeply encouraging to her and deeply conflicted over his heartthrob star status.
Within a year she made her Stratford debut as the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost and played opposite Olivier in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, replacing Joan Plowright as Jean Rice when the play moved from the Royal Court to the Palace. Like Ian Holm and Diana Rigg, she was a key agent of change in the transition from the summer Stratford festival playing Olivia, Marina and Hero in the 1958 season to Peter Hall’s new Royal Shakespeare Company; at Stratford in 1961, she played Beatrice to Christopher Plummer’s Benedick and Ophelia to Ian Bannen’s Hamlet.
Kittenish and playful, with a wonderful gift for suggesting hurt innocence with an air of enchanted distraction, she was a superb Lady Teazle in a 1962 Haymarket production of The School for Scandal, also starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, that went to Broadway in early 1963, her New York debut.
She returned to tour in the first, disastrous, production of Joe Orton’s Loot, with Kenneth Williams, in 1965, and then joined Olivier’s National at the Old Vic, where parts over the next five years included Raymonde Chandebise in Jacques Charon’s landmark production of Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Alice in Strindberg’s Dance of Death (with Olivier and Robert Stephens), Queen Anne in Brecht’s Edward II, Victoria (“a needle-sharp gold digger” said one reviewer) in Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty, Millamant and Vittoria Corombona in The White Devil.
Back in the West End, she formed a classy quartet, alongside Pat Heywood, Albert Finney and Denholm Elliott, in Peter Nichols’s Chez Nous at the Globe (1974), and gave a delightful impression of a well-trained, coquettish poodle as the leisured whore in Noël Coward’s broken-backed adaptation of Feydeau, Look After Lulu, at Chichester and the Haymarket.
In the 1980s, she made sporadic appearances at the National, now on the South Bank, winning two Evening Standard awards for her fresh and youthful Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals (“Men are all Bavarians,” she exclaimed on exiting, creating a brand new malapropism for “barbarians”) and her hilariously acidulous Lady Wishfort; and was a founder member of Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury theatre.
In the latter part of her stage career, she seemed to cut loose in ever more adventurous directions, perhaps through her friendship with Kenneth Branagh, who had become very close to Cruttwell while studying at Rada. She was a surprise casting as the mother of a lycanthropic psychotic, played by Will Patton, in Sam Shepard’s merciless domestic drama, A Lie of the Mind, at the Royal Court in 1987. And in 1988 she directed As You Like It for Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company, Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian.
She then directed Christopher Hampton’s underrated Treats at the Hampstead theatre and, in 1998, formed a fantastical nonagenarian double act with Richard Briers in a Royal Court revival, directed by Simon McBurney, of Ionesco’s tragic farce, The Chairs, her grey hair bunched on one side like superannuated candy floss.
The following year, she was a brilliant but controversial Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, directed as a piece of Gothic absurdism at the Savoy by Declan Donnellan; McEwan tiptoed through the thunderclaps and lightning like a glinting harridan, a tipsy bacchanalian with a waspish lust and highly cultivated lack of concern (“My husband’s not dead; he’s upstairs.”)
Other television successes included playing Jeanette Winterson’s mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990) and Carrie’s War (2004), while her occasional movie appearances included Tony Richardson’s The Adventures of Tom Jones (1975), two of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations – Henry V (1989) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) – as well as Robin, Prince of Thieves (1991), Peter Mullan’s devastating critique of an Irish Catholic education, The Magdalene Sisters (2002), in which she played cruel, cold-hearted Sister Bridget, and Vanity Fair (2005).
She was rumoured to have turned down both the OBE and a damehood, but never confirmed this.
Date of Birth: 26 April 1947, Oldham, Lancashire, UK
Birth Name: Alan Clarke
Nicknames: Warren Clarke
Warren Clarke was one of Britain’s most recognisable and versatile actors, but was best known for his role as the splenetic Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in Dalziel and Pascoe, the BBC television series based on the books by Reginald Hill.
Clarke may have been no casting director’s idea of a dreamboat, but his pugnacious features were perfectly suited to the part of the relentlessly insensitive, politically incorrect Yorkshire copper who made life difficult not only for the criminal fraternity but also for his young sidekick, the liberal, university-educated policeman Peter Pascoe (played by Colin Buchanan).
Dalziel’s abrasiveness and contempt for the pieties of the modern age made him one of the most distinctive fictional detectives on the small screen. Yet after he had played the part for five years during which he became a household name Clarke considered giving up the role, partly because he felt that the BBC was uneasy about the character: “You can’t have a series about policemen without showing them swearing occasionally,” he reflected, “but there was actually some bureaucrat at the BBC who wouldn’t allow me to say 'pillock’, even though I pointed out that Shakespeare used the word in King Lear.”
In the event, he decided to stay on, making a total of 61 episodes between 1996 and 2007.
Clarke’s own views, one suspects, were not that far removed from those of his alter ego: “I remember my parents telling me that the local bobby would give me a clip round the earhole if I didn’t behave. But nobody can smack anybody round the head now. What’s wrong with a quick clip round the earhole? In my day the local bobby was someone to be respected, but not any more.”
He was born Alan Clarke at Oldham, Lancashire, on April 26 1947, the son of a stained-glass maker and a secretary. His parents were keen filmgoers, and regularly took him to the cinema. “Saturday evenings we’d go and see a double feature,” he recalled. “I remember it being so amazing looking up at the big screen and I was totally seduced by it.”
His early ambition to become an actor did not impress the headmaster of his secondary modern school in Manchester, who told Alan to choose a more sensible career, such as plumbing; Alan, in magnificent anticipation of his role as Dalziel, told his headmaster to “sod off”. With the support of his parents, he left school at 15 and became a runner at the Manchester Evening News, where he was known as Nobby. Meanwhile he gained experience in amateur dramatics, and decided to change his first name to Warren (because a girlfriend had a crush on Warren Beatty).
Late in life he would recall: “I thought about being a star, very briefly, when I was 16, but after about a year of being in weekly rep, I lost interest in the idea of stardom and just got on with being a jobbing actor.”
He got his first break in a radio play for BBC Manchester, and his first significant television roles came in Coronation Street (first as Kenny Pickup, then as Gary Bailey). Then, in 1971, he secured a film part, as the vicious thug Dim, wearing red lipstick and a bowler hat, in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, starring Malcolm McDowell. Some 40 years later Clarke was in a Birmingham pub when he was approached by several young men who had just watched the film: “They tried to get a bit tough with me. I said, 'Look lads, 40 years ago I would have given you a bit of what you’re trying to give me, but at my age I can’t be arsed.’ ”
During the 1970s Clarke honed his skills on the stage, appearing in a multitude of plays including works by Shakespeare, Anthony Shaffer, Molière, Ibsen and Robert Bolt. After a gap of some 30 years, he would return to the boards playing Winston Churchill in Three Days in May (2011), about Britain facing the prospect of a Nazi invasion.
At the same time he was making his reputation on the small screen, in shows such as Softly Softly: Task Force (1973); Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974), a miniseries in which he played the young Winston Churchill; Our Mutual Friend (1976), as Bradley Headstone; The Onedin Line (1978); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979); and Shelley (1980-82). In 1984, in one of television’s most successful ventures, The Jewel in the Crown, Clarke appeared very much against character as the openly gay Corporal “Sophie” Dixon, and played the role superbly.
His television work continued (Bergerac, Blackadder, Wish Me Luck among many others), but in the late 1980s Clarke considered abandoning his profession because he felt he was not making enough money even though he was then filming opposite Haydn Gwynne in the television drama Nice Work. “In those days,” he later explained in an interview, “the BBC didn’t pay you until you had done the first studio recording, so I had been working on the show for two months without any money. I went to the cashpoint, put my card in the machine and it spat it out.”
His bank refused to extend his overdraft, and the BBC advanced him £350; but he was forced to scrounge money from the rest of the cast: “ A few months later, I noticed that my wife wasn’t wearing her engagement ring. I asked her where it was and she explained it was being repaired.” It was only later that he discovered she had sold it to pay bills.
Thereafter, however, Clarke was rarely out of work. His television credits included The Manageress (1989-90); Gone to the Dogs (1991); Sleepers (1991); Gone to Seed (1992); The Secret Agent (1992); The House of Windsor (1994); The Locksmith (1997); Down to Earth (2000-1), with Pauline Quirke, about a couple faced with bankruptcy who decide to move out of London to run a smallholding in Devon; and Bleak House (2005), in which he played Lawrence Boythorn. He made a number of appearances on the big screen; Clint Eastwood cast him as a Russian spy in Firefox (1982).
More recently Clarke had appeared in the BBC drama The Invisibles (2008) and the Channel 4 trilogy Red Riding (2009). The last role he completed before his death was as Charles Poldark in the BBC’s revival of the 1970s television drama Poldark.
Warren Clarke died in his sleep after a short illness.
Date of Birth: 9 October 1923, St. Budeaux, Plymouth, UK
Birth Name: Donald Alfred Sinden
Nicknames: Donald Sinden
Sir Donald Sinden was variously described as “orotund and declamatory”, “magnificently resonant” and “a complete ham”; his talents, admittedly, owed little to method acting, but made him one of the best and most recognisable comedy actors on the circuit.
In a career which spanned 50 years of film and theatre Sinden, to his lasting irritation, became best-known for his work in television, a medium he deplored. But his establishment English demeanour provided perfect casting for comedies exploiting cultural or class differences.
He became a household name when he starred with Elaine Stritch in the LWT sitcom Two’s Company (1975-79), in which he played the feisty American grande dame’s inept English butler. He later repeated his success in the Thames Television sitcom Never the Twain (1981-91), in which he played an upper-crust antique dealer forced into business with a downmarket rival (played by Windsor Davies).
His success on television meant that Sinden’s other achievements, in the film and theatre world, were often overlooked.
During the 1950s, he immersed himself in cinema work, appearing in more than 20 films, including The Cruel Sea (1953), in which he shared top-billing with Jack Hawkins, and Mogambo (1954), a huge safari epic in which Sinden received fourth billing after Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, as Kelly’s cuckolded gorilla-hunting husband.
When the British film industry stalled in the 1960s, Sinden’s film career stalled with it. By the end of that decade, however, he had secured a place for himself at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gave critically acclaimed performances in leading roles including as the Duke of York in The Wars of the Roses (1963), opposite Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Margaret; Lord Foppington in The Relapse (1967); and as King Lear (for which he won the 1977 Evening Standard Award for Best Actor). In 1979 he played the title role in Othello, directed by Ronald Eyre, becoming the last “blacked-up” white actor to play the role for the RSC.
The theatre was always Sinden’s true home, and in the 1980s his passionate interest in its history led to the establishment of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. Another great passion was English church architecture, his encyclopedic knowledge of which led to both a television series, The English Country Church, in 1988, and a book on the subject. “My grandfather was an architect,” Sinden explained, “and it was he who told me always to look up. That’s where all the best things are in churches.”
By the 1980s Sinden was firmly established as a television celebrity, a position consolidated by the regular appearances of a Sinden puppet on ITV’s satirical Spitting Image. The puppet represented Sinden as a grotesque parody of “the actor’s actor” posturing theatrically and endlessly pleading for a knighthood.
Sinden was not amused by the caricature. “When have I ever suggested I wanted a knighthood?” he asked. “I don’t watch the programme because I don’t find it in the least funny.” He would accept a well-deserved knighthood in 1997.
Donald Sinden was born in Plymouth on October 9 1923. He suffered constantly from asthma as a child and as a result missed most of his schooling. “I not only did not pass an examination,” he recalled, “I never took one.” At 16 he became an apprentice joiner to a Hove firm which manufactured revolving doors. “I earned 6s 6d a week,” he said, “and enjoyed it enormously.”
Sinden claimed that he had no aspirations towards acting until he was 18. “My cousin Frank was called up for the RAF,” he remembered. “He asked me if I’d do his part in an amateur production at Brighton Little Theatre.” Donald was talent-spotted by Charles Smith, who organised the Mobile Entertainments Southern Area company (known as MESA), a local version of the wartime entertainments service Ensa. “Of course I thought he wanted me because I was miraculous,” Sinden remembered, “but I know now it was because it was wartime and he couldn’t get anyone else.”
Rejected by the Navy because of his poor health, Sinden joined Charles Smith’s company in 1941. “I stayed an actor because I was awfully interested in girls,” Sinden explained. “Actresses were a lot better looking than joiners.” After four years with MESA he spent six months in Leicester with a repertory company and two terms at the Webber Douglas School of Dramatic Art.
Donald Sinden joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon for the 1946-47 season. In October 1947 he made his West End debut as Aumerle in Richard II, and in 1948 joined the Bristol Old Vic. He left Bristol to appear as Arthur Townsend in The Heiress, an adaptation of Henry James’s Washington Square. Sinden had nine lines and appeared in all 644 performances of the show.
In 1952 he was noticed by the film director Charles Frend while playing the Brazilian Manuel Del Vega in Red Letter Day. “Charles Frend spotted me,” Sinden remembered. “He said he’d always wanted to meet a blue-eyed Brazilian.”
The following year Sinden joined the Rank Organisation and was offered the part of Lieutenant Lockhart in The Cruel Sea, for which he had to spend an uncomfortable 12 weeks filming at sea.
He recalled his time in Africa filming Mogambo as the least enjoyable of his career, largely because of its director, John Ford, whom Sinden described as “the most dislikable man I ever met”. He was particularly irritated by Ford’s peremptory direction techniques: “On one occasion he had Clark Gable backing towards a cliff. Ford kept shouting 'Further back!’ and Gable just disappeared over the edge. We found him stuck in a tree 15ft below.”
After playing Tony Benskin, a womanising medical student in Doctor in the House (1954), Sinden began to find himself being typecast in comic roles. He played Benskin and characters like him for the next eight years.
When the British film industry began to falter in the early Sixties, Sinden’s film career ended. “It was a bad time for me,” he said. “I was 40, married with two children and no work at all.” His first attempts at a return to the theatre were unsuccessful. He was turned down after Peter Hall had made him audition for the RSC. Sinden later described Hall as a “pipsqueak”.
However, after their initial differences Sinden joined the company and appeared in The Wars of the Roses, an epic amalgam of the relevant Shakespeare history plays, put together by Hall and John Barton, which lasted more than 10 hours and won ecstatic reviews.
Sinden went on to make a name for himself as a comedian and farceur. He appeared as Robert Danvers in There’s a Girl in My Soup at the Aldwych in 1966, and won Best Actor awards for his appearances in the Ray Cooney farces Not Now, Darling (1967), Two into One (1984) and Out of Order (1990). In 1976 he was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award for his performance on Broadway as Arthur Wicksteed in Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus.
In 1989 Sinden was offered the opportunity to play his long-time hero Oscar Wilde, whose work had always fascinated him, in John Gay’s one-man show Diversions and Delights. In 1942, at a poetry club reading, Sinden had met Lord Alfred Douglas and had been one of the few mourners at his funeral. Thirty years later, when Wilde’s London home was being demolished, Sinden bought the fireplace for his own house in Hampstead.
Sinden continued to perform well into his eighties. From 2001 to 2007 he played Sir Joseph Channing in BBC Television’s legal drama Judge John Deed (starring Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove), and he recently appeared in the Gideon Fell mysteries on Radio 4.
Donald Sinden published two volumes of autobiography, A Touch of the Memoirs (1982) and Laughter in the Second Act (1985).
He was appointed CBE in 1979.
Date of Birth: 19 December 1943, Manchester, UK
Birth Name: Roger Michael Kelly
Nicknames: Sam Kelly
Equally at home in panto and Pinter, sitcom and Shakespeare, Sam Kelly, was a quirky, instantly recognisable character actor, often playing beyond his natural age, and often peering through rimless spectacles like a mole pushing through to the surface. And once there, he quipped and cavorted with the best of them: Dave Allen, Dick Emery and Paul Merton on television, and the Two Ronnies, with whom he toured onstage to Australia, having partnered Ronnie Barker in the sitcom Porridge as the illiterate conman Bunny Warren, who couldn't decipher the words "burglar alarm" when it most mattered.
He enjoyed a long-time collaboration with the director Mike Leigh, dating from a "wiped" BBC television film, Knock for Knock, in 1976, right through to Leigh's latest, Mr Turner, starring Timothy Spall as the great painter. Like so many Leigh actors, he was a natural Dickensian, having played on television both Mould the undertaker in the 1994 Martin Chuzzlewit ("a face in which a queer attempt at melancholy was at odds with a smirk of satisfaction") and Snagsby the timid little law stationer in Bleak House (1985).
Porridge (1974-77) made his name on television and he built on that reputation with quality work in David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd's 'Allo 'Allo (1982-91), as the crooked-saluting German officer Hans Geering who, when asked what he felt about the Russian Front, replied, "She's a good cook", and as Dennis Waterman's chauffeur in Bob Larbey's On the Up (1990-92), co-starring Dora Bryan, Joan Sims and Jenna Russell.
He popped up in almost every TV series of note Casualty, Haggard (starring Keith Barron as a lascivious Georgian squire; Kelly played a sidekick called Nathaniel Grunge), the Poirot series and EastEnders he even spurned a long-term contract with Coronation Street, having made a cameo impression in 1983 as Bob Challis, the man who repainted the Rovers Return before it burned down.
Kelly was abandoned at birth in Manchester and adopted by a couple who moved to Liverpool, where he attended Liverpool Collegiate school and sang in the choir of the Anglican cathedral. After working as a clerk for three years with the civil service in Liverpool, he trained at the London Academy of Music and Drama (Lamda), graduating in 1967.
He played in rep for five years, working with the director Philip Hedley in Lincoln and the actor Nigel Hawthorne on a Macbeth in Sheffield which he felt had approached perfection. He spent a year in Beckett and Shakespeare at the Young Vic in London with the director Frank Dunlop. And in 1977 he co-founded the Croydon Warehouse, a buzzing fringe venue, with the actor Richard Ireson and the director Adrian Shergold.
In Leigh's TV film Grown-Ups (1980) he played "old Butcher", a grunting, eccentric schoolteacher (married to Lindsay Duncan's fellow teacher) who finds two former pupils (Philip Davis and Lesley Manville) moving in next door as sniggering newlyweds. His theatre work now ranged from pantomime, both in the commercial sector and with Ian McKellen at the Old Vic, Neil Simon's The Odd Couple at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and Terry Johnson's mordant comedy about comedian-fixated neighbours, Dead Funny, at the Savoy.
He featured in two greatly contrasted Leigh films, the colourful, tumultuous Gilbert and Sullivan saga Topsy-Turvy (1999) and the moody, atmospheric All or Nothing (2002), returning to G&S, and the Savoy, as Sir Joseph Porter in Martin Duncan's 2002 revival of HMS Pinafore, and followed in an early Richard Bean play, Under the Whaleback, cackling reminiscently as a garrulous old sea dog, directed at the Royal Court by Richard Wilson.
Having played wheezy old men all his life, he was obvious casting as Senex in Edward Hall's NT production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 2004, and he was a delightful, walrus-moustached Herbert Soppitt in a West End revival of JB Priestley's When We are Married (with Maureen Lipman and Roy Hudd) at the Garrick in 2010.
After playing a stint as the Wizard in the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, he returned to the role in November 2013 but retired as a result of ill health just before Christmas. It was his last stage appearance. But his valedictory performance was in Leigh's Grief (2011) at the National, as a Pooterish bachelor singing parlour songs in descant with his widowed sister (Lesley Manville) and facing a desolate retirement with no plans, no leisure pursuits and no new trousers.
Other recent film performances included playing Maggie Smith's husband in Susanna White's Nanny McPhee Returns (2010). which starred Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ralph Fiennes; and a mild old softie pensioner in Stewart Alexander's Common People (2013).
Date of Birth: 16 May 1941, Sierra Leone, Africa
Birth Name: David Laurie Lyon
Nicknames: David Lyon
David Lyon was a stalwart of numerous Royal Shakespeare Company productions and became a familiar face on television in series such as The Bill, Lovejoy, Taggart, Holby City and Midsomer Murders.
Though he was a popular figure at the RSC, Lyon never got to play the Dane and most audiences would be hard-pressed to name his roles. On stage they included the Earl of Westmoreland in Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V; Capulet in Romeo and Juliet; the Duke of Albany in King Lear; Thomas Mowbray in Richard II; King Philip of France in King John; Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing; Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew; and Dull in Love’s Labour’s Lost. On the small screen he ranged from bishops (The Inspector Linley Mysteries) to murderers (Midsomer Murders).
The principal exception to this rule was his role as Henry Collingridge, Margaret Thatcher’s decent but dithery successor whose position at No 10 is steadily undermined by his Machiavellian Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) in the 1990 BBC production of House of Cards.
The role was memorable not least because the first episode in the four-part series aired on November 18, four days before Mrs Thatcher stunned her Cabinet by announcing that she would resign as Prime Minister “as soon as a successor can be chosen”. Lyon uttered exactly the same lines, written some months earlier, in House of Cards two weeks later. He added, as Mrs Thatcher may also have done to her Cabinet colleagues, two-thirds of whom had told her she might not win if she stayed in the race: “I should like to take the opportunity of thanking you for your friendship and your loyalty at this time those who feel this description applies, of course.”
David Laurie Lyon was born on May 16 1941, the son of a diamond merchant, and grew up in Sierra Leone. He was educated at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, where he played scrum-half for the first XV. Forced to leave school aged 16 after his father was declared bankrupt, he worked for Royal Insurance in Glasgow, then as a flooring salesman in Birmingham. In his spare time he performed as an amateur actor with the Old Grammarians in Glasgow and the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham, and in the early 1970s studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
After making his professional debut in Manchester in 1975, he performed in repertory theatres around the country before joining the RSC in 1976. As well as supporting roles in Shakespeare, he also appeared in several modern plays, such as The Innocent, After Aida and Piaf.
In 1998 he married the actress Sandra Clark, whom he had first met at drama school when she was married to someone else. They spent their honeymoon touring with a production of Romeo and Juliet, in which they were playing Capulet and Lady Montagu.