Date of Birth: 18 March 1947, Surbition, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Susan Haydn Thomas
Nicknames: Susan Sheridan
Susan Sheridan, who has died aged 68, was an actress and voice artist who provided the voices of Trillian in the original radio production of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978), and a range of children’s television characters, most notably Noddy in the BBC’s Noddy’s Toyland Adventures (1992-94 and 1999-2001).
The mischievous doll in the red and yellow taxi first appeared in Enid Blyton’s book Noddy Goes To Toyland in 1949 and on television in the 1950s. Known as Oui-Oui in France, Doddi in Iceland and Purzelknirps in Germany, he was an immediate hit with children, though he tended to be sniffed at by the literati for shallow characterisation, and even found himself accused of racism and sexism.
By the 1990s, when Susan Sheridan was picked to voice the character, Noddy had been forced to clean up his act. The original stories had featured “golliwogs” who lived in Golly Town, including Mr Golly, the proprietor of Toyland’s garage. These characters had been dropped from the BBC’s television adaptation of the books in the 1980s and replaced by other soft toys. Also gone was Miss Rap, the schoolmistress who dished out spankings with a slipper.
Noddy’s Toyland Adventures featured a new character not present in the original books, Dinah Doll, a china doll described as a “black, assertive, ethnic minority female”, for whom, among several other minor characters, Susan Sheridan also provided the voice.
The animation studio Cosgrove Hall made the series and it did a superb job bringing the Noddy stories to life. Much of the success of the series was due to Susan Sheridan, whose voice had been selected out of some 200 audition tapes. Explaining how she came up with Noddy’s sing-song cadences, she explained that she had studied the illustrations in the original Noddy books: “He’s got eyebrows that look surprised or cross, so that’s how I found the voice. He talks up and down like that most of the time.”
She was born Susan Haydn Thomas in Surbiton, Surrey, and educated at the Brigidine Convent, Windsor, and at Ashford Grammar School.
After training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she cut her teeth in regional rep before making her West End debut in 1975 at the Phoenix Theatre as Christopher Robin in a production of the musical Winnie-the-Pooh.
Her voice skills led to auditions with BBC radio, on which she made her name as the astrophysicist Trillian in the radio adaptation of Douglas Adams’s cult sci-fi comedy. Other characters she voiced included Angus and Elspeth, the children who befriend a family of Loch Ness Monsters in the BBC cartoon series The Family-Ness (1984), Jimbo the talking aeroplane in Jimbo and the Jet-Set (BBC1, 1986), and Princess Sylvia in the BBC animated English language teaching series Muzzy in Gondoland (1987) and Muzzy Comes Back (1989).
She dubbed voices in several films, including Princess Eilonwy in the Disney cartoon The Black Cauldron (1985), the young Puyi in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) and one of the chickens in Chicken Run (2002). She also “voiced” video games, read audio books and in later years worked as a voice coach. She remained active on the stage with roles in touring productions and a one-woman show The Merry Wife of Wilton (2004).
In 2011 she made a rare appearance in front of the cameras as Mother Thomas Aquinas, a nun found strangled in a chicken coop, in Midsomer Murders.
Date of Birth: 21 July 1951, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Robin McLaurin Williams
Nicknames: Robin Williams
Robin Williams, who has died aged 63, was one of America’s most versatile and successful comedy actors; brilliant at improvisation and mimicry, he made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, while on screen he was able to portray anyone from a post-menopausal grande dame (Mrs Doubtfire) to a psychopathic killer (One Hour Photo).
Stardom came in the early 1970s after he had taken a cameo role as Mork, an extraterrestrial in the television sitcom Happy Days. Williams’s eccentric, largely improvised performance was a huge hit and spawned a spin-off sitcom, Mork & Mindy, in which Mork lands on Earth and ends up sharing an apartment with the quintessential girl next door. The series which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1982, and arrived in Britain in 1979 showcased the frenzied energy and amazing facility with voices and faces which he would later use in his films. Mork & Mindy eventually reached an audience of 60 million.
After making his screen debut in Robert Altman’s ill-fated 1980 version of Popeye, Williams’s breakthrough came in 1987, when he played Adrian Cronauer, a motormouth DJ who gets up the noses of the top brass in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).
He delivered an Academy Award-winning performance as a psychologist battling his own emotional demons in Good Will Hunting (1997), and won several Oscar nominations including one for his performance in 1993 as Mrs Doubtfire, the ex-husband who infiltrates himself back into the bosom of the family by disguising himself as a middle-aged Scottish nanny.
Hollywood directors sometimes found it difficult to harness Williams’s talents to a script and a storyline strong enough to take him. There were memorable flops, among them The Survivors (1983), Club Paradise (1986), Toys (1992), Patch Adams (1998), Jakob The Liar (1999) and Bicentennial Man (1999). But he won Oscar nominations for his roles as the mildly anarchic teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989) and as the deranged tramp who leads Jeff Bridges towards personal redemption in The Fisher King (1991).
His critics often complained that Williams’s characters were all the same: cuddly, waifish innocents with a mawkish need to ingratiate themselves with their audience. And there was, admittedly, something curiously sexless about his performances. One American columnist described his appearance as the owner of a gay club in The Birdcage (1996) as akin to “a hirsute construction worker halfway through a sex change operation who can’t afford to finish the job”. Of his performance as a psychologist in Awakenings (1990), one critic observed: “This is another of Robin Williams’s benevolent eunuch roles.” He certainly never got anywhere near a screen clinch.
Yet Williams proved he could play it straight; and he could play it nasty, too. In later life he revealed a darker, more interesting side to his acting. In Insomnia (2002) he put in a masterly performance as a sociopathic killer on the run from Al Pacino’s LAPD cop in the frozen wastes of Alaska. In One Hour Photo (2002) he was chilling as a photo lab technician who becomes obsessed with a family whose films he develops. And in The Night Listener (2006) he played a radio show host who realises that he has developed a friendship with a child who may not exist.
Williams first made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, and the versatility which was so evident in his later career would have come as no surprise to those familiar with the virtuoso free-fall improvisation of his stage routines. One critic wondered whether the star of such sickly-sweet offerings as Jack (1996) or What Dreams May Come (1998) could be “the same Robin Williams who used to spend two hours on stage pretending to be a penis”.
An only child, Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21 1951 in Chicago. His mother was a former model, his father an executive with Ford. The family moved several times during his childhood, at one point living in a house with 40 rooms.
Williams was often portrayed as a lonely child who tried to use humour to build friendships and avoid being picked on. Perhaps, he once joked, it was “because my mother was a Christian Dior Scientist... I was not only picked on physically but intellectually people used to kick copies of George Sand in my face.” But he denied being the class clown, and claimed that he got into acting in his final year at Redwood High School simply “to get laid”.
After leaving school, and a brief spell studying political science, Williams won a place at the Juilliard Academy in New York to study drama. There he demonstrated such extraordinary gifts for improvisation and mimicry that his tutors advised him to concentrate on comedy. He became good friends with his fellow student Christopher Reeve, and the two remained close until Reeve’s death in 2004, nine years after the riding accident that had left him paralysed from the neck down. Their relationship demonstrated the loyal, decent side of Williams’s character. When Reeve’s medical insurance ran out, Williams picked up the tab for many of the bills; then, after Reeve’s widow, Dana, died in 2006, he provided practical and financial support for their 14-year-old son.
After two years at the Juilliard, Williams moved to San Francisco, where he worked in restaurants by day and on the comedy circuit by night until his lucky break on Happy Days. The live stand-up comedy circuit remained a consistent thread throughout his career, and he sometimes turned up unannounced at San Francisco clubs just to get up on stage and start “riffing” — a great way to “peel off any pretence”, as he put it.
In his films and television performances, Williams often ad-libbed his own dialogue. The story goes that his television scriptwriters on Mork & Mindy got so fed up that they took to sending blank pages down to the set, inscribed “Robin Williams does his thing”.
For some reason his stand-up routine did not go down so well on the other side of the Atlantic. “I went to a club in Windsor and I just died,” he recalled. “It was the worst night of my life. A friend was watching and laughing his ass off because all you could hear was the clink of glasses.”
In 1978 Williams married his first wife, Valerie Velardi, a former dancer; but as a result of life in the fast lane he had become addicted to cocaine (“God’s way of telling you you’ve made too much money”, as he remarked). In the early 1980s his marriage fell apart and he started to make bad career moves, choosing films that bombed. But the death from a drugs overdose in 1982 of his friend the actor John Belushi, just hours after Williams had been with him, led Williams to rethink his own lifestyle. He went into rehab and sobered up.
The critical success of Good Morning, Vietnam was followed by a voice role as the Genie in Disney’s cartoon Aladdin (1992), in which left in the studio with a microphone Williams spun off into imitations of everyone from Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson to Carol Channing. Disney ended up with 30 hours of his improvisations, to which the animation was adapted later to synch with his voice-over. What started as a small cameo role eventually stole the show and helped make Aladdin the biggest earner in Disney’s history. By the time of Mrs Doubtfire in 1993 Williams was one of the biggest box office draws in the world.
In August 2008 Williams announced a 26-city stand-up comedy tour entitled Weapons of Self-Destruction. Though he explained that the tour was his last chance to have fun at the expense of George W Bush, the title could just as well have applied to himself. In 2006 he had gone into rehab for alcoholism, and in 2008 his second wife, Marsha Garces, whom he had married in 1986 and who had become his producer, filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
Williams’s many other film credits include Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), in which he played the adult Peter Pan, and Flubber (1997), in which he was an absent-minded professor who invents a miraculous flying green gloop. He starred in Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson (1984); appeared in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997); and played Theodore Roosevelt in the three Night at the Museum movies, the last of which is currently in post-production. He also played President Eisenhower in The Butler (2013).
An avid video games player, and a fan of professional road cycling and Rugby Union, Williams owned a vineyard in the Napa Valley, California, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including Comic Relief. In addition to his Oscar award and nominations, he won six Golden Globes, two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards and three Grammy awards.
He belonged to the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Lite same rituals, half the guilt”), and was philosophical about death. “In your fifties, loss is a thing you live with a lot,” he told an interviewer . “Pretty soon friends will be checking out from natural causes. It’s the grim rapper, he’s comin’.”
Robin Williams, who had recently been suffering from depression, died at his San Francisco Bay home in an apparent suicide.
Date of Birth: 31 October 1919, Barnet, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford
Nicknames: Daphne Oxenford
Daphne Oxenford, was for 20 years one of the best known voices of Listen With Mother on BBC Radio, captivating children with the words: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”
The phrase has now been enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. “The time is a quarter to two,” the announcer would intone. “This is the BBC Light Programme for mothers and children at home. Are you ready for the music? When it stops, Daphne Oxenford will be here to speak to you.”
“The music” the Berceuse from Faure’s Dolly Suite was the signal for an audience of pre-school children across the country to settle down. Then, as a regular storyteller on the show from 1950 until 1971 (others were Julia Lang and Dorothy Smith), Daphne Oxenford would read the story of the day. “Few radio memories come as misty-eyed as this,” noted the radio historian Paul Donovan.
But Daphne Oxenford also appeared on television notably in early episodes of Coronation Street. Between 1960 and 1963 she played Esther Hayes, making her debut in episode two. Although the character was a spinster with a criminal brother, she thought the role dull and left after a couple of years, finally returning for guest appearances in 1971 and 1972, when she was last seen at the wedding of Ernest Bishop to Emily Nugent.
For 26 years Daphne Oxenford was also a regular voice on What the Papers Say, Granada Television’s irreverent weekly survey of the British Press, in which she was required to articulate excerpts from publications ranging from the tabloids to The Daily Telegraph, often in assumed voices.
The daughter of an accountant, Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford was born on October 31 1919 at Barnet, north London. From school she trained at the Embassy School of Acting in Swiss Cottage, later the Central School of Speech and Drama, under Sybil Thorndike’s sister Eileen.
During the war she worked briefly in a bank and later as a censor, but hated having to read people’s private correspondence and was relieved to join ENSA entertaining troops and, after VE-Day, spending time in Germany broadcasting for radio. Later in 1945 she appeared with Sonnie Hale and Nellie Wallace in the revue That’ll Be The Day.
Her first radio engagement was in Let’s Join In! For schools radio in 1947, followed in 1949 by her television debut in Oranges and Lemons, a show in which she had worked at the Lyric (Hammersmith) and Globe Theatres. She also appeared in a television adaptation of Tuppence Coloured, the stage revue in which she had worked with Joyce Grenfell and Max Adrian at the Lyric and Globe in 1947.
Although her regular radio work with Listen With Mother occupied her from 1950, Daphne Oxenford continued to develop her stage career. She had roles in productions at the Library Theatre, Manchester, of The Happiest Days Of Your Life, in which she was Miss Gossage, the games mistress played in the later film version by Joyce Grenfell, and Candida (both 1955). In 1969 she appeared in Spring And Port Wine and Relatively Speaking at the same venue.
In 1979 she played Violet in a revival of TS Eliot’s The Family Reunion, starring Edward Fox, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and at the Vaudeville when it transferred to the West End the following year.
She appeared as Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Nottingham Playhouse in October 1990, and returned to Manchester to play Emmy in The Doctors’ Dilemma at the Royal Exchange in 1991. The following year, at the Library Theatre, she was Ethel Thayler in a stage version of the film On Golden Pond.
From 1956 Daphne Oxenford made regular television appearances with her friend Joyce Grenfell in the comedienne’s sketch show Joyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure. She was the mother in John Mortimer’s autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father (1969), and throughout the 1970s and 1980s appeared in numerous comedy series with Jimmy Tarbuck, Les Dawson and Dick Emery, dramas in the Play For Today slot and popular sitcoms including Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, Rising Damp and Man About The House. She played Mrs Patterson, the village grocer, in To The Manor Born (1979-81).
She continued to make cameo appearances throughout the 1980s and 1990s in television series such as The Bill, Brookside and Casualty. In 2002 she played the Queen Mother in an American television biopic about the life of Prince William. Although she looked the part, she was dismayed by some of the lines, protesting that the Queen Mother would never have said “when the chips are down”. However she was told that American audiences needed to comprehend the dialogue.
Daphne Oxenford’s feature film credits included parts in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), That’ll Be The Day (1973), and as Mrs Pumphrey in All Creatures Great And Small (1974).
She married, in 1951, David Marshall. They lived in Altrincham, Cheshire, until 2001 when they moved to Essex. After her husband’s death in 2003 she moved to the actors’ retirement home at Denville Hall, Northwood, from where she continued to do occasional television jobs, taking roles in The Royal (2003), Midsomer Murders (2004), Heartbeat (2004-05), and Doctor Who (2008).
Date of Birth: 10 December 1957, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Michael Clarke Duncan
Nicknames: Big Mike
Michael Clarke Duncan was the American actor best known for his film roles as a gentle giant.
Every character actor who has ever been typecast dreams of a role that will transcend the cliches of his image. For Michael Clarke Duncan, who has died aged 54 of complications from a heart attack suffered in July, that breakout role also drew on the hidden truth of his own personality, and the results were spectacular.
Duncan was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor in The Green Mile (1999), the film of the Stephen King story in which he plays John Coffey, a gentle giant with extraordinary powers, on death row for raping and killing two young girls. The film's climax, when Coffey, innocent of the crimes but having punished the real killer and an evil guard, goes to the electric chair telling Tom Hanks not to put a hood over his head because he is scared of the dark, left few dry eyes in any audience.
Born in Chicago, Duncan, 6ft 5in and usually weighing about 20 stone, was himself a gentle giant. His father left when he was six, and his mother Jean's reluctance to allow him to play American football led to his deciding he wanted to become an actor instead.
He played basketball at Kankakee (Illinois) Community College, but when his mother became ill, he dropped out of his communications studies at Alcorn State University, a historically black university in Mississippi. After returning home, he supported his mother and sister, Judy, by digging ditches for a gas company and working as a bouncer at night.
He moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, again working as a bouncer before getting into the "private security" trade. He had acted as a bodyguard for such entertainment figures as Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx and LL Cool J before breaking into films in 1995 with a bit part in the Ice Cube vehicle Friday. His early film roles, including Warren Beatty's Bulworth (1998), saw him typecast as bouncers and bodyguards, often billed as Michael "Big Mike" Duncan. He gave up his day job as a real bodyguard for good in 1997, when the rapper The Notorious BIG was murdered on the first day Duncan was assigned to him.
Duncan's break came following a part in Armageddon (1998) alongside Bruce Willis, who recommended him to director Frank Darabont for The Green Mile. He went on to work with Willis in three more films: two comedies – Alan Rudolph's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (1999) and The Whole Nine Yards (2000) and the noirish blockbuster Sin City (2005).
Although he never found another role with the impact of John Coffey, Duncan remained in demand with substantial parts in blockbusters such as Planet of the Apes (2001), The Scorpion King (2002) and perhaps his best later work as The Kingpin, in Daredevil (2003). To play the comic-book villain he went from weighing less than 20 stone to more than 23.
His career blossomed, as his look made him easily cast for supporting roles in films and frequent guest parts in television series, and his resonant baritone voice made him a popular choice for animation voice-overs, in films such as Cats & Dogs (2001), George of the Jungle 2 (2003), Dinotopia (2005) and Kung Fu Panda (2008). He starred in the comedy The Slammin' Salmon (2009), as a boxer turned restaurant-owner who stages a competition between his waiters to pay off a debt to Japanese gangsters, and was the villain, Erlik, in the straight-to-video Cross (2011), a supernatural action film that also featured Vinnie Jones as a Viking named Gunnar transplanted to the present.
In 2010 Duncan undertook something of a reprise of his Coffey role in Redemption Road, as a man with a secret who brings home an alcoholic for his father's funeral. His last television role was a recurring part in the crime series Finder.
In 2009 Duncan converted to vegetarianism. The following year, he met his fiancee, the Rev Omarosa Manigault, in the aisles of a Whole Foods supermarket in Los Angeles. Manigault, a considerable presence in "reality" television, made her name as a controversial participant in the American version of The Apprentice with Donald Trump, and feuded with Piers Morgan in The Celebrity Apprentice.
In May this year, Duncan made a film for the animal-rights group Peta, talking about his conversion to a vegan lifestyle, and how he had thrown away £3,135.13 worth of meat when he did. Two months later, he suffered a massive heart attack.