The accomplished and much loved Welsh character actor Richard Davies has died at the age of 89. Balding, with a gap tooth and distinctive accent he was best known for his appearances as Mr Price in the ITV sitcom Please Sir! (starring John Alderton). That said, and despite an ever detectable twinkle, he was an actor of more skill and gravitas than a quick perusal of his comedy credits might initially suggest. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan he was destined for a life in the mines (which he entered aged 14) before packing his bags for London in order to try to make it as an actor. It’s fair to say that he did.
His one encounter with Doctor Who came in 1987 – the production team needed someone with a lightness of touch to play a genial Welshman in the Sylvester McCoy story Delta And The Bannermen. It’s unlikely that Davies was anywhere other than top of the list when it came to casting that particular role. It’s a story with an odd tone but whilst Don Henderson is a genuinely villainous presence it is Davies who best straddles the show’s mixture of comedy and drama. It is easy to believe that his character is an old soldier and his innate authority when he commands Henderson to spare Bonnie Langford’s Mel contrasts nicely with the humour with which he plays the scenes where he discovers the true nature of the TARDIS. It’s a skilful performance, perfectly judged.
Burton Burton – as his Doctor Who character was called – was just one small role in an illustrious roster of parts. He played real life Victoria Cross recipient Private Jones in the classic film Zulu (1964), bravely holding off the invading hordes alongside fellow actor Denys Graham (as another Private Jones!). This good, solid supporting role came after a number of small parts in films such as A Run For Your Money (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). He subsequently turned up in Oh, What A Lovely War (1969) as the butcher in Steptoe And Son Ride Again (1973) and was, inevitably, in the 1972 film version of Under Milk Wood (and it would be impolite to have expected otherwise).
It was on the small screen, however, that he made the biggest impact, and he had an especial gift for comedy. As well as his stint throughout the entire run of Please Sir! he played the incompetent private eye Gimble in the first series of Bob Block children’s comedy Robert’s Robots (1973), Clive in three series of Bill Maynard vehicle Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt (1973-1977), as the Chancellor Of The Exchequer – a desperately sane counterpart to Peter Jones’s bonkers wannabe superhero Prime Minister – in Whoops Apocalypse (1982) and as Stan Evans opposite Robin Askwith in Bottle Boys. He even managed to make a mark in one-off appearances including the harassed Mr White in the famous The Kipper And The Corpse episode of Fawlty Towers (1979), as a trade union official in Yes Minister (1980), as Clive Jenkins in the Not The Nine O’Clock News skit of Question Time, and as a man with horrible memories of Victor Meldrew in One Foot In The Grave (1992).
It is worth mentioning that there was plenty of drama alongside the comedy, and he cropped up in many programmes – notably a semi-regular role in Z-Cars (a memorably oily turn as the informant Sloan, 1963-65), as well meaning but frustrated teacher Mr Black in Dennis Potter’s Where The Buffalo Roam (a Wednesday Play in 1966), Angels (1975/80), To Serve Them All My Days (1981), mini series The Citadel (1981), Big Deal (1985) and And The Beat Goes On (1996) as well as a number of different one off roles in the same series that testified to his versatility : five in No Hiding Place (from 1964), and three each in Softly, Softly (from 1966) and Dixon Of Dock Green (from 1967). He was a series regular as Idris Hopkins (corner shop proprietor and husband to Kathy Staff’s Vera) in Coronation Street (1974-75) and as Max Johnson in Taff Acre (1981).
A perusal of the characters he played finds a number of Taffys, an Owen Owen to go with his Burton Burton, many a Dai and a Jones or two, but if the roles he played were occasionally stereotypes he always brought something more to them than might have been on the page and his performances were never lazy. Indeed, for a generation or two of viewers he was part of the televisual furniture, a reliable and welcome performer whose appearances always put a smile on the face.
He passed away of the 8th October after a battle with Alzheimers but, according to his daughter Nerissa, he “lived with fun to the end”.
Lines that could only have been said by Richard Davies (and were):
“At times like this, I often wonder what Nye Bevan would have done, and I’m convinced he would have shat in his pants.” – as Clive Jenkins on Question Time (Not The Nine O’Clock News)
“Yes, and if that’s no good, we’ll try the one up by the prophylactic emporium.” – as Mr White in Fawlty Towers
“Meldrew… Victor Meldrew! God, he was a pillock eh? There’s a big drawing of him on the wall of the girls toilets. Oh yes, you’d remember him Steve… he was a right bastard… I gave him my hamster to look after one holiday and when I got home his cat had eaten it. Tried to palm it off as a suicide.” – as Billy in One Foot In The Grave.
“Now, let me try and get this right. Now, are you telling me that you are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen, and because of the danger, you want me to evacuate the entire camp?”
“Oh, by the way, can we have space buns and tea afterwards? Or don’t they drink tea on Mars?” – as Burton in Doctor Who – Delta And the Bannermen
He is survived by his actress wife Jill whom he met in Rep (it would have been their 60th wedding anniversary on October 28th), their children Nerissa and Glen and four grandchildren.
RICHARD DAVIES – 25th January 1926 – 8th October 2015
With thanks to Nerissa Davies.