Lionel Jeffries, actor and director, dies at 83

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The Independent Culture

The actor and film director Lionel Jeffries has died at the age of 83, his family has announced. Jeffries was best known for his appearance in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and for directing the 1970 film The Railway Children.

Jenny Agutter, who starred in The Railway Children, remembered him as "an extraordinary character" and "wonderfully funny". "He was a total dear to work with," she said. "He very much created a family on set."

Jeffries played Dick Van Dyke's father Grandpa Potts in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, despite being six months the actor's junior. He was by then already sporting his characteristic moustache, and had long since lost his hair, a misfortune he blamed on the humidity in Burma, where he had served in the Second World War.

Born in London's East End in 1926, Jeffries trained at Rada after serving in the war. He played an array of larger-than-life characters, notably the Marquis of Queensbury in the 1960 drama The Trials of Oscar Wilde.

His directorial debut, The Railway Children, an adaptation of the E Nesbit novel, was a huge success. In one memorable scene the young actors force a speeding train to stop in the nick of time, and are shown shouting: "Stop! Stop!" as the train approaches. Some time later it was revealed that Jeffries had filmed the scene by having the young actors shout: "Pots! Pots!" as the train backed away, which was then inserted into the film in reverse, somewhat pioneering at the time.

After The Railway Children, he directed four other films including The Amazing Mr Blunden in 1972, Wombling Free in 1977 and The Water Babies the following year. He starred in numerous roles, including the loveable Grandad in the children's TV series Woof!

According to a family friend, Jeffries died in a nursing home in Poole, Dorset, after a long illness.