Obituary: Ivor Roberts

OVER THREE decades, Ivor Roberts enjoyed an acting career on television that began in middle age. After spending years as a stage actor and continuity announcer, he then appeared in dozens of screen productions, often playing official figures. He played a golf club president alongside Eric Sykes in the sitcom The 19th Hole, set mostly in the players' bar, and an engine driver, Arnold, in the sleepy rural railway comedy Oh Doctor Beeching!

Born in Nottingham in 1925, Roberts was the son of a Welsh- man who had performed a trapeze act before the First World War and then worked as a tram driver and a cloth dyer, creating and selling the formula to stop sandbags from rotting.

Intent on going on the stage professionally, Ivor Roberts became an acting assistant stage manager with the Regency Players at the Theatre Royal, Leicester, in 1942. Two years later, he left to join the Royal Navy but would be recalled at a moment's notice to the theatre company when he was home on leave and it was short of an actor.

After leaving the Navy in 1946, Roberts made his acting comeback in a production of Robinson Crusoe at Aberystwyth, which also toured mid-Wales. Then he joined Harry Hanson's Court Players, a company that performed at theatres in both Nottingham and Peterborough. He gained experience in a wide range of productions over five years.

After some time out of the business, Roberts returned in the mid-Sixties as a continuity announcer with TWW (Television West and Wales), which had started broadcasting in 1962 following the closure of Wales West and North - the first and only ITV station to go bust. He stayed with TWW until it lost its franchise to HTV in 1968.

Combining his theatrical and television experience, Roberts then started acting on the small screen. In the popular magistrates' court series Six Days of Justice (1973), he played an estate agent accused of stealing an antique silver frame from an elderly widow. He also had two bit-parts in Coronation Street, as Tommy Silcock, father of Ray Langton's girlfriend Sue, in 1972 and George Daly, Betty Williams's dancing partner in the community centre formation dance troupe 15 years later.

During the Seventies, he also took roles in Secret Army, Bergerac, the Granada Television period drama Sam, the acclaimed ITV series Edward the Seventh (1975), Doctor Who (1975), Rogue Male (1976), Madame Bovary, Second City First, Dombey and Son and the sitcoms Born and Bred (1978) and George and Mildred (as a police sergeant, 1979).

Roberts remained busy on the small screen throughout the Eighties, in The Sailor's Return (as a farmer, 1980), Agony (1980), the Agatha Christie television film Murder is Easy (1981), Yes Minister, Constance Kent, the P. D. James whodunit Death of an Expert Witness (1983), The Lenny Henry Show (1984), Minder, Sorry, Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil (1985), Boon (as a Lord Mayor, 1986), The New Statesman, The Bretts, Shadow of the Noose, Better Days, We Are Seven and Rumpole of the Bailey. He was perfectly cast as the Prince's Hill Golf Club president, to Eric Sykes's secretary, in The 19th Hole (1989), scripted by Johnny Speight.

Later, Roberts played Arnold, the dear, old engine driver, in the pilot episode of Oh Doctor Beeching! (1995), in the "Comic Asides" series. Created by David Croft, it was set in a small, rural railway station under threat of closure in the Sixties and was followed by two series (1996-97). The programme reunited some of the cast of Hi-de-Hi! and You Rang, M'Lord?, both of which were scripted by Croft and his Dad's Army co-writer Jimmy Perry. Roberts himself had made an appearance in You Rang, M'Lord? (1993). Whimsical stories at Hatley Station in Oh Doctor Beeching! included a turkey on the loose running up the tracks.

On television, Roberts also guest-starred in The Bill (1993) and Touching Evil (1997), and provided the voice of Jesse in David and Saul, from the series Testament: the Bible in animation (1996). His film roles included Uncle Walter in Sweet William (1980), the Chief Judge in Another Country (1984) and a reporter in the Michael Caine Sherlock Holmes farce Without a Clue (1988). Roberts's other pictures included Hopscotch (1980), Personal Services (1986) and We Think the World of You (1988).

On stage, he acted with the National Theatre company in The Government Inspector and Pravda (both 1985). He also appeared in the Barbra Streisand pop video Emotion, as a dirty old businessman trying to seduce the singer with a string of pearls.

More recently, he was best known to BBC Radio Wales listeners as the bluff farmer Donald Evans in the soap opera Station Road. He joined the programme last April, three months after it began, and will continue to be heard until the middle of next month. He is still to be seen on television in an episode of Peak Practice.

Ivor Roberts, actor: born Nottingham 19 July 1925; married (one daughter); died Cardiff 5 September 1999.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


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