Obituary: James Ottaway

OVER FOUR decades from the Thirties, James Ottaway was a regular on the West End stage, but his talents as a character actor were not fully realised on television until the Sixties.

He followed roles in such classic productions as Laurence Olivier's Macbeth at the Old Vic Theatre in 1937 with dozens of guest-starring appearances on television, including a regular part as Jill Gascoine's screen father in The Gentle Touch. In later years, he was usually seen switching between the extremities of upper-class and lower-class old men, displaying his wide range.

Ottaway caught the acting bug as a child, influenced by his father, William, an amateur actor with the St Pancras People's Theatre. Although he graduated from Imperial College, London, in 1929 and became a teacher, he gained stage experience with that company and eventually trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. He left in 1937 and quickly made his professonal debut as the Club Waiter in The Island at the Q Theatre, a role he repeated at the Comedy Theatre the following year.

In between, Tyrone Guthrie, the celebrated director of the Old Vic Theatre, had cast Ottaway as a Messenger alongside Laurence Olivier in Macbeth (1937). Ottaway subsequently toured with the Old Vic company (1940-41), before joining the Army for the war effort.

After being demobbed in 1947, Ottaway resumed his stage career and became familiar to West End theatregoers. He played Joseph Taft in Four Hours to Kill (Saville Theatre, 1948), Mr Wingate in Top of the Ladder (St James's Theatre, 1950), Dr Jadin in The Madwoman of Chaillot (St James's Theatre, 1951), Forshaw in His House in Order (New Theatre, 1951), Dr Welling in Kill Two Birds (St Martin's Theatre, 1962), The Gentleman in The Devil May Care (Strand Theatre, 1963), Murchison in The Waiting Game (Arts Theatre, 1966), and Chaucer in Canterbury Tales (Phoenix Theatre, 1968).

In 1951 he returned for four years to Tyrone Guthrie and the Old Vic company, which had experienced a revival in the Forties, and took part in tours of South Africa (1952) and Australia (1955).

During several seasons at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, he played Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1962, 1967), Sir Nathaniel in Love's Labour's Lost (1962), Verges in Much Ado About Nothing (1963) and Ragueneau in Cyrano de Bergerac (1967). Later on Ottaway took four parts in A Voyage Round My Father at Greenwich Theatre (1970), acted Kemp in Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Royal Court Theatre, which transferred to the Duke of York's (both 1975), and - a role he much enjoyed - played Polonius in Hamlet at the Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead (1970).

Although he made his television debut in 1937, in the fledgling days of the BBC at Alexandra Palace, Ottaway did not become a regular on the small screen until the late Fifties. Over 40 years, he guest-starred in dozens of programmes, including Boyd QC, No Hiding Place, Dixon of Dock Green, Dad's Army, Softly Softly, Z Cars, The Fellows, The Sweeney, All Creatures Great and Small, The Invisible Man, Hi-de-Hi!, Angels, Minder, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Shine on Harvey Moon, Casualty, Boon, Keeping Up Appearances, Jeeves and Wooster, Pie in the Sky, A Touch of Frost, As Time Goes By and The Bill.

For Hancock's Half-Hour, Ottaway played the small part of a second doctor in The Blood Donor (1961), for many Tony Hancock's greatest moment. His other television roles included Maxie in the 1975 BBC series The Changes, and Arthur in the serial Quatermass, the writer Nigel Kneale's final story in the science-fiction saga. This time it was set in the near future and later it was re-edited for the cinema as Quatermass Conclusion (1980). He also played George Taylor throughout all four series of The Gentle Touch (1980- 84), featuring Jill Gascoine as Detective Inspector Maggie Forbes.

Ottaway also acted in films, playing Grandad in That'll Be the Day (1973), a commissionaire in The Long Good Friday (1979) and a Catholic priest in Absolution (1978, unreleased until 1981), as well as appearing in Room 43 (1958), The Man Who Liked Funerals (1959) and The Man Who Finally Died (1962).

James Ottaway first met his future wife when both performed with the St Pancras People's Theatre, but they did not marry until middle age after meeting again years later. One nephew, Richard Ottaway, is the Conservative MP for Croydon South, while another, Mark Ottaway, is chief travel writer on the Sunday Times.

James Ottaway, actor: born Chertsey, Surrey 25 July 1908; married 1965 Anne Pichon; died London 16 June 1999.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style