Obituary: Robin Bailey

IN A career spanning 60 years, Robin Bailey became a distinguished actor on the London stage and appeared in many films, but he was most memorable on television, where he displayed a talent for both comic and serious roles.

In situation comedy, he played the old misogynist Uncle Mort, shuffling round in muffler and flat cap, in I Didn't Know You Cared, took over from Arthur Lowe in Potter as the retired busybody of the title, and acted one of the two cricket-loving old buffers in the whodunit Charters and Caldicott. More seriously, Bailey took the parts of Sir Charles Weyburn in The Edwardians, Neville Chamberlain in The Gathering Storm, Mr Justice Graves in Rumpole of the Bailey and Uncle Alfred in Dance to the Music of Time.

Although upper-crust roles seemed to come naturally to the actor, he was born in the more humble surroundings of Hucknall, the Nottinghamshire mining village where his father sold china and glass. After working for the Post Office for a while in the second half of the 1930s, he was employed at the War Office and became interested in amateur dramatics. "I've always taken note of how people look and how they speak," Bailey once said. "I watch and I listen and all the information goes into the bank."

He made his stage debut with the Court Players as George in The Barretts of Wimpole Street at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, in 1938, and continued to play small roles with that company over the next year. Repertory experience followed in Newcastle upon Tyne, before the war intervened and Bailey served in the Army (1940-44). However, he returned to the stage at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, during the last year of the war and further repertory work followed.

Shakespearean roles on an English Arts Theatre tour of Europe (1946-47) provided him with a grounding in the classics, before he made his West End debut as Ludovico in Othello at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1947. In more than 20 West End productions, his parts included Faulkland in The Rivals (St James's Theatre, 1948, winning him the Clarence Derwent Award), Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (Embassy Theatre, 1951), Lord Basingstoke in No Sign of the Dove (Savoy Theatre, 1953), both Theseus and Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Saville Theatre, 1967) and King Pellinore in Camelot (Apollo Theatre, 1982).

He played Henry Higgins again in My Fair Lady in Melbourne (1959) and Sydney (1960), and appeared on Broadway as both Christopher Lawrence Cromwell in Jennie (Majestic Theatre, 1963) and Martin Lynch-Gibbon in A Severed Head (Royale Theatre, 1964), a role he previously performed at the Criterion Theatre, London, in the same year.

With the National Theatre Company at the Olivier Theatre, he played Sir Jasper Fidget in The Country Wife (1977), Firs in The Cherry Orchard (1978) and Banquo in Macbeth (1978). He also took the role of Colonel Pickering in Pygmalion at the Olivier Theatre (1992).

Bailey's earliest film roles were military ones. He made his debut as a billeting officer in School for Secrets (1946), directed by Peter Ustinov, and followed it with parts in pictures such as Private Angelo (1949), Glory at Sea (1952) and Sailor of the King (1953). He went on to appear as the assistant manager of the road haulage firm featured in the gritty drama Hell Drivers (1957), the MI5 Commander in Galton and Simpson's farce The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966), a psychiatrist in Bryan Forbes's melodrama The Whisperers (1966) and Colonel Eustace in the swashbuckler The Four Feathers (1978).

But television proved to be the best showcase for Bailey's acting skills. His first appearances were in Gentle Gunman, Jonah (both 1950) and Markheim (1952), Tony Richardson's production of Robert Louis Stevenson's eerie short story set in a curio shop.

He gained more attention as Sir Bertram in an episode of the early ITV series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955), starring Richard Greene as the outlaw and featuring scripts by Hollywood writers blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Bailey also took over from compere Jerry Esmonde for a while to present the Fifties quiz show The 64,000 Question.

Notable acting roles that followed included Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in the series Kenilworth (1957) and Sir Charles Weyburn in The Edwardians' story "Olive Latimer's Husband" (1965). American television recognised Bailey's quintessential Englishness by casting him as Neville Chamberlain in The Gathering Storm (1974) and Mr Hale in Mrs Gaskell's North and South (1975). Guest appearances in the British period dramas Upstairs Downstairs and The Pallisers bolstered Bailey's reputation for playing upper-crust roles.

But the actor was in his element in television comedy. "I have to admit that I really prefer comedy," he said, "because it's where I can most easily share the attitude of the writer. Irony is my normal state of mind."

He first made his mark in situation comedy by playing the seedy Uncle Mort in four series of I Didn't Know You Cared (1975-79), Peter Tinniswood's tale of war between the sexes in a Northern household in a funereal atmosphere that Uncle Mort seemed to relish.

In 1983, Bailey took over the role of Redvers Potter in the situation comedy Potter, which Arthur Lowe had played for two series before his death. The character had retired after spending his entire working life with the family firm, Potter's Mints, but insisted on minding everyone else's business. "Potter sees himself as the voice of the beleaguered minority and he speaks up for people," said Bailey. "But most notable is his self-importance." The actor added loud check clothing and a bow- tie to Potter's wardrobe, as well as sporting a small moustache that suggested a mini-Hitler streak.

Further comedy success came with the role of Charters, one of the two lovable eccentrics, in the whodunit serial Charters and Caldicot (1985), with Michael Aldridge playing the other amateur sleuth. The characters, played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, had originally appeared in Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat's 1938 Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes and the sequels Night Train to Munich and Crooks' Tour (both 1940). Keith Waterhouse updated the duo for television.

Robin Bailey's other notable television roles included Sir Leicester Dedlock in Bleak House (1985), Judge Gerald Graves in Rumpole of the Bailey (1988, 1991, 1992) and Uncle Alfred in Dance to the Music of Time (1997). He disliked being pointed at or stared at in the street, but did not mind recognition. "What I'm really proud of," Bailey once said, "is that a bus conductor refused my fare the other day. I don't think I could bear to be any more famous than that."

Robin Bailey, actor: born Hucknall, Nottinghamshire 5 October 1919; married Patricia Weekes (deceased; three sons); died London 14 January 1999.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition