Alfred Lynch

Actor with a chirpy, unaffected appeal who came to prominence on stage and screen in kitchen-sink drama of the Fifties
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The Independent Online

Alfred Lynch, actor: born London 26 January 1931; died 16 December 2003.

The actor Alfred Lynch first came to prominence in that period of the late Fifties when working-class realism and kitchen-sink drama were coming to the fore on stage and screen as never before.

Short and sandy-haired, he was under no pressure, as earlier generations of actors had been, to refine his down-to-earth manner or East End accent. He worked rewardingly with such luminaries of the era as Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and Joan Littlewood, making particular impact in Littlewood's unique stage production of Brendan Behan's The Hostage (1959).

His chirpy, unaffected appeal had a lot of charm, and on screen he will be remembered as the cockney soldier who, Bilko-like, devises scams and avoids active service in On the Fiddle (1961). He was top-billed in the comedy above Sean Connery, who played the gypsy friend Lynch recruits to help him fleece the soldiers by such schemes as selling rations and leave passes (Connery was just a year away from playing James Bond for the first time).

At the start of the Sixties Lynch seemed on the brink of major stardom, but although he remained a respected and successful actor, who proved as adept at Shakespeare and Chekhov as he was with Wesker and Behan, his career was spent mainly providing sterling support, often for actors of the same generation - like Connery, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay - who had soared to greater heights in their profession.

The son of a plumber, Lynch was born in the East End of London in 1931. He worked in a draughtsman's office prior to doing two years National Service (then compulsory) serving in the Army. He then studied acting, and first attracted attention when he was featured in Arnold Wesker's Chicken Soup with Barley, initially produced in Coventry, then at the Royal Court Theatre in London, run at the time by the English Stage Company and home of much of the period's most exciting theatre.

The play, about the Jewish working-class family the Kahns and how the Spanish Civil War impinged on their lives, was the first of Wesker's trilogy that included Roots and I'm Talking About Jerusalem. Lynch was young Ronnie, like most of his family full of Communist zeal in light of the Fascist marches through the East End, and his impassioned portrayal marked him as a bright new talent. Lindsay Anderson then cast him in the Royal Court production of Willis Hall's powerful anti-war play The Long and the Short and the Tall (1958), Anderson's first play as a director. Lynch played a member of a reconnaissance patrol in Burma who capture a Japanese scout and object when their leader wants to keep the prisoner alive for interrogation. The production is best remembered now as the play that made Peter O'Toole a star.

Lynch was then cast by Joan Littlewood in the leading role in her production of The Hostage (1959), which transferred from Stratford to the Wyndhams Theatre in London with great success. Set in a Dublin brothel where a British serviceman is held as hostage for an IRA soldier condemned to death for shooting a policeman, it was transformed by Littlewood into a riotous black comedy, an infectious mixture of songs, jokes and asides which transformed the brothel setting into a virtual music-hall.

The critic Kenneth Tynan lauded Lynch's "beautiful playing" as the cockney hostage, who is accidentally killed in a raid, but immediately jumps up to join the cast in the lively number, "Oh death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?" The production won the prize as the best of the 1959 Paris International Theatre Festival, and after its sell-out West End run it went to Broadway where Lynch repeated his starring role.

Lynch made his screen début with a small role as a commercial traveller in Tony Richardson's film version of John Osborne's ground-breaking play Look Back in Anger (1959), which starred Richard Burton as the original "angry young man" Jimmy Porter. After his success in Cyril Frankel's On The Fiddle, Lynch starred with George Chakiris and Janette Scott in Freddie Francis's uneven comedy Two and Two Makes Six (1962).

Andrew Stone's The Password is Courage (1962) was based on the true-life exploits of Sergeant-Major Charles Coward, who was captured during the Second World War but never gave up trying to escape. Dirk Bogarde starred as Coward, but Lynch made a strong impression and proved an effective contrast to the urbane star as the fellow prisoner and friend who finally makes it to freedom with Coward.

In Nicholas Ray's ponderous epic 55 Days at Peking (1962), about the Boxer revolution of 1900, he had a small role as one of the British contingent in the international compound making a stand against the rebels, but he was given co-star billing with Eric Portman and Diana Dors in Michael Winner's minor thriller West 11 (1963). Sidney Lumet's The Hill (1965) was a grim drama about a military prison in North Africa where sadistic guards make the prisoners run repeatedly up and down a hill in the blazing sun. Lynch's death from exhaustion prompts a final confrontation between a rebellious prisoner (Sean Connery, now top-billed) and one of the guards (Ian Hendry).

The following year Lynch was a lively Tranio in Franco Zeffirelli's enjoyable film version of The Taming of the Shrew starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He had already demonstrated his worth as a Shakespearean actor in Lindsay Anderson's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal Court in 1962, and later played the title role in a Young Vic production of Macbeth. Anton Chekhov was a favourite dramatist of the actor, and in Sidney Lumet's screen transcription of The Sea Gull (1968), he effectively played the lovelorn schoolteacher Medvedenko in a starry cast headed by James Mason, Vanessa Redgrave and Simone Signoret.

By the end of the Sixties Lynch's film career was virtually over, but he continued to appear regularly in the theatre and on television. For television's fondly remembered Sunday night anthology Armchair Theatre, he played one of three sailors on shore leave in Liverpool in Alun Owen's No Trams to Lime Street (1959). Often referred to as the British equivalent of On the Town, it had songs by Ronnie Scott and Marty Wilde. Lynch also starred in the BBC's series Hereward the Wake (1965) as the 11th-century freedom fighter battling the Duke of Normandy. Sadly, it is one of the shows the BBC is believed to have wiped.

In 1970 Lynch starred with Peter Barkworth and Cyd Hayman in the well-received LWT series about the French resistance, Manhunt. Lynch was a downed RAF pilot attempting to escape to England and combatting the plotting of Nazis Robert Hardy and Philip Madoc. He was a guest star in episodes of Bergerac (1981) and Lovejoy (1986) and in 1989 he played Commander Millington in the penultimate Dr Who adventure "The Curse of Fenric", about a town in wartime England in which residents are turning into vampires.

In The Krays (1990) he played the father of the notorious twins - his wife was played by Billie Whitelaw, who had appeared with him in No Trams to Lime Street 31 years earlier. His final film was Chris Menges's Second Best (1994).

Tom Vallance