Aubrey Woods obituary: Much-loved character actor whose work ranged from Dickens to Dahl

His London stage debut was at the cutting edge, in Brooks' 'Men Without Shadows'

A true all-rounder, the adorable Aubrey Woods delivered the goods in everything from revue to science fiction in his 50-year career. Instantly recognisable for his turn as Bill, the sweetshop owner in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), announcing the arrival of the Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar and achieving celluloid immortality with his rendition of "The Candy Man", Woods was equally at home playing humourless jobsworths, unctuous creeps or sinister blimps. He was forever popping up to bring eccentricity and depth to supporting roles, but despite being a master of stillness, he could be dazzlingly flamboyant when required.

Born in London in 1928, he was a bookish child, encouraged by his father, who worked for Macmillan, the publishing house. He attended the Latymer School in Palmers Green and enrolled at the Hornsea School of Art with the intention of becoming an architect, but left when he won the Leverhulme scholarship to Rada when he was 17. While he was still a student, Calvalcanti cast him as a nervy Smike in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1946). From Rada he repped in Leatherhead, Worthing and Richmond while courting Gaynor, whom he married in 1952 and remained with all his life.

While there was always something pleasantly old-fashioned about Woods, his London debut was at the sharp end of theatrical innovation, in Peter Brook's production of Sartre's existential Men Without Shadows at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1947. The study of Gestapo torture was early evidence of Brook's fascination with theatrical violence but aroused fury from some critics, including Harold Hobson, who said it achieved "as much aesthetic effect as a street accident". Hobson was delighted, however, by Woods's scene-stealing turn as a messenger to Ralph Richardson's Macbeth in Gielgud's production in 1952, by which time he was well established with the RSC and the same year had been Le Beau in As You Like It and Peregrine in Volpone.

In 1957 he was at the cutting-edge of theatre again starring alongside Elizabeth Sellars and Keith Baxter in Robert Anderson's beautiful Tea and Sympathy at the Comedy Theatre. The Lord Chamberlain, however, refused public performance of the play, meaning the theatre had to reinvent itself for the occasion as a club (a trick that 11 years later the Royal Court would employ to stage Edward Bond's Early Morning, the play that finished off the Lord Chamberlain once and for all).

Fittingly he starred alongside Millicent Martin and Ronnie Stevens in the cheeky revue The Lord Chamberlain Regrets at the Saville Theatre in 1961, not one of Ronald Cass's best works but still enjoyably audacious in the wake of the Tea and Sympathy affair. By now he was becoming busy in musical theatre, even if he didn't always prosper. He began as the effete Lieutenant Whorwood in Sandy Wilson's Valmouth at the Lyric in 1958, then took over from Ron Moody in Oliver! and spent three years with the show at the New Theatre.

There were a fair few flops, including The Four Musketeers with Harry Secombe at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1967, which despite running for over a year lost a bomb, and Mardi Gras in 1975 at the Prince of Wales, penned by Melvyn Bragg and popsters Howard and Blaikley. It was all simply bad luck, as Woods had the presence and voice to have become much more celebrated with better material.

Later stage performances included Sir Edward Carson to Tom Baker's unusual but pleasing Oscar Wilde in Feasting with Panthers at Chichester in 1981, and playing Jacob and Potiphar at the Palladium in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1991.

Although his meticulousness and his subtle grandeur made him a striking stage performer, they also made him a memorable supporting player in television and film. He appeared in two Dickens serialisations for the BBC, as Tony Jobling in Bleak House (1958) and Mr Chuckster in The Old Curiosity Shop (1963). He had regular roles in a handful of sitcoms including the curious Nice Work for the BBC in 1980, with Edward Woodward as a labour relations officer trying to keep the peace between a shop steward and Woods's right-wing manager. He was enjoyably reptilian as the chief villain in the 1971 Dr Who serial "The Day of the Daleks", with a strong storyline that essentially told the same tale as The Terminator a decade later, written by former Oxford historian Louis Marks, and was one of the many delights in Gerry O'Hara's note-perfect All the Right Noises (1969) playing an actor in the stage musical which provides the backdrop to a tender romance between Tom Bell and Olivia Hussey.

In 1972 he co-wrote a musical of Trelawny of the Wells which transferred from Bristol Old Vic to Sadler's Wells, and in 1979 returned to Bristol to direct his dramatisation of his beloved EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia stories, Make Way for Lucia. For many years he was Vice-President of the EF Benson Society and adapted and performed many of the stories for radio. A musical version of Benson's works he had developed with Richard Rodney Bennett never came to fruition.

Both idiosyncratic and versatile, Woods brought a sense of the past and a sweet air of English eccentricity to a lengthy scroll of performances, and if history insists he will be remembered for singing "The Candy Man" in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory above all else, that alone is a lovely image to remember him by.

Aubrey Woods, actor, writer and director: born London 9 April 1928; married 1952 Gaynor; died Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, 7 May 2013

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power