Bernard Spear

Character actor on stage and screen
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The Independent Online

Bernard Spear, actor: born Croydon, Surrey 11 September 1919; married 1949 Mary Newton (one son); died Sutton, Surrey 9 May 2003.

The actor Bernard Spear's most recognisable roles on television were Jewish characters.

As Victor Green in Jack Rosenthal's touching and comic play Bar Mitzvah Boy (1976), he was memorable in trying to reassure his anxious son as his coming-of-age ceremony approaches. The humour was more blunt in Vince Powell's sitcom My Son Reuben (1975), in which Spear took the role of Reuben Greenberg, a middle-aged dry cleaner still tied to his mother's apron strings.

Bernard Spear was born in Croydon, Surrey, in 1919, into a family of Jewish cabinetmakers, his father from Poland and his mother from Russia. When he was seven, his father died and the family moved to Bethnal Green, in the East End of London.

He learnt his craft as a comedian at the Windmill Theatre and in variety theatres around Britain, before performing on radio in series such as Workers' Playtime and Henry Hall's Guest Night, and hosting his own show, The Mid-Day Floor Show. When he met his wife-to-be, Mary Newton, a dancer under the professional name Mary Logan, they developed a double-act, "Bernard Spear and Mary, To Say Nothing of the Dog" - a reference to the pet that shared the stage with them.

Spear switched to stage musicals, getting his break in the West End hit Wonderful Town (Prince's Theatre, 1955). A series of London stage roles followed, including in The Music Man (Adelphi Theatre, 1961), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1963), Hello, Dolly! (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1965), and Jack Rosenthal's The Matchmaker (as Vandergelder, Her Majesty's Theatre, 1978).

From 1955, he had been a straight actor on television and also appeared in films such as the Doctor Who spin-off Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966), Bedazzled (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (as one of the two zany spies, 1968). A high point of his screen career was appearing as the tailor alongside Barbra Streisand in Yentl (1983).

Spear was a regular supporting actor in Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width (1967-71), Vince Powell and Harry Driver's hugely popular TV comedy about two tailors, one Jewish (played by John Bluthal) and one Irish (Joe Lynch). Spear played Lewtas, another Jewish tailor upstairs.

He took the role of Mike and Bernie Winters's agent, Lionel Ross, "The Lew Grade of Lewisham", in Powell and Driver's Mike and Bernie (1971-72), the stand-up comedians' venture into sitcom. Then, Powell wrote My Son Reuben specially for Spear.

In 1985 Spear took the role of Morris Ransome, the chairman of the Market Traders' Association, in the shortlived soap opera Albion Market. He could draw from his experience of relatives who had stalls in Romford, Essex. "My uncles and aunts were all involved in market trading," said the actor, "and, as a three-year-old, I was sometimes pushed to market in a pram and put under the stall."

Spear was most recently seen on TV in the sitcom My Family (2003).

Anthony Hayward

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