David Morris: Actor who made his dbut at 79

David Cedric Morris, painter, lecturer and actor: born Folkestone, Kent 11 September 1924; married 1957 Olwen Goodwin (two sons, two daughters); died Watford, Hertfordshire 29 October 2007

David Morris played Grandpa George in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton's colourful but sinister 2005 film adaptation of Roald Dahl's much-loved children's book. Cinemagoers saw him lying in an old bed alongside the actress Liz Smith, top-and-tailed with David Kelly and Eileen Essell, all playing the elderly grandparents of Charlie (Freddie Highmore).

It was a darker screen version of the Dahl story than that scripted by the author himself for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory 34 years earlier, with the story transplanted from a bright, cheerful Bavarian city to a grim mill town in England and the poverty of Charlie's family evident for all to see.

The film was also the pinnacle of Morris's second career as an actor after spending all his working life painting and teaching art. However, for years he had mounted his own Shakespearean productions in the "Bottom Theatre", the barn studio at the end of his garden in Buckinghamshire. He saw Grandpa George as "a loving curmudgeon a bit like King Lear, in fact".

Morris's chance to turn professional had come when a television director friend, Sandy Johnson, cast him in an episode of the murder-mystery series Jonathan Creek (2004) at the age of 79. "It was proving impossible to find an aged actor to play the part of a wizened-looking old man who could remember a lot of lines, important plot stuff," recalled Johnson.

Eventually, I sugggested to the producer, Verity Lambert, and the writer, David Renwick, that we should meet my friend David Morris, an "amateur actor" who looked right and seemed to have a photographic memory. He came into TV Centre, charmed us all with his performance, got the part and started a new career as an actor.

In between that first appearance and his film fame, Morris was seen in the cult TV series Little Britain (2004), as the Welsh postman delivering letters to Matt Lucas's "only gay in the village".

Born in Folkestone, Kent, in 1924, Morris was nine when he won a choral scholarship to Magdalen College School, Oxford, where he became head chorister, head boy, rugby captain and editor of the school magazine. Subsequently studying English at Magdalen College, he was tutored by C.S. Lewis.

After beginning wartime Army service in 1941, Morris typically opted for the rank of private rather than that of an honorary officer. The horrors that he witnessed and the death of his brother, strafed by an Italian plane in the North African desert, led him to become a peace campaigner.

On finishing his studies at Oxford, he turned his back on a planned academic or political career to become a painter, having been influenced by the portrait and landscape artist Peter Greenham, who was later to become Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools. He studied for two years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and then stayed in France, painting and teaching at schools in Orleans and Arles. He subsequently lectured in Oxford, London and Brighton, and taught in the Royal Academy Schools for 20 years.

Over more than half a century, he painted portraits and landscapes all over the world, with some exhibited by the Royal Portrait Society and the Royal Academy. One of his favourite places was Dieppe, where he had bought a house shortly after the end of the war and enjoyed painting seascapes. An active CND member and organiser of the first "Artists for Peace" exhibition in London, Morris also developed a love of acting, reflected in the productions he staged at his home.

After his screen dbut in Jonathan Creek, he appeared in the television play When I'm 64 (2004), as the dying father of a retired teacher (Alun Armstrong) who had hoped to see the world after decades at a boys' school. He also acted in A Very Social Secretary (2005), the television dramatisation of David Blunkett's affair with his diary secretary; the Steve Coogan sitcom Saxondale (2006); and the short film The 400th Fly! (2006), playing the neighbour who kills a girl's pet fly.

Morris wrote an unpublished autobiography, "Luminous Shadows", which offers a view on British art, life, love and spirituality from the 1930s to the present day.

Anthony Hayward

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • 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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...