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
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
filmSony could have made a cult classic
Life and Style
fashionThe essential guide to all the designer Christmas sale dates
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas