Georges Wilson: Actor who played Captain Haddock and worked with Oliver Reed

In a career lasting over six decades, the versatile French actor Georges Wilson successfully combined stage, film and television work, yet earned most of his accolades – four Molière awards – for his theatre appearances. He followed in the footsteps of the actor Jean Vilar, who championed "an elitist theatre for everyone" and directed Wilson in Shakespeare, Molière, Corneille and Beaumarchais at the Avignon Festival. Like his mentor, Wilson eventually ran France's forward-thinking Théâtre National Populaire, and also turned to directing in the 1960s and 1970s, adding French adaptations of plays by John Osborne, Edward Bond, Charles Dyer and Tom Stoppard to the company's rEpertoire. "Finding new writers was my mission," he said. "Throughout my whole career, I looked high and low to try and find the poets writing about the world around them."

But Wilson was also a regular on the small and the big screens, and transformed himself into a remarkable Captain Haddock for the live action film Tintin Et Le Mystère De La Toison D'Or (Tintin And The Golden Fleece, 1961), which was based on an original script rather than one of Hergé's books, and released internationally. Wilson also acted alongside Marcello Mastroianni in Lo Straniero (The Stranger, 1967) – Luchino Visconti's film adaptation of the Albert Camus novel – though he may be best known to British cinema-goers and TV viewers for his cameo in the Second World War blockbuster The Longest Day (1962), or for his portrayal of Monsieur de Tréville in Richard Lester's film of The Three Musketeers (1973), which also starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch and Charlton Heston.

Born in Champigny-sur-Marne in 1921, he took up the Irish name of his maternal grandparents. He was brought up by his mother and aunt, and eventually discovered that a married man known to him as "Uncle Henri" had fathered not only him but also his aunt's daughter, thus making his cousin his half-sister.

By 1936, he was working as a junior office clerk and becoming obsessed with the theatre. He joined up and narrowly escaped being shot by the Germans and, after the war, became an habitué of the Comédie-Française, He acted in amateur productions and was spotted by Pierre Renoir, the son of the painter, who brought him to the Ecole D'Art Dramatique. Wilson soon joined a provincial tour of Sartre's Les Mains Sales (Dirty Hands) for which he combined acting with stage-management, and then spent time at the Compagnie Grenier-Hussenot in Paris and at the Centre Dramatique de L'Ouest in Rennes.

"Vilar gave me my big break," Wilson recalled of his arrival at the TNP in 1952, where he more than held his own opposite such illustrious figures as Gérard Philipe and Maria Casarès. "I found my religion. Following him was like entering a convent."

He excelled in some of the larger- than-life theatrical roles – Danton, Lear, Othello, Ubu – but was also capable of delivering more nuanced performances. In 1978, he became artistic director of the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre in Paris, and then played a major part in establishing the Salle Gémier, the experimental venue within the Théâtre National de Chaillot. Wilson believed that "directing is like conducting a symphony or a concerto. You have to find the music of each actor and then bring them all together to create harmony."

With his strong "gothic" nose and impressive height, Wilson did not look like a matinée idol but nevertheless appeared in over 80 films and 40 television productions. In 1961, he portrayed a down and out suffering from memory loss rescued by Alida Valli who believes he is her long lost husband in Henri Conti's Une Aussi Longue Absence (The Long Absence) which shared the Palme D'Or for Best Film with Luis Bunuel's Viridiana.

Mostly, he was a supreme character actor, whether playing a police superintendent in Claude Sautet's crime drama Max Et Les Ferrailleurs (1971), a headmaster in Claude Pinoteau's La Gifle (1974), and most recently a kidnapped millionaire in Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1, about the infamous French gangster. In 1989, he directed his son Lambert Wilson in La Vouivre, a film based on the Marcel Aymé novel.

Georges Wilson was still treading the boards last October, movingly portraying an old actor reminiscing in the Thomas Bernhard two-hander Simplement compliqué at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris. "It is a deeply unsettling experience," he admitted at the time. "Even as a child, I was the hypersensitive type and I found that again in Bernhard's play. My character is indomitable, always up for a fight."

Pierre Perrone

Georges Wilson, actor, director: born Champigny-sur-Marne 16 October 1921; married Nicole (deceased; two sons); died Paris 3 February 2010.

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
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

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...


Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?