Harry Fowler: Prolific screen actor known for his 'cheerful cockney' characters

 

The archetypal "cheerful cockney" on screen, Harry Fowler was also the quintessential character actor.

After almost a dozen film roles in his teens, he made his breakthrough in the 1947 picture Hue and Cry, as the leader of a gang of East End children taking on thieves who are using their favourite comic to communicate their crime plans.

Directed by Charles Crichton and featuring Alastair Sim in the adult cast, Hue and Cry has gone down in film history as the first of the Ealing Studios post-war comedies, although it was more of a well-made thriller for children, enhanced by location filming amid the bomb damage of post-war London.

Fowler was firmly at its centre, set on his road to a long and successful career on screen. Taking the advice of Jack Warner, another of the adult stars of Hue and Cry, he never turned down any roles offered. He was not an A-list star, but this policy guaranteed him permanent employment as a character actor.

In addition to more than 80 film roles, he was memorable on television after joining The Army Game as the Cockney wide-boy Corporal "Flogger" Hoskins (1959-60). The sitcom, set in Hut 29 of the surplus ordnance depot and transit camp at Nether Hopping, caught the imagination of the nation just a decade after the Second World War ended and with National Service still in existence.

Fowler had to carry around a kit bag in his first episode and – because the programme was broadcast live – battled on bravely after discovering that a practical joker had weighed it down with lead.

Later, in the sitcom Our Man at St Mark's, whose stories revolved around a country vicar, he was the sexton and gravedigger Harry Danvers (1964-66), known as "Harry the Yo-Yo" because he had spent most of his life in and out of prison.

"Most of my roles throughout my working life, certainly up until the Sixties, had me as the obligatory Cockney, just as you had the obligatory negro in American films," explained Fowler in Brian McFarlane's book Sixty Voices. "My idol was Jimmy Cagney, but there were no Jimmy Cagney pictures made here, so I had no aspirations regarding roles."

Born in Lambeth, south London, in 1926, Fowler left school with little education and was working as a paper boy for eight shillings a week by his early teens. After hearing his Cockney accent in a radio interview about his wartime experiences, British National Films cast the 15-year-old as an evacuee leaving London for an earl's country home in the 1942 picture Those Kids from Town, which also featured a young George Cole.

He then found himself on film sets as the stock Cockney and swiftly moved from one production to another, appearing in up to 11 a year, both main features and B-movies. Towards the end of the Second World War, he was called up for service in the RAF (1945-47) but was allowed leave to act in Hue and Cry.

Later, Fowler stood out on screen as Sam Weller, the Cockney boot cleaner at the White Hart Inn, in The Pickwick Papers (1952) and had roles of varying importance and screen time in Lucky Jim (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (directed by David Lean), The Longest Day (both 1962), Doctor in Clover (1966) and The Prince and the Pauper (1977).

His appearances were not always fleeting. For I Believe in You (1952), he spent two nights in a Borstal to prepare for the film about delinquents and probation officers, which provided him with both a leading role and Joan Collins as a love interest.

Much of Fowler's film career came before the "kitchen sink" films of the 1960s started depicting the lives, language and sexuality of the working classes, beyond the maids, taxi-drivers and comic characters traditionally portrayed in pictures written by, and featuring, the middle- and upper-classes.

So, inevitably, his prolific list of credits included those such as "amorous youth", "first novice biker", "street photographer", "airman", "barrow boy" and "Covent Garden porter". But Fowler had the chance to work with directors such as Basil Dearden, Lewis Gilbert, Ken Annakin, Val Guest, John Paddy Carstairs and the Boulting brothers, who provided a flow of British films for cinemas.

After his final appearance on the big screen, in the disappointing Chicago Joe and the Showgirl (1990), Fowler continued to be seen on television for two decades. Having taken character roles in many major series, he appeared on and off as the milkman Harry, alongside Warren Mitchell, in the Till Death Us Do Part sequel, In Sickness and in Health (1985-92). His last acting role was in the sketch show The Impressionable Jon Culshaw, in 2004.

Fowler's voice was also heard in commercials and narrating the 1975 cartoon Great: Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which won an Oscar as Best Short Film (Animated) and a Bafta award for Best Animated Film.

In 1951, Fowler married Joan Dowling, an actress who made her screen debut alongside him in Hue and Cry. After just three years of marriage, when her career was failing, she was found in a gas-filled room after taking her own life. Fowler subsequently married Catherine Palmer, who survives him. He had no children.

Henry James Fowler, actor: born London 10 December 1926; MBE, 1970; married 1951 Joan Dowling (died 1954), 1960 Catherine Palmer; died 4 January 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?