James Aubrey: Actor who began his career as Ralph in Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies
Friday 16 April 2010
The actor James Aubrey was just 14 when he played Ralph, elected "chief" of the group of boys stranded on a remote island after a plane crash, in Peter Brook's powerful 1963 screen version of Lord of the Flies. The director's search for his lead child actor ended when he spotted Aubrey in a swimming pool in a British Army camp in Jamaica, just four days before filming began.
Ralph is the "sensible" one, advocating that the boys collect food and build shelters while some of the others simply want to have fun and hunt. As the group breaks into two factions, the gap between civilisation and savagery widens.
"The rules, you're breaking the rules - the rules are the only thing we've got,"Ralph shouts, as the group's system of justice begins to disintegrate and his authority is being questioned.
This film adaptation of William Golding's novel was considered so shocking at the time that it was awarded an X-certificate, so Aubrey and the other young stars - picked from 3,000 who auditioned for Brook - were barred from screenings.
Shock was at the centre of Aubrey's other memorable screen role, on television as Gavin Sorensen in Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976) - based on Andrea Newman's 1969 novel - and its sequel, Another Bouquet (1977). The producers described it as "a modern Greek tragedy". This time, the actor was playing a violent American whose marriage to a wealthy publisher's manipulative daughter, Prue Manson (Susan Penhaligon), sparks a saga of bed-hopping.
"I was introduced to the actress who plays my wife," recalled Aubrey. "About 30 seconds later, I was in bed with her. Then I was beating her senseless and, within a flash, I was at her funeral."
Alongside the wife-beating is the incestuous jealousy of Prue's father, Peter (Frank Finlay), ended only by her sudden death in childbirth. Aubrey's character remains pivotal to the story, taking his mother-in-law, Cassie (Sheila Allen), as his lover while Peter - who has had an affair with his secretary, Sarah Francis (Deborah Grant) - beds Gavin's new girlfriend, Vicky (Elizabeth Romilly). A remake of the taboobusting drama is due on television screens this year.
James Aubrey Tregidgo was born in 1947, the son of an Army major in the British zone of occupation in Klagenfurt, Austria. As his father moved around, he was educated at the Wolmer's Boys' School, Kingston, Jamaica, the Windsor Boys' School, Hamm, Germany, and St Johns School, Singapore.
Lord of the Flies, shot in Puerto Rico in 1961, set Aubrey off on an acting career.He followed it by making his professional stage debut in the US as Philip Anding in Isle of Children (Wilmington Playhouse, Delaware, 1962) on a tour that was followed by a Broadway run lasting for just 11 performances (Cort Theatre, 1962). One reviewer wrote: "Mr. Aubrey starts out fine, but since he only has one expression and one tone of voice, you get sick of him, and by the end of the play you would give the price of an orchestra seat to smack him in the face."
However, this did not deter the 14- year-old and he continued with his acting ambitions by training at the Drama Centre, London (1967-70). He then joined the company at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow (1970-72), before making his London stage debut as a police constable in the premiere of Howard Brenton's play Magnificence (Royal Court Theatre, 1973).
Aubrey was subsequently in the West End as Rex in City Sugar (Comedy Theatre, 1976) and with the Royal Shakespeare Company (1974-75) and the Prospect Theatre Company, playing Faulkland in The Rivals and Edgar in King Lear (Old Vic Theatre, 1978). He was particularly proud to receive an accolade from Tennessee Williams after appearing in The Glass Menagerie (Shaw Theatre, 1977). At the end of the run, the playwright presented him with a copy of his memoirs, signed: "To James Aubrey, the best Tom Wingfield anywhere, ever."
After Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Aubrey was seen taking one-off character roles on television in series such as The Sweeney (1976), Van der Valk(1977), Minder (1979), Inspector Morse (1992), The Bill(1995) and Heartbeat(2002). In 1981, he had a short run in Emmerdale Farm as the Rev Bill Jeffries, Donald Hinton's assistant minister who eventually leaves after differences with the rural vicar.
A private man, Aubrey was known as a committed actor who turned down many parts. However, on television, he did find good roles as Grypus in The Cleopatras(1983), Ernest Shackleton in The Last Place on Earth (1985), the new editor of the Daily News in the second series of Lytton's Diary (1985, alongside Peter Bowles as a gossip writer), Det Insp Hoskins in the police drama Rockliffe's Folly (1988) and Steve Kirkwood in The Men's Room (1991). He was also seen as Morris Legge in the writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais's limousinehire comedy-drama Full Stretch (1993).
Aubrey's other films included Galileo (1975, directed by Joseph Losey and starring John Gielgud), Home Before Midnight(1979, a starring role as a songwriter bedding an underage girl), The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (1980, the Sex Pistols mockumentary), the Ray Connolly-written pop music drama Forever Young (1983), Cry Freedom (1987) and Spy Game (2001, alongside Robert Redford and Brad Pitt).
One of Aubrey's final screen roles was as the Liberal Democrat MP David Chidgey, who put to David Kelly a question that unsettled him at a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee session, in The Government Inspector (2005), a television dramatisation of the critical events leading up to the scientist's death in the "weapons of mass destruction" saga.
Aubrey's only marriage ended in divorce. He later had a daughter from another relationship.
James Aubrey Tregidgo, actor: born Klagenfurt, Austria 28 August 1947; married Agnes Kristin Hallander (marriage dissolved; one daughter from a subsequent relationship); died Cranwell, Lincolnshire 6 April 2010.
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