John Gower

Actor and singer

John Gower, actor and singer: born Dar es Salaam 11 October 1931; died Greetham, Lincolnshire 1 August 2005.

John Gower's successful career on the stage was based on the gift of an excellent voice, innate ability as an actor, an observant eye and unfettered versatility.

He was born in 1931 in Dar es Salaam, where his father was a civil servant. He attended a college in Nairobi, and then was sent home to England to complete his education. His quest for knowledge was somewhat inhibited by the fact that for a while he was billed as "The Boy Wonder from Wapping". This came about because, despite his tender years, he was blessed with a mature bass- baritone voice, and he was recruited by Bryan Michie, who ran talent shows. In this instance, the ploy was to have the audience hear a typical basso song, rendered behind the curtain, only to discover that the singer was in fact, a teenager.

Gower acquitted himself with distinction at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He then found his way to the Players' Theatre, the ebullient home of Victorian music hall where he was cast in a scena, a melange of words and music, called Calcutta in the Morning, an evocation of India and the Raj.

His appearance and splendid voice registered with managements and agents, and Gower found himself in his first West End musical, called Listen to the Wind (Arts Theatre, 1955). He then joined the Fol-de-Rols concert party, one of the biggest summer shows in Britain.

Later, in 1964, Gower was cast for the lead in The Wayward Way (based on W.H.S. Smith's Victorian melodrama The Drunkard), at the Vaudeville Theatre. This gave him a splendid canvas as he always eschewed burlesque, but brought a subtle hint of emphasis, worthy of a skilled etcher. Other shows included Zuleika (Saville, 1957), a long tour in the late Eighties of Lock Up Your Daughters, another of Half a Sixpence (the British premiere of the Broadway version, 1966), and a visit to the Dublin International Theatre Festival to stage Dearest Dracula (Olympia, 1965), with many impressed by the powerful evocation Gower gave to the vampire count.

An inspiration on the part of Joan Littlewood took Gower into Oh What a Lovely War! (1963), where his dramatic powers and musical skills added considerable lustre to a unique show. He also appeared in the Peter Greenwell "triumvirate" at the Players', in The Three Caskets (1956), based on the crucial scene in the Merchant of Venice.

Gower turned in an elegant performance in Betjemania (1977), based on the writings of the Poet Laureate. That year also found him in a company headed by Marius Goring in a music-hall celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, entitled Jubilee Gaieties.

John Gower was a popular soloist on radio programmes such as Friday Night is Music Night, and he took roles in a number of films, the last as Prince Fuspoli in Evita (1996).

Dominic Le Foe

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