Obitaury: Michael Ward
Tuesday 11 November 1997
Michael Ward belonged to that clutch of character actors whose services were in such demand during the heyday of the British film industry that they seemed to appear in every post-war movie. A master of cameo acting, Ward made his name in small parts throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in such films as Tom Brown's Schooldays, The Love Lottery and Doctor in Love.
Whether cast as an industrious barman or petulant shop assistant, his unique acting style afforded an air of upper-class nervousness. With light fuzzy hair, aquiline nose and always immaculately attired, he was a distinctive thespian whose haughty tones were well-suited to the fretful and solicitous characters for which he became renowned.
His more substantial film contributions included appearances as Maurice, an effeminate uncle in Norman Wisdom's seventh film Up in the World (1956), and as the supercilious Gerald in Hammer's What the Butler Saw (1950). For his performance as Elvin, an ornithologist, in Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948), a fine remake of the 1930s classic Rome Express, Ward received glowing reviews. A trade paper commented: "the actor deserving most praise is Michael Ward who gives us a delightful characterisation of a lecturer on English birds."
He was born George Everard Yeo Ward. His father was a parish vicar which meant that the family moved around the Cornish peninsula, including spells at Falmouth; Hessenford, near St Germans; St Agnus and Marazion. As an only child, Ward admitted to leading a lonely childhood, missing the companionship of brothers and sisters.
He showed an early predilection for the piano and while attending Mannamead Junior School, within Plymouth College, received extra tuition from the housemaster's wife, an accomplished musician. Although he never pursued his early ambition to become a concert pianist, he became a proficient player and wrote his own material. Later he attended the Central School of Speech and Drama, after a brief stint as a teacher.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he had already made several stage appearances since graduating, and was living near Luton. After serving two years with the Army he was invalided out through illness in 1942, finishing the war years helping the emergency services around Luton.
He returned to the stage in 1945, playing Beverly Carlton in The Man Who Came to Dinner, followed a year later by an appearance in Gay Pavilion, as the shy footman, and understudying Vic Oliver in The Night and the Music.
Ward made his film debut in 1947 as a French valet in The First Gentleman, a study of the Prince Regent's reign after the Napoleonic wars. The picture marked the beginning of a busy film career that contained appearances in five Norman Wisdom movies and five Carry Ons, including the part of Archimedes in Carry On Cleo (1964); he was also employed by the Boulting Brothers in several productions. His last film was Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), playing a real estate agent.
On television, he gave a fine performance as Adrian, Eric and Ernie's neighbour in the Morecambe and Wise Show. There was the role of Penfold in Crossroads (1976) and appearances in many other top shows, including Hancock's Half Hour, The Two Ronnies, Steptoe And Son, The New Avengers and Rising Damp, as a Labour candidate.
During a career spanning nearly three decades, Ward worked with many of the profession's top names on both sides of the Atlantic. Acting remained the mainstay of his working life, but for a spell during the 1950s he studied statistics in the evenings, enabling him to work occasionally for a large American pharmaceutical company when acting jobs were scarce.
Ill health forced his retirement from acting in 1980, but repeats of many of his films continued to generate fan mail. In 1990, he was offered a part as a cardinal for the American film Eminence. Sadly, illness prevented him from accepting it.
Although during the years before his death Ward was bedridden, he always retained a lively sense of humour. From 1989 until his death, he was cared for by his close friend James Hogg.
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