Obituary: Godfrey Kenton

GODFREY KENTON made his last appearance on the stage in Stairway to Heaven, a musical play, at the King's Head Theatre in Islington, on 21 November 1994, at the age of 92. His debut had been made at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, on 15 May 1922, so that this stalwart of the British stage contributed to it an astonishing 72 years of service. It was appropriate that his final appearance was as a messenger of God, because all his life he was blessed with one of the finest and most distinctive voices of his time.

Originally intended for a career in the Church, he duly studied for at theological college. However, the lure of the theatre was too strong and I doubt that he ever regretted his decision. Despite a career that had as many lows as highs in it, he must have been outstandingly handsome in his youth, for he maintained his good looks almost to the end of his life - at the age of nearly 90, he was still in fine fettle and looked at least 25 years younger.

After a period of study at Rada, and the usual round of smaller parts, he joined Lena Ashwell's company for two years as leading juvenile. He was with the Stratford-upon-Avon Festival company for two seasons in 1925 and 1926 playing second juvenile leads - these were still the days when actors were engaged to play a recognised "line" of parts, so that, if As You Like It was in the repertory, you knew that, as second juvenile, you would be playing Silvius and not Orlando.

Shakespeare, in fact, became the central passion of Kenton's professional life, and it would seem from his listings in Who's Who in the Theatre that he rarely turned down an opportunity to appear in any of the plays. It is worth noting that to have a specific career as a Shakespearean actor is not an option in the English theatre of the 1990s.

He appeared at the Old Vic in 1930 as Malcolm to John Gielgud's Macbeth and as Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor. He was Orsini in Twelfth Night at the gala opening of the rebuilt Sadler's Wells, and was therefore the first actor to speak in the new theatre. But, only two years later, the insecurities of the actor's life forced him to accept the small part of Poins in Henry IV part I with George Robey as Falstaff, at His Majesty's. In between these London appearances, he did seasons with the Birmingham and Northampton repertory companies and two Malvern Festivals, where the new plays of George Bernard Shaw were tried out. He appeared in the world premiere of Shaw's The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles and as Tom Wrench in Arthur Pinero's Trelawny of the "Wells".

A notable appearance was in the premiere of Rodney Ackland's fine play After October in 1936, but it was the 1937 Stratford season that brought him to real prominence - his parts included Oberon, Edgar to Randle Ayrton's Lear, and Laertes to the Hamlet of his contemporary Donald Wolfit, who was also playing Kent in King Lear. This became, after the Second World War, Wolfit's most admired role, and Kenton always maintained that many very touching details and general "business" were copied by Wolfit from Ayrton's great performance. Never mind, the point is Wolfit most certainly made them all his own. Kenton was in a particularly good position to judge this, as he later played Edmund to Wolfit's own King Lear.

Two months after the war started in 1939, Kenton played Brutus in a well- received modern dress production of Julius Caesar at the Embassy and His Majesty's. The Stratford season of 1940 saw him as Romeo, Mark Antony and Orsino, after which he joined the BBC for the duration of the war. He joined the Donald Wolfit Shakespeare company as the war was ending and toured all over the country.

Even Wolfit's sympathetic biographer, Ronald Harwood, likened the atmosphere in the company to that of a concentration camp, but, according to Kenton, he was more or less left to get on with it, and he soon accustomed himself to the Stygian gloom allotted to the supporting company by the actor-manager. It was, at least, Shakespeare.

He much enjoyed a trip to New York to appear with Robert Morley in Edward, My Son in 1948 - this was his second visit as he had made his debut on Broadway in 1938, as Alan, the sensitive son, in J.B. Priestley's Time and the Conways. Shortly after his return, he joined the BBC Drama Repertory Company, and devoted much of the latter part of his career to broadcasting - he was still appearing occasionally in radio plays well into his nineties.

He was on the "Rep" for three two-year periods, plus three years with the BBC Schools "Rep". He also did a great deal of freelance broadcasting between his periods of full employment, and returned to the theatre whenever opportunities allowed. He played Solanio in The Merchant of Venice at the Haymarket in 1967 with Ralph Richardson, always one of his favourite actors, as Shylock.

But it was his voice that became his fortune, and he must have appeared in literally hundreds of radio plays. It was a beautiful voice with a very distinctive gravity in its tone, and his use of it was masterly. I don't believe that I ever heard (or saw) him give an unconsidered or undistinguished performance. He took his work far too seriously for that.

Godfrey Kenton was, in truth, a model professional actor. I can think of no higher praise.

Godfrey William Kenton, actor: born London 13 April 1902; married first Vivienne Bennett (marriage dissolved), second Mary Whitfield (two sons; marriage dissolved), third Ann Broadhurst (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved); died London 27 April 1998.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor