Philip Stone

Quirky actor with the ability to suggest the unsettling mysteries behind the quotidian
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The Independent Online

Philip Stones (Philip Stone), actor: born Leeds 14 April 1924; married Margaret Pickard (died 1984; one son, one daughter); died London 15 June 2003.

With his pale, transfixing eyes, unusually potent stillness on the stage and a resonant, slightly yeasty voice, Philip Stone had something of Sir Ralph Richardson's ability to suggest the unsettling mysteries behind the quotidian. Indeed, two of his finest outings in the theatre were in roles previously inhabited by Richardson - the enigmatic Inspector Goole in J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls and the Father at the centre of the spectral family of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Stone's theatrical leanings were cradled in his family background. He was born Philip Stones (he did not use the final "s" in his acting career) into a teaching family - his father was a schoolmaster and his grandfather one of 14 children, all of whom, extraordinarily, became teachers, also forming a family amateur concert party as the Musical Stones. Educated in his native Leeds, Philip Stones left school early (at 14) to begin work with the local engineering firm of Jonas Woodhead.

Called up in 1943, Stones served in the RAF until his demobilisation at the end of the Second World War. Prior to his wartime service, he had attended some classes at the Leeds College of Music and Drama, which had fired his theatrical ambitions, and by 1947 he had broken into the professional theatre in London, cast in a good supporting role in James Bridie's The Sleeping Clergyman (Criterion, 1947). A serious case of TB forced him to abandon the theatre, however, just as his career was taking off and after lengthy treatment he returned to Jonas Woodhead in Leeds.

Acting and directing for the local amateur companies thriving in Leeds then finally convinced him to leave the security of his job and return to the theatre. He worked for various repertory companies in a remarkable range of roles before moving to London in 1960.

With commercial television contributing to the 1960s boom in television drama, Stone found himself in considerable demand, often as tough-minded authority figures. Perhaps his best opportunity of that time was the ITV series The Rat Catchers, a hard-edged, gritty scrutiny of the often murky world of espionage. His performance as the steely leader of a trio of spies working for the Western Alliance was a fine piece of unshowy, economical television acting.

On stage, Stone appeared in several key productions for the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, most memorably with a strong, truthful performance for Lindsay Anderson, a director he particularly admired, in David Storey's The Contractor (Royal Court, 1969). He was in mesmeric form in a fine production by Bernard Miles of An Inspector Calls (Mermaid, 1973); dressed in a drably anonymous raincoat and asking the Inspector's early questions with apparently polite benignity, slowly he established the nimbus of the other-worldly around the character and, in Goole's great, angry prophecy of the consequences of an uncaring society, his embodiment of Priestley's fierce social conscience. The evening was not, of course, the kind of astonishing deconstruction of Stephen Daldry's National Theatre production, but many would claim that Stone's performance was in no sense inferior to anything in the later, more acclaimed version.

Back at the Royal Court, he was sublimely funny - in a performance of the most deadpan gravitas - as a music-mad commandant on the run disguised variously as a bird and a large banana in John Antrobus's beguilingly dotty Mrs Grabowski's Academy (Theatre Upstairs, 1975). He stayed on in Sloane Square to play a first-rate Truscott, the sinister derangement finely balanced with the lunatic comedy, in Albert Finney's revival of Joe Orton's Loot (Royal Court, 1975).

One of his rare classical excursions was at the Young Vic in a distinctly over-decorated Troilus and Cressida (1976), with few performances - out of them Stone's - strong enough to survive the overkill. He was a powerfully splenetic, leprous figure in the difficult part of Thersites. He was also eerily effective, and moving, in his favourite Pirandello's Six Characters (Greenwich, 1979).

Later theatre work rarely offered him challenging material, although he illuminated with spry cynicism the supporting role of Bela, the critic-friend of the acting couple (Diana Rigg and Richard Johnson) in Molnar's The Guardsman (National Theatre, 1983). His forensic irony also helped enliven an arthritic piece of royal doings based on a musty scandal involving Edward VII, when he played Sir Charles Russell in The Royal Baccarat Scandal (Chichester and Haymarket, 1989).

Stone's major film appearances came when Stanley Kubrick, who had seen The Contractor, cast him in A Clockwork Orange (1971) as the father of Alex (Malcolm McDowell). Kubrick always took to slightly quirky actors such as Stone and Leonard Rossiter, both of whom appeared in the gorgeous-looking but hollow Barry Lyndon (1975), while Stone also made an effective if brief appearance in The Shining (1980). More recently, he worked for Peter Greenaway, playing the Bishop in The Baby of Mâcon (1993).

Alan Strachan

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