Ricardo Montez: Actor and writer best known for playing Juan Cervantes in 'Mind Your Language'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Meeting Frankie Vaughan on a film set in his native Gibraltar led the actor Ricardo Montez to Britain and a long screen career, usually as the archetypal Spaniard in bit parts, although television viewers saw him in a longer run as Juan Cervantes in Mind Your Language. Playing the exiled Spanish bartender in that sitcom, Montez was memorable for his thick, brown hair and Zapata moustache.

Although Michael Grade – then deputy controller of entertainment at LWT, the ITV company that produced Mind Your Language (1977-79, 1986) – said the programme perpetuated foreigner stereotypes and eventually axed it, Montez threw himself enthusiastically into the role of Juan, in a class of mature students seeking to improve their English with a teacher played by Barry Evans.

The actor portrayed Juan as supremely over-confident, ensuring that the predictable jokes – based on his character's ignorance of the language – hit home. The phrase "por favor" frequently cropped up in his lines, as well as the assurance "itssoorright".

However, the lowbrow humour did no harm to Montez's career and he continued popping up regularly on television until the mid-1980s. Although seen little since then, he acted a Greek local, alongside Meryl Streep, in the 2008 film Mamma Mia!, based on the stage musical featuring the songs of Abba. By then, the hair and moustache were almost white.

Montez was born Levy Attias in Gibraltar in 1923. His Jewish parents ran a laundry and dry-cleaning business, and part-owned the Gibraltar Theatre Royal. Attias attended the Talmud Torah Hebrew school and then, during the Second World War, was evacuated with his family to Britain, living in Wembley, Middlesex. On their return home, Attias worked in the laundry, served in the Gibraltar Defence Force and took jobs as an extra in films shot on the island.

While appearing in the 1958 British picture Wonderful Things!, about a fisherman moving to London after struggling to make a living off the coast of Gibraltar, its star, Frankie Vaughan, advised Attias to do the same. Four years later, he tried his luck, complete with a new professional name.

He had been acting as Don Levy but, with another actor of that name in Britain, he became Richard (later Ricardo) Montez. He quickly found work, appearing in the film The Pirates of Blood River (1962), starring Kerwin Mathews and Christopher Lee, and an episode of the television crime series Man of the World (1962).

Whereas in the 1960s Montez acted mostly in television dramas such as The Saint (1962-69, seven different roles) and The Avengers (1967), the following decade saw him cast in sitcoms. In Doctor at Sea (1974), he played a bartender in an episode set on a Spanish island. He was also seen as a Spanish doctor in several episodes of Don't Drink the Water (1974-75), starring Stephen Lewis as Cyril Blake, the miserable inspector from On the Buses who was transplanted to a retirement flat in Spain. Returning to drama, Montez acted Father Sanchez in Sharpe's Honour (1994) and took two roles in Casualty (2001, 2002).

The thick, "foreign" accent heusually used on screen bore littlerelation to his own soft, Gibraltarian tones. The actor also found success behind the camera when, in 1971,he wrote 13 episodes of the popular, long-running children's adventure series Freewheelers.

In later years, Montez was still in demand for television commercials – some of them in Malta – but bemoaned the state of sitcoms. "I don't really like the British series which are being produced today," he said in 2010. "I do watch the American comedies Cheers, Friends and Frasier. There are a few good British ones, such as The Royle Family."

Montez continued to visit Gibraltar twice a year. He died of cancer at his daughter Clara's home in Marbella and is survived by her and his wife, Orovida.

Levy Isaac Attias (Ricardo Montez), actor and writer: born Gibraltar 21 September 1923; married 1953 Orovida Hatchwell (one daughter); died Marbella 26 October 2010.

Comments