Richard Carpenter: Actor and writer famed for 'Catweazle'and 'The Ghosts of Motley Hall'

When chided by Mary Whitehouse, he said to her, ‘I’m a professional writer –and you’re a professional what?’

In any list of the finest children's writers of the late 20th century, Richard Carpenter deserves to be included, and if it wasn't for the lingering prejudice against television as a medium the equal of literature and film, this would undoubtedly be the case. He was forever romantic without sentimentality, melancholic yet optimistic, mystical yet believable; his love of the English landscape and fascination with its folklore enchanted much of his work. A childlike sense of wonder without a hint of childishness made him for 20 years the master of that most tricky of genres: family drama.

Richard "Kip" Carpenter was born in King's Lynn in 1929, and enjoyed a country childhood reading "Shakespeare, Greek myths and The Beano" before training as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic. From there he bounced around the reps and cropped up in films such as The Password is Courage (1962), alongside Dirk Bogarde, but it was television that provided both regular work and an excellent pupillage in writing convincing dialogue.

He appeared in everything from Hancock to The Wednesday Play, clocked up four different roles in Dixon of Dock Green and was one of the team of private detectives in Knight Errant (1959-61), a zany hokum which foreshadowed The Avengers and which promised its clients "quests undertaken, dragons defeated, damsels rescued!"

By the late 1960s, after a year in the West End production of Wait Until Dark, he was bored of acting. Then a weekend in the country changed his life forever. Driving back from his brother-in-law's turkey farm Carpenter decided to take the scenic route and ended up lost. He pulled over to consult a map and noticed on an old gatepost the word "Catweazle". The baffling name played on his mind, and when he later saw Hieronymous Bosch's painting The Crowning of Thorns, the wizardly old man with the pointy white beard on the bottom left of the picture chimed with the name.

Carpenter submitted an idea for a series about a medieval magus catapulted into the modern world who naturally sees all modern technology as masterly magic. With a tumultuous performance by Geoffrey Bayldon, electricity became "elec-trickery", a light bulb "the sun in a bottle" and the telephone "a telling bone", and the series, first broadcast in 1970, became one of the newly formed London Weekend Television's greatest successes and won Carpenter a Writer's Guild Award.

He then wrote and presented the BBC schools drama The Boy From Space (1971), before expressing his passion for the English landscape in more classical hues with LWT's sumptuous The Adventures of Black Beauty (1972).Perfect Sunday-afternoon entertainment, Carpenter's scripts were gutsy, rustic adventures enjoying guestperformances from the likes of John Thaw and majestic direction from old pros of the British film industry such as Charles Crichton.

It was another eccentric happening that gave Carpenter his next project. Thinking he had glimpsed a ghost, he was amused rather than alarmed by the experience, and so when Granada asked him to devise a Sunday-afternoon series with only one set, The Ghosts of Motley Hall (1976-78) were evoked. Based inside an abandoned country house where five spectres from different eras of the family's reign pass eternity bickering, reminiscing and sabotaging the plans of any potential buyers who come their way, the series was masterly comedy with a genuine tinge of pathos, and featured uproarious turns from a spirited cast that included Freddie Jones, Arthur English and Nicholas le Prevost.

The romantic Dick Turpin (1979) was another hit for LWT, and an overture to Carpenter's magnum opus, Robin of Sherwood (1983-86), a true television success story that reinvented the legend for modern audiences as one of brutal Normans, Thatcherite politicians and defiant rebels unafraid to die fighting for the land they love.

Carpenter added sorcery and paganism to an already heady brew, and the series won hearts, its images of sunlight, Gothic horror and heroism brilliantly brought to life by passionate scripts and a strong cast including Ray Winstone as a psychotic Will Scarlet and Judi Trott as a Pre-Raphaelite but liberated Marian. Robin of Sherwood's only critic, it seemed, was Mary Whitehouse, who objected to the relentless slaughter and blasphemous religious elements, but was deftly silenced by Carpenter in public when he introduced himself to her and the audience by saying "I'm Richard Carpenter, and I'm a professional writer. And you're a professional... what?"

Even in the exasperatingly managerial television landscape of later years Carpenter still triumphed with the Bafta-winning The Borrowers (1992) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1998) starring Richard E Grant. In person Carpenter was charming and twinkle-eyed, a born storyteller with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of a grandfather. He is survived by his wife, the actress Annabelle Lee, and their children, Tom and Harriet.

Richard Carpenter, actor, writer and producer: born King's Lynn 14 August 1929; married Annabelle Lee (one son, one daughter); died 26 February 2012.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup