Russian-born actor who played Russians in spy films and Colonel von Strohm in ''Allo 'Allo'
Monday 22 March 2004
The role of the bumbling but friendly German officer Colonel von Strohm throughout all nine series of
'Allo 'Allo made the face of Richard Marner known not just across Britain, but all over the world. In the manner of the very British "Carry On" films and Whitehall Theatre farces, the BBC sitcom - set in German-occupied France during the Second World War - relied on an ensemble cast, innuendo and
Alexander Molchanoff (Richard Marner), actor: born Petrograd, Soviet Union 27 March 1921; married (one daughter); died Perth 18 March 2004.
The role of the bumbling but friendly German officer Colonel von Strohm throughout all nine series of 'Allo 'Allo made the face of Richard Marner known not just across Britain, but all over the world. In the manner of the very British "Carry On" films and Whitehall Theatre farces, the BBC sitcom - set in German-occupied France during the Second World War - relied on an ensemble cast, innuendo and double entendre.
The comedy, a spoof of the television drama series Secret Army, was set around a café owned by René Artois (the actor Gorden Kaye) that became the centre of the Resistance's attempts to repatriate two British airmen.
Marner played the balding Kurt von Strohm in all nine series of 'Allo 'Allo (1984-92) and typified the portrayal of the Germans as bumbling and inefficient. Alongside them, the French were seen as greedy and sex-obsessed, and the British as upper-class twits. These stereotypes, created by the writers Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, attracted television audiences of up to 17 million.
As the colonel in charge of the German troops who commandeered the fictional French village of Nouvion, Marner often found himself at the centre of farce. With his clumsy assistant, Captain Hans Geering (Sam Kelly), he set about confiscating anything of value, including "The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies", a work of art that was sought by a Gestapo officer, Herr Flick (Richard Gibson, later David Janson), to present to Hitler back in Germany.
Von Strohm and Geering's other antics included disguising themselves as onion sellers and trees at different times, faking the collaborator René's death by firing squad and being kidnapped by the Communist Resistance.
Once, when ordered by a German general to seduce René's hatchet-faced wife, Edith, to learn more about Resistance activities, the colonel delegated the task to his subordinate. The pair's plot, with the Resistance, to murder the general included plans such as "the dart in the heart", "the drug in the jug", "the candle with the handle" and "the gâteau from the château".
This music-hall humour seemed a long way from Marner's own roots in another conflict. Born Alexander Molchanoff in the Russian city of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) in 1921, he moved to England as a small child via Finland and Germany when his parents fled the turmoil that followed the Russian Revolution. In London, they joined his great-grandmother Olga Novikoff, who had been a friend of the British prime minister William Gladstone and was known as "the MP for Russia" because of the Thursday-afternoon tea parties she organised in an attempt to forge goodwill between the two countries.
On leaving school, Molchanoff worked as the Russian tenor and opera impresario Vladimir Rosing's personal assistant at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Then, after being invalided out of the RAF, he decided on a career in acting, changed his professional name to Richard Marner and gained experience in touring productions sponsored by the Arts Council. (His friends continued to call him Sacha, the Russian nickname for Alexander.)
Many critics considered Marner's to be the definitive performance of Dracula in the play of the same name. He made his West End début in Rainbow Square (Stoll Theatre) and also acted in The Love of Four Colonels, writen by Peter Ustinov and set in post-war occupied Berlin.
Film roles eventually came his way and he often found himself playing Germans, from his screen début in Appointment with Venus (1951) to Ice Cold in Alex (1958) and A Circle of Deception (1960). Alongside Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the First World War love story The African Queen (1951), he acted an officer at the fort in Shona where Germans shot at the riverboat of the title, which survived minor damage before careering over a waterfall later. He subsequently portrayed an East German captain in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), starring Richard Burton in the film version of John le Carré's novel.
Following his part as a Russian general in the Michael Pertwee-written comedy The Mouse on the Moon (starring Margaret Rutherford and Ron Moody, 1963), Marner was more frequently cast as Russians, in pictures such as You Only Live Twice (featuring Sean Connery as James Bond, 1967) and on television in the writer Dennis Potter's "Play for Today" spy drama Traitor (1971).
More recently, he acted President Zorkin of Russia, who dies suddenly, in the American-German film The Sum of All Fears (2002), which starred Ben Affleck as a CIA agent who has special knowledge of the president's little-known replacement and races to prevent the start of the Third World War.
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