Roger Hammond: Character actor whose Dickensian air was perfect for costume drama

Simon Farquhar

Despite his enormous presence and generous frame, Roger Hammond, a splendid character actor for 50 years, was a god of small things. His mellifluous voice and delicate mannerisms made him a gift to television, often bringing a Dickensian touch to the quacks, clergymen and statesmen that were his speciality.

Hammond always resisted the hamminess that can come with physical magnitude; indeed, it was his lack of greed as an actor that made him so cherished by his peers. It is a sweet irony that as a child he found that the way to overcome a crippling stammer was by pretending to be someone else: that led him into a 50-year career, the final performance of which was as the doctor who fails to cure the King of that same impediment in the mighty The King's Speech (2010).

Born John Roger Hammond in Stockport, the son of a managing director in the cotton industry, he was educated at King's Drive prep school and Stockport Grammar before winning a place to board at Bryanston School in Dorset. He was successfully scholastically but put most of his energy into school plays, and was given an early break by Cicely Matthews on BBC Children's Hour in the "I Want to be an Actor" slot. After leaving school he was given a summer job at the Library Theatre in Manchester by one of the most insightful talent spotters of the age, David Scuse, a fierce but brilliant artistic director who also helped launch the careers of Leonard Rossiter and Anthony Hopkins.

While reading English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he joined the Marlowe Society and fell in with a glorious company that included Derek Jacobi and Trevor Nunn. The company was doing stunning work at this time, partly in rebellion at the fact that there was no drama department at the University. (FR Leavis detested actors' interpretations of Shakespearean roles, preferring to read them than have them staged.) Under the supervision of George "Dadie" Rylands the little company soared breathlessly through a vast roster of plays, and was commissioned by the British Council to record the complete canon of Shakespeare, augmented by visiting luminaries such as Gielgud and Ashcroft.

From these heights Hammond went to Rada, where he shared a flat with his Marlowe Society friend, Ian McKellen. Another fellow student, Martin Jarvis, warmly remembers "summer lunchtimes soaking up the sun on the roof of Roger's King's Road flat". This was an exciting time to be a young actor with good prospects.

Hammond was a great children's entertainer, and indeed his London debut, after a spell in repertory in Suffolk, was at the Unicorn Theatre Club in 1963, a theatre which specialised in pantomime and plays for young audiences. Later he would delight children on screen with roles for the Children's Film Foundation and in series such as Catweazle and Doctor Who, and as Father Christmas, in Tom's Christmas Tree (2006). Later stage credits include originating the role of Sir George Baker in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III at the Lyttleton Theatre in 1991, a part he reprised for the 1993 film, and Donado in Alan Ayckbourn's production of 'Tis Pity She's A Whore at the Olivier in 1988.

Television cottoned on to him fast, and he could always be relied upon for idiosyncratic support in popular shows of the day from The Avengers (1967) to Softly Softly (1969). Blessed with an air of a figure from some bygone age made him particularly busy in costume drama: a chivalrous Prince of Wales in The Duchess of Duke Street (1976), Sir Harold Nicholson in Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978) and Sir Ronald Braithwaite in The Glittering Prizes (1976) among others.

He made good use of that Dickensian tint in an excellent Little Dorrit for the BBC in 1988 and was a splendid Jabez Wilson in Granada's dramatisation of The Red-Headed League for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1984, note-perfect as a kindly, mild-mannered pawnbroker who pours his bizarre tale out to Holmes and Watson only for them to laugh their heads off. In a slimier vein, he was a deliciously decadent Chief Augur in Rome (2005), and even turned up as one of the most odious villains ever to trouble Minder (1984), an agoraphobic and sadistic bookmaker who gets his come-uppance when forced to collect his debts in the middle of a football pitch.

His finest hour on television was as Waffles in "Uncle Vanya", recorded for the BBC2 Performance strand in 1991. Hammond brought genuine pathos and gentle humour to his portrayal of the terminally decent man who has remained faithful to his wife ever since she jilted him on their wedding day. On the big screen appeared alongside Steve Coogan in Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Scarlett Johansson in A Good Woman (2004), and McKellen and Robert Downey Jr in Richard Loncraine's Richard III (1995).

He was also forever popping up by surprise in comedy shows, from Drop the Dead Donkey (1995), where he stole the final episode with a single line, to One Foot in the Grave (1990), in which he sat in an eye-clinic waiting room squinting grotesquely and responding with impeccable timing to the line "Susan's gone into hospital with a woman's problem" with "My brother suffers with that."

Leaving behind a delightful gallery of performances, Hammond exemplified the best qualities of a character actor: never a star, but always twinkling.

John Roger Hammond, actor: born Stockport 21 March 1936, married Helen Weir 1968 (divorced 1975; one son) died London 8 November 2012.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?