Willoughby Goddard: Rotund actor often cast as a baddie

Willoughby Goddard used his rotund figure most effectively in portraying archetypal screen baddies for 40 years. The actor even openly acknowledged himself as "one of the fatties in the business". He will be best remembered by many who grew up during the 1950s and 1960s as Gessler, the villainous Austrian governor who was the Swiss hero's enemy in The Adventures of William Tell (1958-59).

Goddard's carefully measured hamming up of his performance ensured that Landburgher Gessler's humiliation was complete as the crossbow-firing Tell (played by Conrad Phillips) constantly outwitted the evil tyrant in a quest to rid Switzerland of Austrian occupation.

The actor relished playing a character who would stop at nothing to capture and kill his arch-enemy, in one of ITV's earliest children's adventure series, based on the 14th-century story by Johann von Schiller. The blustering Gessler's tactics included using assassins disguised as resistance heroes and trying to turn the Swiss against their outlaw leader by framing him for crimes he had not committed.

Goddard's performance was made the more chilling for the fact that Gessler was clearly modelled on a Hitler-era military governor, in a children's programme that drew parallels between the Austrian occupation of Switzerland 600 years earlier and the Nazis' more recent actions in Europe.

Born in Bicester, Oxfordshire in 1926, Goddard was a keen swimmer as a child and set a record for swimming the Isis. On leaving school, he set his sights on the stage and, with no drama-school training, made his professional début at the Oxford Playhouse as the Steward in Saint Joan (1943), before joining the repertory company at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre.

He first appeared in the West End as Mr Holmes in Jack Roffey's whodunit No Other Verdict at the Duchess Theatre (1954), where he subsequently played Gowing in an adaptation of George and Weedon Grossmith's satire The Diary of a Nobody (1955).

Over the next few years, Goddard made a big reputation for himself. On stage, he played Cardinal Wolsey in the original production of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons (Globe Theatre, 1960), although he did not act in the play on Broadway. He rectified that on being perfectly cast in the role of Mr Bumble when Lionel Bart's musical Oliver! opened in New York (Imperial Theatre, 1963-64). The actor also proved to be a definitive Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, taking the role on tours with Prospect Productions (1968, 1972-74) and with the Royal Shakespeare Company (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1979 and Aldwych Theatre, 1980).

Goddard had already played Mr Bumble in a 13-part BBC serialisation of Oliver Twist (1962) on television, a medium where his face had become familiar in classic serials, as Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre (1956), Mr Creakle in David Copperfield (1956), Mr Rumbold in The History of Mr Polly (1959) and the Rev Mr Chadband in Bleak House. After his role in The Adventures of William Tell, he also appeared in popular action series such as Danger Man (1961), The Avengers (1961, 1969) and The Saint (1969), before becoming a regular in two crime dramas.

He was the civil servant Sir Geoffrey Norton, the only link with the outside world for two criminologists working in – and confined to – a special government department, in The Man in Room 17 (1965-66). Then came a similar role, as Sir Jason Toovey, head of the Department of Public Prosecutions, home to the investigator and title character, in The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder (1969, 1971).

But such was Goddard's range that he was just as adept at comedy – appearing alongside Charlie Drake in the sketch shows Drake's Progress (1957-58) and The Charlie Drake Comedy Hour (1972), as well as an episode of the sitcom The Worker (1970) – and he played the art thief Tun-Ju in a story in the children's fantasy series Ace of Wands (1970).

His last regular screen role was in Porterhouse Blue (1987), Channel 4's award-winning adaptation of Tom Sharpe's satire about an archaic Cambridge University college, in which he played Professor Siblington, memorably seen gazing up at inflated condoms floating among the spires. He revived one of his greatest performances, as Cardinal Wolsey, for his last television appearance, in God's Outlaw (a historical drama about William Tyndale, 1988).

Many of his other character roles were as judges, doctors and clergymen. Similarly, in the cinema he was cast as a squire in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and an innkeeper in Joseph Andrews (1976), two of his rare film appearances.

Anthony Hayward

Willoughby Wittenham Rees Goddard, actor: born Bicester, Oxfordshire 4 July 1926; married 1950 Ann Phillips (one son); died 11 April 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there