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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Business Development B2B - Year 1 OTE £25,000

£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Several opportunities to join t...

Recruitment Genius: Systems Administrator

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a small, busy team s...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Field Engineer

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT Support c...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works