Obituary: Arthur Howard

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The Independent Online
Nearly 20 years younger than his famous actor brother Leslie Howard, the character actor Arthur Howard made his greatest success on television when he played the role of the deputy headmaster Pettigrew to Jimmy Edwards's deviously incompetent head in Whack-O! in the late 1950s.

For many years Howard had brightened the cinema screen with a series of cameos (often uncredited), specialising in nervously officious, often somewhat prissy teachers, vicars or "men from the ministry". Though a distinct family resemblance was apparent, he lacked the finely chiselled features that made a matinee idol of his brother, and leading men of his nephew Ronald and his son Alan.

Born Arthur Stainer in 1910, he made his screen debut in one of his brother's films, The Lady is Willing (1933), the first film to be made by Columbia's British studio but, despite a script by Guy Bolton, a lugubrious failure. He did not make another film until 1947, when his role as a town hall clerk issuing ration books and identity cards in Frieda started a long and active period as a supporting player, contributing telling cameos to some of the best comedies of the era including The Man in the White Suit (1951), Laughter in Paradise (1952) and The Belles of St Trinian's (1954).

In Henry Cornelius's classic Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico (1949) he was a councillor in favour of selling wasteland to prospectors rather than accept Stanley Holloway's plans for a playground, and in Frank Launder's hilarious The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), in which a girls' school is erroneously billeted with a boys', he was the distracted science master barely aware of the chaos being generated around him. He was a butler in both David Lean's The Passionate Friends (1948) and Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) and in Sidney Gilliat's atmospheric story of life in a London boarding house London Belongs to Me (1948) he was the head of the "South London Psychical Society", offering lobster-paste sandwiches to members before a seance. In Lewis Gilbert's Cosh Boy (1952), controversial in its day for its depiction of juvenile crime, he was the registrar who marries the delinquent's widowed mother to the man who brings discipline to the boy's life.

Whack-O!, which started on radio before achieving its legendary run on television (1956-60), made him a household name as the none-too-bright assistant to Edwards's conniving and often inebriated headmaster. Written by Frank Muir and Dennis Norden, the series became a feature film, Bottoms Up!, in 1960 with Howard in his original role, though when the series was revived on television in 1971 Julian Orchard played Pettigrew.

Other television appearances included guest spots on George and Mildred, Robin's Nest, Ever Decreasing Circles, Happy Ever After, Never the Twain, The Eric Sykes Show and, as Professor Plum, the children's series Plum's Pots and Pans.

Howard played in a season of Crossroads, in 1984, and appeared last year in "The Last Englishman", an episode of Heroes and Villains. His stage work included classics (the Duke of York in Richard II at the Ludlow Festival: Love for Love at the Bristol Old Vic, the Earl of Caversham in An Ideal Husband at Greenwich) and modern farce (several years in No Sex, Please, We're British). His later films included Moonraker (1979) and Another Country (1984); his last screen appearance was in Tristram Powell's American Friends (1990).

Tom Vallance

Arthur Stainer (Arthur Howard), actor: born London 18 January 1910; died 17 June 1995.

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