Obituary: Brian Glover

Bluff and bald Brian Glover, who made his acting debut as the ebullient games master in Kes, was one of Britain's most distinctive and popular character actors. His chunky frame was familiar from countless television appearances as well as film and stage work, while his homely Yorkshire tones were heard as voice-overs in television commercials, notably his assurances that "Tetley make tea bags make tea", and that Allison's bread has "nowt taken out".

So popular did the latter catchphrase become that when Glover starred in a West End revival of The Canterbury Tales a few years ago it was advertised as "Chaucer with nowt taken out".

Glover was born in Sheffield in 1934, but raised in Barnsley. His parents did not marry until he was 20. "I was in the gym in Barnsley one day and me dad came in and said, `Me and your mother made it all right today', and I said `About bloody time!' " His father was a wrestler who called himself the Red Devil ("I don't know what the neighbours thought when me mum used to hang out his masks on the clothes line"), and his mother ran a small grocer's shop.

With his stocky frame, it was inevitable that Glover too would become a wrestler, eventually topping bills under the name of Leon Aris. Prompted by his mother to get a good education, he attended Sheffield University and became a teacher of French and English in Barnsley, where a fellow teacher was Barry Hines, the author of Kes.

In 1968, when the film was in preparation, Hines suggested that the director Ken Loach consider Glover for the role of the bullying games master Sugden. "Ken Loach was improvising a fight with a load of kids, and he asked me to stop it like a teacher would," recounted Glover. "Well, I'd stopped a good few playground fights, and I had the confidence of being in the ring all those years, so I just grabbed the two kids who were fighting and banged their heads together."

Though both the film and Glover's performance in it were successful, he returned to teaching for two years until the entrepreneur Binkie Beaumont saw Kes while casting Terence Rattigan's play about Nelson, Bequest to the Nation, and thought Glover right for the role of Hardy. The actor wickedly commented later, "Binkie used to take me to the Ivy - I must have been his rough trade or something."

Glover's acting career continued to flourish with roles at the Royal Court (including two David Storey plays directed by Lindsay Anderson, The Changing Room, 1971, and Life Class, 1974), and with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Charles the Wrestler in As You Like It. Anderson cast him in his epic allegorical film O Lucky Man! (1973) and as Sergeant Match in his stage production of Orton's What the Butler Saw (1975).

Prolific work with the National Theatre included roles in The Long Voyage Home, The Iceman Cometh (both 1979), Don Quixote (1982) and Saint Joan (1983), while other films included Brannigan (1975), The Great Train Robbery (1979), Company of Wolves (1984), Aliens 3 (1991) and Leon the Pig Farmer (1992).

The advertising industry, which grades voices by colour, had Glover's as a robust, no-nonsense dark brown, and it was in demand for commercials, including his famous ones for bread and tea. His dozens of acting roles on television included a Doctor Who adventure in 1984 that proved a source of steady income. "I get more repeat fees for that than anything," he said recently, adding, "The other big success is A Midsummer Night's Dream. Get in a Shakespeare on the telly and the BBC sell it all over the world on video to schools."

Though he played Bottom in this production, and had one of his greatest successes playing a blunt but benign God in The Mysteries (1985), he accepted with good humour that many of his roles would be villainous. "You play to your strengths in this game," he said, "and my strength is as a bald- headed, rough-looking Yorkshireman."

Along with his success as an actor, Glover pursued a writing career which included over 20 television plays and short films, plus a regular column for a Yorkshire paper. A committed socialist, he proved a lively member of the BBC television discussion programme Question Time. A totally unpretentious and down-to-earth personality (he refused to be ferried by limousines even when they were offered), he was enormously liked within the profession.

Though he had an operation for a brain tumour last September, he was back at work two weeks later filming John Godber's Up and Under, in which he plays a Rugby League fan who is mentor to a younger player. "I first met Brian in 1977," said Godber yesterday, "when he was one of the few people to see my first play, Bouncers, on the Edinburgh Fringe. He was kind enough to write me a little note and say he thought I might have something."

Having always wanted to make a film with Glover, Godber created the film role especially for him. "He was a little bit poorly during the shoot," said Godber, "but he never let it get in the way. He was always terrific company."

Brian Glover, actor: born Sheffield 2 April 1934; twice married (one son, one daughter); died London 24 July 1997.

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