Obituary: David Langton

Basil Langton-Dodds (David Langton), actor: born Motherwell 16 April 1912; married Mona Rosemary Copeman (three sons; marriage dissolved 1966), secondly Claire Green (nee Wilson); died Stratford-upon- Avon 25 April 1994.

As the ambitious politician Richard Bellamy, the master of the house in Upstairs, Downstairs, the actor David Langton achieved his ambition of reaching an American television audience. The popular British series about life in Edwardian England was watched avidly by 300 million viewers in 50 countries and won five Emmy Awards in the United States.

Set at 165 Eaton Place, in Belgravia, central London, between 1903 and 1930, the series featured him as a politician who was much helped on the path to success and power by his wife Lady Marjorie Bellamy's money and influence, she being a prime minister's daughter.

What made the programme different from the costume dramas that had long been popular on the small screen was the fact that it showed life below stairs as well as above, with the servants led by Angela Baddeley as the cook Mrs Bridges and Gordon Jackson as the butler Hudson.

The formula was a winner and the series - which started in 1971 and was dreamed up by the actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, both of whose parents had been in domestic service - achieved world-wide screening and many repeats. During its five-year run and 68 episodes, it reflected many historical events of the time, such as the First World War, the suffragette movement, the General Strike, the Wall Street crash, and various political scandals. When the actress Rachel Gurney wanted to leave her role as Lady Marjorie, she was simply written out with the sinking of the Titanic and Richard Bellamy was later married to a Scottish widow, Virginia Hamilton, played by Hannah Gordon.

He was born Basil Langton- Dodds, but changed his professional name because there was another actor called Basil C. Langton. His Scottish mother had returned to her homeland so that he could be born there, although the family returned to England four years later. His father, who had worked for a London wine firm and then lost all his money in an import-export business in Canada, encouraged him to go on the stage, arranging a job for him at the age of 15 with a touring Shakespeare company.

However, Langton subsequently despaired of getting more theatre work and decided to try his hand at writing. To find peace and inspiration, he became a sheep farmer in the Shetland Islands, off the northern tip of Scotland, but this enterprise proved a disaster and after two years he gave it up.

War came and Langton rose to the rank of major in the Royal Artillery, serving in Germany, France, Holland and Belgium, and getting a mention in despatches. After the war, he was more successful in his attempts at carving a career in the theatre and made his West End debut as Jack Bauer in Fifty Five at the Strand Theatre (1946), although acting roles were hard to come by over the next few years and he switched to stage management, for the productions of Jonathan (Aldwych, 1948), Captain Brassbound's Conversion (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1948) and The Lady's Not for Burning (Globe, 1949).

Langton was soon back on stage in front of an audience, but he made headlines of the wrong sort when in 1953, a year after the death of his father, he disappeared during the West End run of Seagulls over Sorrento, in which he played a rough cockney sailor, Able Seaman 'Lofty' Turner, at the Apollo Theatre. Having suffered a nervous breakdown, he was discovered in New York en route to see his businessman brother Donald in

Canada.

With this episode put firmly behind him, Langton went on to appear as Anthony Anderson in The Devil's Disciple (Winter Gardens, 1956), alongside Tyrone Power - who persuaded Langton to appear with him in the film Seven Waves Away (1957) - Gerald Harcourt in A Touch of the Sun (Saville, 1958) and Jim Dougherty in The Pleasure of His Company (Haymarket, 1959).

Although most of his work was in the theatre, Langton appeared in various films, having made his debut as the juvenile lead in a pre-war thriller whose title has long been forgotten. He was later in The Ship that Died of Shame (1955), Saint Joan (1957), A Hard Day's Night (1964), The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Incredible Sarah (1976), Quintet (1979) and, alongside Michael Caine, in The Whistle Blower (1986), which was directed by his son Simon, a successful director of television series such as Smiley's People, Anna Karenina and Mother Love.

Playing to the Bellamy type, Langton subsequently appeared on television as a cabinet minister in Winston Churchill - the wilderness years (1981), Asquith in Number 10 (1983), Lord Mountbatten in the television film Charles & Diana: a royal love story (1982), as well as the award-winning play Lent, Take Three Girls, Clouds of Witness, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Last Video and Testament.

His last West End roles were as David Mathews in Killing Jessica (Savoy Theatre, 1986) and Lionel Hampton in Jeffrey Archer's Beyond Reasonable Doubt (Queen's Theatre, 1987). He also played General Allenby in Ross, the story of Lawrence of Arabia, at the Old Vic (1986). Just six months ago, he moved to Stratford-upon-Avon to live in semi-retirement.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power