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)

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

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on