Obituary: David Waller
Friday 14 February 1997
He was born in Street in Somerset in 1920, the son of an architect who had been forced through ill-health to live a country life and, accordingly, became a market gardener. Waller went to a Quaker school in Yorkshire before training at the Embassy School of Acting, in London, in 1937-38. His early professional life took him to the Old Vic Theatre, interspersed with engagements with various (mostly long-departed) repertory companies, including, in 1955, the Ipswich Arts Theatre Company.
I was 15 when this new leading actor came to town. In truth, I had something of an entree to the stage door of the intimate Ipswich Theatre because, only a little more than a year before, I had played a role there, which had been an ambition-shaping experience. So I felt like a partisan and possessive football supporter doubtfully weighing up the club's new signing.
Waller was fleshy and powerful, a centre-half not a centre-forward. But he took risks, he transformed himself and he made texts come alive. His crew-cut, brutal, sergeant-of-the-line Iago wasn't Shakespeare recited, or spoken, or sung - it was Shakespeare lived, inhabited and transformed. And so I became his most passionate fan.
He was kindly and interested when submitting to my stage-door conversations and I was devastated when he told me that, though he hated the nomadic actor's life, he was moving on to previously grazed pastures at the Old Vic. Around this time, he experimented with directing and writing, and played small roles in the West End.
When, a number of years later, in 1963, I was asked to direct my first professional production at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry and I needed to cast the leading role of a dominating Welsh patriarch (very unsentimental, very funny), I proposed Waller and was stupefied to be told that he had left the theatre business altogether and was intending to run a travel agency.
After some pleading telephone calls, he agreed to give what he called "that awful business, the theatre" one more try. He was, as I expected, superb as the Father in Gwyn Thomas's The Keep and from that very springy board was launched a thrillingly demanding period of work together. His wife, Lys, moved to join him and we lived in adjoining flats in Coventry while Waller played parts like Azdak in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Belch in Twelfth Night, Musgrave in Sergeant Musgrave's Dance, The Narrator in Under Milk Wood, and Trelawny in a version of Treasure Island which we wrote together. It couldn't last, of course, but the inevitable termination of this joyous period was Waller's elevation to the Royal Shakespeare Company, just a few miles down the road at Stratford. In 1966 he became an Associate Artist of the RSC, which was something of a dream come true.
When I was lucky enough to follow in his footsteps to the RSC, I shared a house with David and Lys Waller in Stratford for nearly two years and once again he became indispensable to the productions I did. He was reptilian as The Duke in The Revenger's Tragedy, riotous as Sir Tunbelly in The Relapse, show-stealing as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing; he was a violent Claudius in Hamlet, a rustic philosophic Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet - and he became increasingly a central figure in the RSC, playing Northumberland in Peter Hall's great Wars of the Roses (1963), Pandarus in John Barton's great Troilus and Cressida (1968), Bottom in Peter Brook's great Midsummer Night's Dream (1970); and in 1969 shared the triumph of Harold Pinter's hypnotic two-hander Landscape with Peggy Ashcroft, who thought of him as a soul mate.
Just as with his father before him, heart disease led "Wal" to do less as the years passed. But, for me, he had become something of a surrogate father. I relied on his instincts and could sense his disapproval: his barometer of taste and mood was unfailing. His appetite for life and sense of fun belied his somewhat bank-managerial exterior; his generosity and passionate loyalty were surprising in one so outwardly reserved - his love of wife and home, of theatre and Shakespeare, of continuity and collaboration pulsed through his features in unexpected and unconcealable rushes of feeling that would embarrass him as much as they delighted his colleagues.
David Waller, actor: born Street, Somerset 27 November 1920; married Elisabeth Vernon; died London 23 January 1997.
- 1 Bill Clinton portrait features Monica Lewinsky reference, artist admits
- 2 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Average penis size revealed: Scientists attempt to find what is 'normal' to reassure concerned men
Bill Clinton portrait features Monica Lewinsky reference, artist admits
Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Kanye West gives guest lecture at Oxford University: 'If I, Kanye West, can remove my ego, I think there's hope for everyone'
'This is what Islam tells us to do': A rare glimpse inside a Saudi Arabian prison – where Isis terrorists are showered with perks and privileges
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...
£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...