Obituary: Gary Bond - People - News - The Independent

Obituary: Gary Bond

Gary Bond was one of the most enduringly handsome actors of his generation. He was also a resourceful and sensitive performer of wide range and polished technique. But perhaps in the dramatic era of the kitchen sink and, in John Osborne's cutting phrase, the "white tile" university, such dazzling good looks were no longer quite at such a premium.

Bond also possessed a strong, warm and pleasing tenor voice; and he earned his greatest fame in musical theatre, notably in the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. This phase of his career achieved its peak in the revival last year of Aspects of Love at the Piccadilly Theatre, and subsequently on tour. In this second production Bond finely recreated the role of the philandering hero, George Dillingham, causing mild shock to his admirers who, accustomed to Bond's perennial youthfulness, found it somewhat surprising to see him interpreting the role of a loveable roue in his sixties.

Bond was born in Hampshire in 1940, the son of a soldier, and educated at Churcher's College, Petersfield. His father, who wanted a steady career for him, died when Bond was 16, leaving him free to pursue his ambition to become an actor.

He trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and at the age of 23 got his first job in that forcing-house of young talent, the Connaught Theatre, Worthing. The play was Not in the Book and was followed by Doctor in the House, in which Bond took the role of the light-hearted Dr Simon Sparrow. A year later he appeared at the Royal Court Theatre, London, as Pip in Arnold Wesker's Chips with Everything, one of the theatrical landmarks of the Sixties.

Bond was a natural charmer and the combination of his good looks and debonair manner made him ideal casting in light comedy and in romantic leading roles. These included John Shand in J.M. Barrie's What Every Woman Knows (1967), Giles Cadwallader in The Man Most Likely To . . . (1968) and a trio of sharply contrasting roles in Noel Coward's We Were Dancing, Red Peppers and Family Album at the Hampstead Theatre in 1970, and at the Fortune Theatre, London, in the following year.

Invited to join the Prospect Theatre Company in 1968, Bond had a welcome opportunity to try his hand at classical roles and he appeared as Sebastian in Twelfth Night and as a fiery Sergius in Shaw's Arms and the Man. In 1970, at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, he was a lively Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, and a passionate and youthful Byron in The Lord Byron Show.

Bond's first success as a singer and dancer came in the musical revue On the Level, put on at the Saville Theatre, London, by the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. But it was not until 1972 that he enjoyed a huge and sudden hit in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This highly original early musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber opened to great acclaim on the Edinburgh Fringe, was then brought to the Roundhouse in Camden Town and finally moved into the West End to enjoy a long run at the Albery Theatre. In the role of the young biblical hero abandoned by his brothers in the wilderness, Bond achieved a new popularity, establishing himself as a most versatile and personable musical performer.

His association with Rice and Lloyd Webber was to continue with the musical Evita when in 1978 he took over, from the pop star David Essex, the role of the revolutionary hero Che Guevara, who acts both as character and narrator. Bond's handling of this pivotal part was greatly admired by the show's American director, Hal Prince. After the exhausting rigours of a long-running West End musical, Bond gave a series of concert performances with Marti Webb of Lloyd Webber's songs.

But Bond had not abandoned his first love of straight theatre, and in State of Affairs (1983), a study of marital turmoil which transferred from the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, to the Duchess Theatre, he found an unexpected edge of anger and frustration. In 1982 he played Otto in Noel Coward's Design for Living opposite Maria Aitken at the Globe Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. At the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1988 he appeared opposite Keith Michel in The Baccarat Scandal, which transferred to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. And in 1992 he appeared as the Count in a revival of Jean Anouilh's The Rehearsal at the Garrick Theatre.

For one so obviously photogenic it was curious that Bond did not have a more substantial career in films and television. In his first television role in 1963 he made a poignant young suitor to Natalia in Granada's production of War and Peace and in 1964 he won an important role in the film Zulu playing opposite Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. For BBC Television he was Pip in Great Expectations and the young suitor in Anouilh's Colombe; and in 1968 for Thames Television he took the role of a young Indian army colonel in the military adventure series Frontier. But it was in the theatre that he chose to make his real mark.

Alan Bond had a twinkling humour and a sometimes wicked sense of fun. His easy warmth of manner made him a popular figure among his friends and fellow actors. For 16 years he shared his home with the distinguished American artist and illustrator E.J. Taylor, who sustained him through a long and painful illness.

Derek Granger

Gary James Bond, actor, singer: born Liss, Hampshire 7 February 1940; died Ealing, London 12 October 1995.

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