Obituary: Michael Bilton
Thursday 11 November 1993
A CHARACTER actor of great warmth, who won his best parts on television in later years, Michael Bilton revelled in the roles of the sexy geriatric Basil in Waiting for God and the aged gardener in a Yellow Pages commercial.
Born in East Yorkshire, Bilton followed his education at Hymers College, Hull, by serving in the Army during the Second World War. He suffered a serious stomach wound on the first day of the Battle of Alamein. After a long convalescence, he started his career as an actor with the Connaught Theatre and later became a member of the BBC's radio repertory company.
Although not a prolific film actor, he appeared in pictures such as A Taste of Honey (1961), Norman Wisdom's comedy The Early Bird (1965), Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), the remake of The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978) and The Fourth Protocol (1987), the big-screen version of Frederick Forsyth's spy thriller, in which he played Kim Philby alongside Michael Caine.
Bilton became a well-known face, if not a household name, when he played the chauffeur Ned in the popular Seventies series To the Manor Born. He later appeared as John Gielgud's butler in Brideshead Revisited, John Mortimer's adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel, and as Old John in the situation comedy Lame Ducks, as well as playing Cheryl Campbell's father in Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven and a gentleman tramp in The Bill. He made notable cameo appearances in series such as Don't Wait Up, Casualty, Just Good Friends, The New Statesman, All Creatures Great and Small, The Upper Hand, One Foot in the Grave, Keeping Up Appearances and Grace and Favour.
But his most successful television work was as the woman-chasing Basil in three series of Waiting for God, the sitcom set in a retirement home, and as the gardener in a Yellow Pages commercial, going about his tasks with a battered lawn-mower and being called over by his employers to be told of its new replacement just when he thought he himself was about to be pensioned off.
In later years, crippling arthritis prevented him from working in the theatre. His last London West End appearance, in the early Eighties, was alongside Penelope Keith in Hobson's Choice at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
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