Obituary: Peter Graves

Peter George Wellesley Graves, actor: born London 21 October 1911: succeeded 1963 as eighth Baron Graves; married 1960 Vanessa Lee (died 1992); died Paris 6 June 1994.

TALL and debonair, the epitome of the English gentleman, Peter Graves could play a roguish cad or a gallant hero with equal aplomb. He could sing too, and in such operettas as Dear Miss Phoebe and After the Ball combined his matinee- idol appeal with elegantly stylish serenading. Part of the fading tradition of finely articulated high style associated with the era of Coward and Novello, Graves had a twinkling, self-deprecating sense of humour and immense charm, enabling him to sustain a long career on stage, screen and television. He was the eighth Lord Graves, but 'wore his coronet lightly' as his fellow actor Michael Denison puts it, and his marriage to the late Vanessa Lee was one of the happiest in show business.

The son of the seventh Lord Graves, he was born in 1911 and educated at Harrow. After working briefly in estate agents and insurance offices he decided to be an actor. He made his stage debut in CB Cochran's revue Streamline (1934) and the following year played a small role in Glamorous Night at Drury Lane. It was the start of a long association with the composer-actor-manager Ivor Novello. Graves was given a featured role, plus the job of star's understudy, in Novello's Careless Rapture (1936) and in Crest of the Wave (1938) was given a song of his own, 'Clementine', for the first time. He was Franzel in The Dancing Years (Drury Lane, 1939), which closed when war was declared, and starred with Mary Ellis in Arc de Triomphe (1943). Among straight plays in which he acted were two produced by Novello: Clemence Dane's The Happy Hypocrite (1936), featuring a young Vivien Leigh, and a revival of Shakespeare's Henry V (1938, as the Dauphin), plus Novello's own Ladies into Action (1940) and We Proudly Present (1947).

He toured the United States with Gertrude Lawrence in September Tide (1949) and the following year had one of his biggest triumphs in Dear Miss Phoebe, singing 'I Leave My Heart in an English Garden'. He appeared with Anna Neagle in the Coronation Year pageant The Glorious Days and as Lord Windermere in Coward's After The Ball (1954), followed by the Vivian Ellis musical The Water Gipsies (1955). When he played Captain Von Trapp in a highly successful Australian production of The Sound of Music (1961-62), his wife took over the female lead during the run and the couple would frequently tour together in such shows as The Merry Widow, An Ideal Husband and The Last of Mrs Cheyney.

Graves is credited with a small role in the film Lily Christine (1932), but his main career in movies started with Kipps in 1940. He made several films for Gainsborough, including two Arthur Askey comedies. In the under-rated musical I'll Be Your Sweetheart (1945), a film that combined the pace and vitality of the best Fox musicals with a trenchant look at flourishing music piracy at the turn of the century, the rakish Graves was the rival of the unsophisticated but honest Michael Rennie for the hand of Margaret Lockwood. Graves and Lockwood later toured in Noel Coward's Private Lives, but neither was ideally cast in a production that the author said had 'all the chic of a whist drive in Tulse Hill'.

Graves also became part of the Wilcox-Neagle team, and in the best of their 'London' films, Spring in Park Lane (1948), he gave a splendid account of an egocentric film star. Other films included The Admirable Crichton (1957), Alfie (1966), and his last film, The Slipper and the Rose (1976).

Television appearances included Shades of Darkness, Bulman, the mini-series The Woman He Loved and most recently the Christmas special of Sherlock Holmes. His last West End show was No Sex Please, We're British. It was during the run of the show that I experienced the Graves charm and modesty personally when I mentioned the film I'll Be Your Sweetheart. While recalling the film with obvious pleasure, Graves's first comments were to praise his co stars and the writer-director Val Guest, before adding, 'I think we all did quite a good job on that, didn't we?'

(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

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
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living