Victor Maddern, actor: born Seven Kings, Essex 16 March 1928; married 1949 Joan Neuville (four daughters); died London 22 June 1993.
ONE OF those character actors who were the backbone of the British film industry during the middle of the 20th century, Victor Maddern slipped with ease from action-packed wartime adventures to comedies, appearing in more than 200 pictures in all.
Born in Essex in 1928, Maddern left home at the age of 15, going to sea for three years during the war as a cadet with the Anchor Line. He made many Atlantic crossings, was with troops travelling from India to Burma and on the first ship that went into Singapore after that country's relief.
After the war, he took an office job with the line, before training at Rada, where the Boulting brothers spotted his potential and cast him as a cockney private in the thriller Seven Days to Noon (1950). He found himself typecast in the role of a serviceman, subsequently appearing in films such as Angels One Five, Carrington VC and Cockleshell Heroes, by which time his name had reached the list of stars at the top of the credits.
It was John and Roy Boulting's decision to switch to comedy that gave Maddern a chance to show the other side of his acting talents, although again he played a lowly soldier, in Private's Progress (1955), the first of a string of Boulting Brothers productions pillorying the British Establishment. Parts in war films continued to come Maddern's way, but it was the Boultings who gave him another opportunity to show his versatility when they cast him in their management-unions satire I'm All Right, Jack (1959), which saw the characters from the brothers' previous Army hit transferred to civvy street, with Maddern playing a forklift-truck driver at a strike-hit factory.
Gradually, he took more comedy roles and was seen in some of the Carry On series, as well as acting in The Magic Christian (1969), alongside Peter Sellers, and Steptoe and Son (1972), the big-screen version of the hit television comedy series. During the Sixties and Seventies, he also turned up in family films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) - playing the Junkman who sold Dick Van Dyke the magical car - and Digby: the biggest dog in the world (1973). His first leading television role was in the American series Fair Exchange, made in the early Sixties. He and the vaudeville entertainer Eddie Foy Jr played the British and American fathers who swap their 18-year-old daughters for a year.
Back in Britain, Maddern took dramatic roles on television including appearances in Dixon of Dock Green, No Hiding Place and Softly Softly - usually as villians - but he won laughs on the shows of Dick Emery, Fred Emney and Harry Worth, as well as on the situation comedies In Loving Memory and That's My Boy.
More recently, he acted in The Beiderbecke Tapes, two BBC Screen Two productions - as the coach of an East Anglian American football team in Ray Connolly's Defrosting the Fridge and as a tramp in Sweet Nothing - and, only last year, played the fairground owner Fruity Pears in an episode of The Darling Buds of May.
Maddern ran a mushroom farm in Essex for a while, before moving to Suffolk. He and his wife, Joan, ran Scripts Ltd, which turned the lines for films such as The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and Lawrence of Arabia and television programmes including London's Burning into working scripts. He also set up a company called The Talking Point, which coached poeple in public speaking and numbered many politicians among its clients during the run-up to the last general election.