Obituary: Wensley Pithey

Wensley Pithey, actor: born 21 June 1914; married three times (one son); died London 10 November 1993.

WHENEVER Wensley Pithey came on stage or screen you could be sure of a touch of the truth. Something about his solid presence, his heavy build, his warm personality and his unaffected, naturalistic acting smacked of sincerity, whether he was being sincere was beside the point. He seemed so.

No matter who the author was - Shakespeare, Moliere, Dickens, Shaw, Chekhov, Barrie, Maugham, Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets - Pithey's brooding, bulky presence somehow looked at home. If character actors are by definition easy to cast, Pithey was one of the best.

He preferred the classics. He knew that the greater the playwright the greater the scope for the actor of even the most marginal role. While the star performers fussed about his central place in the scheme of things Pithey was content to serve his author, however marginal the part.

He started in Shakespeare in South Africa, his birthplace, at the age of 12 as Herbert in King John. Still a boy, he toured variety halls with excerpts from Shakespeare. Could there have been a better way of learning how to make a audience listen, how to deliver verse, how to speak audibly, interestingly?

At the University of Cape Town he trained at its College of Drama, won a broadcasting contest to find an announcer, joined the South African Broadcasting Corporation and became director of the university's little theatre, toured his own company, and in 1947 took the plunge and sailed for England.

A stint in rep at Manchester with Peter Cotes's troupe at the Library Theatre, led to a West End transfer in Odets' Rocket to the Moon. Then came a tour of the Welsh coalfields in O'Neill's Anna Christie for the Arts Council and a spell with the Bristol Old Vic which brought him back to London as Orgon in

Tartuffe.

Thereafter except for breaks in films he remained one of London's busiest, most reliable and best- trained character actors, bringing conviction to figures of authority - officials, policemen, fathers, lawyers, schoolmasters, old soldiers, board chairmen, baronets.

The line stretched out for six decades, and if he ever tasted what is known as stardom it must have been on the television screen in 1979 though he had been a familiar face in programmes like Charlesworth, Special Branch, Ike, Edward and Mrs Simpson. As Winston Churchill, though, in Suez 1956, he had just the weight and shape - and the authority.

An air of quiet wisdom would sometimes enrich his acting, never more so for example than as Sir Toby Belch at the newly opened Birmingham Rep when he was brought in to give the company some much-needed weight in 1973, or as the delightful neighbour Pishchick in The Cherry Orchard for the opening production of Riverside Studios six years later.

Sometimes his acting was worth a detour for connoisseurs. As the elderly, long-resigned lover for instance of Constance Cummings's rouged and raddled Lady Kitty in The Circle (Guildford, 1974), he scowled and grunted, groaned and battled with with his false teeth in such a way as to set the house on roar while still reminding us what a catch the old boy must have been in his prime.

(Photograph omitted)

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

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering