Obituary: Jerold Wells

Tim Bullamore
Wednesday 28 July 1999 23:02

JEROLD WELLS was a versatile actor, whether appearing in a television adaptation of a literary classic such as Great Expectations or as the fall guy in a Benny Hill sketch. During the 1960s and 1970s he became a favourite with light entertainment directors, and appeared regularly on television with artists such as Ken Dodd and the Two Ronnies.

Born Gerald Walls in Wallington, Hampshire, in 1908, he was orphaned as a young child and brought up by an uncle and aunt before being evacuated to Australia at the outbreak of the First World War.

His antipodean schooling completed, Walls began an apprenticeship as an ironmonger but was distracted by the lure of the stage. He was accepted for drama school in Sydney, and went on to pursue a successful career with a variety of Australian theatre companies.

During the Second World War he was a member of a theatre party entertaining British and American troops in the Far East; he finished the war in occupied Japan. Returning to Australia, Walls resumed his acting career and also began producing stage plays. However, in the mid-1950s, he found that work was drying up and, following a string of unsuccessful romantic entanglements, he sought solace in the northern hemisphere.

Walls settled in Kilburn, north-west London, in 1959 and struck lucky with the part of Magwitch in a live television broadcast of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations for the BBC. He secured an agent, changed his name to Jerold Wells, and spent the next two decades popping up frequently on television and in films.

A regular guest star on Benny Hill's politically incorrect television shows, he - or more usually his hand - was often seen squeezing the bottom of one of the young dancers who added glamour to the show. Wells himself was not unattractive. Tall, imposing, and blessed with a debonair charm, he rarely allowed a good-looking woman to pass him by.

In The Two Ronnies Wells starred in a regular series of detective sketches as a miscreant pursued by either Ronnie Barker or Ronnie Corbett; he also appeared in some of the earliest black- and-white episodes of Coronation Street as Ena Sharples's visiting Australian cousin.

He was seen with the Monty Python team in the film Jabberwocky (1977) as a beggar with no legs, and had a role in the television film Carry on Laughing: one in the eye for Harold (1975), a camp send-up of the Norman Conquest. He played Benson, the man who was transformed into a dog, in Terry Gilliam's futuristic Time Bandits (1982). He was also the executioner in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and a police chief in Lars von Trier's Forbrydelsens element ("The Elements of Crime", 1984).

Other appearances were less successful, and any hope meanwhile of returning to serious television roles such as the Dickens character disappeared on the end of Ken Dodd's tickling stick.

Wells enjoyed listening to classical music and visiting the theatre, particularly the Theatre Royal in Bath, the city to which he retired in 1982. He is survived by his partner of the last 27 years, Belinda Berge.

Tim Bullamore

Denis Gerald Walls (Jerold Wells), actor: born Wallington, Hampshire 8 August 1908; died Bath, Somerset 19 July 1999.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments