Denis Quilley, star of the British stage for 50 years, dies of cancer

Paul Peachey@peachey_paul
Thursday 19 September 2013 05:36

Denis Quilley, the booming baritone who became a stalwart of British theatre, has died from cancer of the liver at the age of 75, the National Theatre said yesterday.

He became ill during the run of the National's revival of Cole Porter's 1934 musicalAnything Goes, which prevented him joining the production's transfer to the West End.

Over a 50-year career, he became a familiar figure in demanding roles across the board; in comedy, drama, musicals and Shakespeare. Among his best-known roles was Captain Terri Dennis in Privates on Parade. He took the role both on stage and in a 1982 film version of the production. In it he showed his strong flare for high camp comedy, with a series of impersonations, including Marlene Dietrich.

In 1980, he won the Society of West End Theatres award for playing the title role in Sweeney Todd opposite Sheila Hancock. He returned to the same show, in a different production during the 1990s, in a National Theatre revival.

Musicals made up much of Quilley's early work until he was spotted by a young Laurence Olivier who asked him to play Aufidius to Anthony Hopkins' Coriolanus.

An unbroken three-and-a-half-year run at the Old Vic and a long relationship with the National Theatre followed. He appeared in shows such as The Front Page, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Macbeth and School For Scandal.

Quilley, who lived in Highgate, north London, was awarded an OBE in 2001. His agent, Bernard Hunter, said: "He was a wonderful man and I have nothing but admiration for him. He was the sort of man that made friends with every actor he met."

Michael Blakemore, who directed Quilley in Privates on Parade, said: "He was an incomparable actor. He seemed to sum up the great virtues of the British theatre - professionalism and he never gave less than a good performance. He was often much better than people give him credit."

Quilley leaves a wife, Stella, and three children.

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