David Lodge

Friend, defender and associate in comedy of Peter Sellers

Friday 24 October 2003 00:00

David William Frederick Lodge, actor: born Rochester, Kent 19 August 1921; married; died Northwood, Middlesex 18 October 2003.

One of the best-known faces in British films, David Lodge was a burly, moustachioed actor equally adept at drama or comedy. His tough exterior initially led to his being cast as aggressive members of the proletariat, often shifty characters of the underworld or sergeants barking out orders to hapless recruits in the armed forces, but when his flair for comedy emerged - due partly to his lifelong friendship with Peter Sellers - he was to be found in some of the best screen comedies.

Sellers vehicles in which he appeared included I'm All Right, Jack, in which he etched a memorable cameo as a malingering card-player, Two Way Stretch, as the hilariously bumbling safe-cracker Jelly Knight, and the "Pink Panther" films. He was also in several "Carry On" films and made many television appearances.

Born David William Frederick Lodge in Rochester, Kent, in 1921, he was educated at St Nicholas School in London. His mother had been a singer, and his father was a well-known orator. (Later an active worker for charity, Lodge would become known for his skill as an auctioneer at fund-raising events.) He started in show business as a comedian and impressionist with Ralph Reader's Gang Show troupe, and during the Second World War toured military bases with the show as a member of the Royal Air Force.

He met Peter Sellers in the last days of the war when they were both posted to Gloucester. He later recounted that he was poking life into an ancient stove when he heard Sellers arguing fiercely at the far end of the hut with an airman "considerably larger than himself". Lodge removed the red-hot poker from the fire, walked down the hut and told the airman to "leave off or come outside with me". It ended the argument and began a lifelong friendship. "Pete just looked at me with those lovely sad eyes of his," Lodge told Sellers's biographer Peter Evans,

and something just happened. I was a couple of years older than him, no more, but I became his big brother,

father confessor, favourite uncle, the lot. Pete was the kind of a bloke who always needed somebody there. There always had to be somebody in his life he could telephone at three o'clock in the morning and know they'll be a friendly voice.

Lodge was best man at Sellers's wedding to Britt Ekland in 1964, and after Sellers's death in 1980 he staunchly defended him when Sellers's son Michael wrote a scathing memoir. "To see Peter Sellers painted as a total monster," he wrote, "is to witness a monumental injustice to his memory."

After the war, Lodge performed a solo act on the music-hall stage and spent some time with a travelling circus. He also performed a warm-up act for the Goons (Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Sellers) when they appeared on stage. His first film role was in a Sellers film, Orders are Orders (1954), a farce notable for the teaming of Tony Hancock and Sidney James prior to their radio and television partnership. Lodge's part landed on the cutting-room floor, and he was first seen on screen in José Ferrer's Second World War adventure Cockleshell Heroes (1955), as one of the group who break the blockade of Bordeaux by using cockleshell canoes to attach limpet mines.

Other early films included Private's Progress (1956), The Battle of the River Plate (1956) and The Long Arm (1956), a taut thriller that was the last Ealing film actually made at Ealing Studios. Lodge was seen on screen with Sellers for the first time in the amusing black comedy The Naked Truth (1957, as a policeman), followed by Up the Creek (1958), the satire on unions I'm All Right Jack (1959), Never Let Go (1960), Two Way Stretch (1960), The Dock Brief (1962), A Shot in the Dark (1964), Casino Royale (1967), Hoffman (1969), Return of the Pink Panther (1974) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978).

Lodge appeared in over 100 films in total, other notable titles including I was Monty's Double (1958), The League of Gentlemen (1959), Oh! What a Lovely War (1969, as a recruiting sergeant), The Railway Children (1970) and Mutiny on the Buses (1972). His last film was Edge of Sanity (1989), a bizarre reworking of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in which Anthony Perkins, as Jekyll, discovers a formula that turns him into Jack the Ripper.

He was also active on television, and in 1965 he starred in the twice-weekly drama series United! as the manager of a fictional football team, Brentwich FC, down on its luck. In his efforts to move the club from the bottom of the Second Division he has to cope with a tycoon chairman and a snooty wife. The series attracted six million viewers but proved controversial. Football fans complained that there was too much chat and not enough of the game, then Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, who were struggling at the time, complained that the plots were uncomfortably close to their own situation and the BBC had to reassure them that it was pure coincidence. In 1966 Lodge asked to leave the series, so his character was portrayed as getting fired and being replaced by a new manager (played by Ronald Allen). Television shows on which Lodge made guest appearances included The Saint, The Sweeney, Bless This House, Minder and Lovejoy.

Lodge's wife Lyn, whom he married in 1963, predeceased him. In 1986 he wrote his autobiography, Up the Ladder to Obscurity, and in recent years he worked for show-business charities. In 2000 he was seen in the television biography The Unknown Peter Sellers.

Tom Vallance

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