Kenneth MacDonald

Friday 21 February 2014 02:32
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Kenneth MacDonald, actor: born Manchester 20 November 1950; married (one son, one daughter); died Hawaii 5 August 2001.

The character actor Kenneth MacDonald will be best remembered by millions of television viewers for his role as the laid-back, dry-humoured Peckham pub landlord Mike Fisher in the sitcom Only Fools and Horses. As David Jason's wide-boy Del Boy hatched yet another get-rich-quick scheme in his local, the Nag's Head, Mike would mix him his favourite Drambuie and grapefruit juice or another exotic cocktail.

Among those grouped around Del Boy, his younger brother Rodney and Uncle Albert in the south London watering hole were the gangster spiv Boycie and the dim roadsweeper Trigger. Nothing that happened surprised Mike as he surveyed the machinations from behind the bar, as the Nag's Head became a venue for Del's black- market activities. Mike was himself sometimes the victim of Del's dodgy scams, once buying a "hair-drier" that turned out to be a blowtorch.

MacDonald was born 1950 in Manchester, the son of a Scottish heavyweight wrestler, and worked in a cornflakes factory before becoming a full-time actor. He amassed bit-part and character roles on television in programmes such as Softly, Softly, Z Cars, Coronation Street (as Mr Worsley, 1973), Upstairs, Downstairs (1974) and Dad's Army (1977), as well as playing Gunner "Nobby" Clark in the popular Jimmy Perry-David Croft sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum (1974-81), before joining Only Fools and Horses in 1983.

The series, written by John Sullivan as a follow-up to Citizen Smith, also set in south London, had begun in 1981 and featured David Jason as Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, a working-class wheeler-dealer with aspirations of great wealth but saddled with a dimwit younger brother, "plonker" Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst). MacDonald made his début as Mike Fisher in the penultimate episode of the third series.

Only Fools and Horses became so popular that it was one of only a handful of sitcoms to attract more than 20 million viewers. After the seventh and final series (1990-91), Christmas specials continued until 1996, when Only Fools and Horses was watched by an audience of 24.35 million. The BBC announced earlier this week that filming of a further three episodes will begin in November.

MacDonald was seen as a less sympathetic character in the Channel Four soap opera Brookside (1992). As the racist petrol station owner George Webb, he conducted a secret terror campaign against Mick Johnson, the black Brookside Close resident who had taken over the Pizza Parlour in the Parade. It began with stickers proclaiming "Strength Through Purity" appearing in the shop window and escalated to graffiti and petrol bombs. Although initially befriended by Webb, the Brookside resident Ron Dixon eventually realised that he was a Fascist and stopped him before he could bomb Mick's bungalow.

Among many other character roles on television, MacDonald played a corporal in the female prisoner-of-war drama Tenko, Mr Baggot in Granada Television's bawdy mini-series The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders (1996) and Littimer in Adrian Hodges's BBC adaptation of David Copperfield (1999).

He also acted in the films Breaking Glass (1980) and Singleton's Pluck (1984). With the National Theatre, he took the roles of Lieutenant Brannigan in Guys and Dolls, Waitwell in The Way of the World and Eddie in the play about the "Carry On" film series, Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick, which was adapted for television as Cor Blimey! (2000).

Anthony Hayward

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