Tim Pigott-Smith obituary: star of TV, film and theatre who became a familiar face to households across the UK

He appeared in Silent Witness, Downton Abbey, Miranda and Lewis, as well as numerous plays and films during his near-50-year career

Francesca Gosling
Friday 07 April 2017 18:48 BST
Pigott-Smith was awarded an OBE for services to drama earlier this year
Pigott-Smith was awarded an OBE for services to drama earlier this year (PA)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


With a career spanning almost 50 years across stage and screen, Tim Pigott-Smith OBE was a familiar face in every household.

From roles in early Doctor Who and The Vice, to big screen appearances in The Remains Of The Day and Jupiter Ascending, he most recently filled the shoes of Sniggs in the successful TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Decline And Fall.

At 70 years old, his career showed no signs of slowing down, with roles in 2017 releases 6 Days, Victoria And Abdul and The Little Vampire 3D, as well as in the theatre.

He had just finished filming his title role as the obstinate royal in King Charles III when it was announced he had passed away.

His agent, John Grant, said in a statement: “Tim was one of the great actors of his generation. Much-loved and admired by his peers, he will be remembered by many as a gentleman and a true friend.”

The news came just months after he was awarded the OBE for services to drama in the 2017 New Year's Honours.

Pigott-Smith graduated from the University of Bristol in 1967 before making his debut at the Bristol Old Vic, soon moving to Broadway, where he played Sherlock Holmes' companion Dr Watson in 1974.

Despite moving on to countless roles between the UK and US, he never forgot that first big Broadway production.

He told the Daily Mail last year: “On the first night, our wardrobe mistress Rosie gave each of us these personalised towels.

“From that day to this, I've used it to lay out my stage make-up.

“I'm always the same as we approach the first night of a new production: anxious, in need of reassurance, and this slightly-worn towel is a comfort.”

He became known for his Shakespeare prowess, taking the theatres of Britain by storm opposite the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Patrick Stewart.

In his early years, he was invited to join Sir Ian McKellen on the stage for Hamlet – a job that would prove to be especially significant for the up-and-coming actor.

Still describing him as his biggest role model in 2014, he told an interview with The Guardian how the Gandalf star came to his dressing room with some kind words of wisdom.

“I ushered him in nervously, expecting notes for my poor performance or indiscipline – I was a foolish, naughty young actor,” he said.

“To my relief, he was not displeased but questioned me about my plans, my ambitions.

“He generously suggested one or two technical things I could do to develop my voice and breathing.

“I have never got over the fact that this man, with – let's face it – enough on his plate, climbed three floors to talk to me, to help me. He could have been resting. It was a great act of kindness.”

Pigott-Smith's TV career kicked off with a role in 1971 film Boswell's Life Of Johnson and he has scarcely been away from the screen since.

He appeared in two Doctor Who stories, in 1971 and 1976, and played Angelo in TV movie Measure For Measure in 1979 and Brendan Bracken in 1981 series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.

The 1980s saw him dominate the television series scene with roles in I Remember Nelson, Struggle and The Jewel In The Crown, which won him a Bafta award for best actor.

His character versatility secured him roles across genres, such as MI7 boss Pegasus in Rowan Atkinson comedy Johnny English and Creed in futuristic cult thriller V For Vendetta.

His voice also had a fame of its own and was recruited to act as narrator in TV's Serial Killers and Doomsday among others.

Viewers throughout his later years will remember his appearances in TV favourites Silent Witness, Downton Abbey, Lewis and Miranda.

In 1972 he married actress Pamela Miles and the pair had one child, Tom, a violinist who now has children of his own.

Both husband and wife were set to play heartbreaking couple Willy and Linda Loman in a Northampton production of Death Of A Salesman, due to open just days from now.

Tim Pigott-Smith, born 13 May 1946, died 7 April 2017

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