Barrie Ingham: Actor whose career took in Shakespeare with Sir John Gielgud, Broadway musicals, Dr Who and Disney voice-overs

Ingham became a key player in a golden era for the RSC, and appeared in leading roles in musicals in the West End and in America

Thursday 16 April 2015 23:31
Ingham in the title role of the 1967 film ‘A Challenge for Robin Hood’ with Jenny Till
Ingham in the title role of the 1967 film ‘A Challenge for Robin Hood’ with Jenny Till

It would have amused Barrie Ingham, never an actor to take the flim-flam of show business too seriously, that the local newspaper in Palm Beach, where he had lived happily for his last years, should headline the piece on his death with "Voice of Disney's Great Mouse Detective Dies".

That voice, resonant and versatile, had opened classical theatre's doors for Ingham; Sir John Gielgud gave him an early major break when casting him as Claudio in his famous production of Much Ado About Nothing when it played on Broadway (Lunt-Fontanne, 1959) and he became a key player in a golden era for the Royal Shakespeare Company, several of his outstanding performances being alongside Judi Dench. He also appeared in leading roles in musicals in the West End and in America, where his later career was mostly based.

A Yorkshire boy, Ingham was born in Halifax and educated at the town's Heath Grammar School. Incurably stage-struck, after a period as an officer in the Royal Artillery he worked in regional repertory, including a spell with the Manchester Library Theatre, where he met Tarne Phillips and began a happy marriage which endured for over 50 years.

In London good supporting roles at the Old Vic – including Fortinbras in Hamlet and the juvenile lead, Cecil, in Pinero's farce The Magistrate (1958-59) – led to his first New York appearance, with Gielgud and Margaret Leighton in Much Ado, a major success. A thudding flop followed back in London, as the love-tortured lead Alan in a dire musical based on Terence Rattigan's French Without Tears, optimistically titled Joie de Vivre (Queen's, 1960), which closed in less than a week.

By now, however, Ingham was in demand. He worked – part of a cast mainly in masks – in John Arden's The Happy Haven at the Royal Court (1960) and in an enterprising but short-lived revue stamped by the sardonic wit of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, England, Our England (Shaftesbury, 1963). He appeared several times in the 1960s at the flourishing Mermaid under Bernard Miles, in musicals and ambitious plays alike, the latter including a powerful adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Possessed (1963).

After further musical work, most notably Ron Grainer's lively On the Level (Saville, 1966) – innovative in its use of projections in its design – Ingham began a crowded period with the young RSC. His roles at Stratford and the company's London base at the Aldwych included a commanding Buffalo Bill in Arthur Kopit's Indians, a wonderfully self-regarding Lord Foppington in The Relapse and Brutus in Julius Caesar (1968), a dangerously volatile Leontes in The Winter's Tale, Aguecheek in Twelfth Night (1969), resembling a flaxen beanpole, and taking over as the enigmatic Dazzle in the joyous rediscovery of London Assurance (1970).

The unforgettable first London production of Gypsy (Piccadilly, 1973) saw Ingham as the doggedly patient Herbie opposite Angela Lansbury's revelatory Rose; they made the first-act number "You'll Never Get Away from Me" especially striking. Less distinguished was the laboured comedy Snap (Vaudeville, 1974), a tale of a roundelay of STDs which even Maggie Smith could not redeem. Another RSC spell, the Ingham highlight being his grave-voiced Duke in Measure for Measure (Stratford, 1974), was followed by a less than thrilling whodunnit, Double Edge (Vaudeville, 1975).

Most of Ingham's later career was spent in the US. On Broadway he made a splendidly slimy Uriah Heep (alongside an early Christian Bale appearance as Billy Mowcher) in a poor musical adaptation of Dickens in Copperfield (Anta, 1981) and he made a noble effort in the thankless role of the dotty Pellinore in a revival of Camelot (Winter Garden, 1981) to the King Arthur of Richard Harris (wickedly dubbed " A Man Called Hoarse").

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love (Broadhurst, 1990) in which Ingham played the suave Sir George (his tender handling of "The First Man You Remember" was much praised) had a decent run but still lost $8 million. Although his final Broadway show, the Leslie Bricusse/Frank Wildhorn mangling of Stevenson as Jekyll and Hyde (Plymouth, 1997) gave him few real chances as the upright Sir Danvers Carew, father of Dr Jekyll's fiancée, it ran for four years.

Ingham made a welcome and successful West End return in Glorious! (Duchess, 2005), Peter Quilter's engaging play on the delusional diva Florence Foster Jenkins (Maureen Lipman on song, so to speak, as the "First Lady of the Sliding Scale"). He was a delight as Jenkins' besotted thespian boyfriend, beaming enraptured as she yelped through Mozart and Offenbach like a demented chihuahua.

Television work for Ingham ran a remarkable gamut, from the more ambitious UK series of the 1960s and '70s – Sejanus in Granada's The Caesars (1963), several episodes of The Power Game (1969) and the title-role of an ambitious arms-dealer in Hine (1971) – to single plays and made-for-TV classics, including a ruthlessly cut Antony and Cleopatra (1983), with Ingham as Enobarbus alongside Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave in the title roles.

He had the rare distinction of appearing both in Dr Who (including several episodes of "The Myth Makers", 1965, as Prince Paris, in a bright blond wig and alarming quantities of blue eye shadow) and Star Trek (as the splendidly named Danilo O'Dell in The Next Generation's "Up the Long Ladder", 1989). On American screens his appearances were similarly varied, including many episodes of Time Warrior between 1995-96. He enjoyed his film work greatly, including his voicing of Basil of Baker Street in the Disney animation of The Great Mouse Detective (1986).


Barrie Ingham, actor: born Halifax 10 February 1934; married Tarne Phillips (three daughters); died Palm Beach, Florida 23 January 2015.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

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


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in