Obituary: Michael Aldridge

Adam Benedick
Saturday 15 January 1994 00:02

Michael William ffolliott Aldridge, actor: born Glastonbury, Somerset 9 September 1920; married 1947 Kirsteen Rowntree (three daughters); died London 10 January 1994.

MICHAEL ALDRIDGE was an actor for all seasons, especially if they chanced to be at Chichester. Not a highbrow, never an experimentalist - except when he once found himself in a poetic show by Ronald Duncan and Benjamin Britten called This Way to the Tomb just after the Second World War - and always content to belong to a company without wanting to lead it, he loved the stage and the theatrical life and above all he liked people.

Which is why he spent so many years at Chichester. In the West End, where the actors in his experience went into the theatre 'in a different hole in another street' from the audience, he always felt alone. If the star went round to the box office, he once observed, they did not know who he was. But Chichester was altogether chummier. He met everyone he was working with, sometimes even the public; and there was the joy of 'working in a field with a view'.

With his longish face, dark features, bushy hair, wry smile and expressive eyebrows, Aldridge was one of the most sympathetic players of his generation. He might not mean to but he could not help being liked, whether in Ayckbourn or Pinero, Shaw or Anouilh, Ibsen or Rattigan, Chekhov or Lonsdale.

In Shakespeare, unsurprisingly, he made quite an impression as Horatio to Michael Redgrave's Hamlet, with whom he toured with the Old Vic Company in 1950 to Elsinore. Twenty years later, when Antony and Cleopatra cropped up at Chichester with John Clements and Margaret Leighton, he was cast as Enobarbus (who else?).

When the Royal Shakespeare Company started up The Other Place to prove that Shakespeare or Chekhov could be as good if not better under our noses as on a main stage, Aldridge gave us a taste of Prospero's powers in the opening scene to remind us who had invented the storm; and he went on to make, again, a very reasonable and human figure of the sometimes villainous Serebriakov to Nicol Williamson's Uncle Vanya, who was so close to some of us he might have offered round a glass from the simmering samovar.

Aldridge was not however afraid of big stages or, it appeared, of any authors in the main classical stream such as he found habitually at Chichester; and he had nothing against musical comedy.

Back in the 1950s he hopped, skipped and jumped merrily about for over three years at the Vaudeville in the 'cult' musical comedy Salad Days, and its less successful successor, Free As Air; and if he came unstuck as Jeeves in the title role of a fateful collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn, he had the right, light touch for Relatively Speaking (Greenwich, 1986) and Bedroom Farce, which the National Theatre transferred to the West End.

And in Ben Travers's last West End play, The Bed Before Yesterday (Lyric, 1976), Aldridge had the pleasure of reassuring its author, who as a school governor had watched his schoolboy Toby Belch with misgivings, that the theatre hadn't been such a bad choice after all.

Inevitably he will be remembered most widely for his work in television, especially in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Love for Lydia and The Last of the Summer Wine, in which of course he found himself completely at home in television's equivalent of a permanent acting company.

Not many of them about in the theatre any more, but Aldridge made the best of the system whenever he came across it and the system always profited from his graceful presence.

(Photograph omitted)

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