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Victor Spinetti 1929-2012

June 20, 2012

“The Man Who Made Clouds Disappear”- Paul McCartney

Here at IBY we were saddened to hear that Victor Spinetti has passed away. The Welsh-born star of stage and screen, has died at the age of 82. The news was released by his agent Barry Burnett. He  died at a hospice in Monmouth ,on Monday morning. For the past year he was in ill health but kept an incredible fortitude and humour to the very end.

Victor was the man you invited to your party and hung on his every word. He was a skilled and practiced master of the anecdote, and reflected this in his long running One Man Show on tour.

Victor’s words of wisdom to aspiring actors was:

Do everything from Pantomime to Shakespeare, and learn th three “R’s”-

Redundancy, Rejection and Resting!”

 He did just that- everything from Pantomime to Shakespeare, and made a major contribution to Panto Villainly in his portrayals of King Rats, Abaanzars and as Pantomime Dame- a role he took on with relish at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry in 1973. He appeared in The London Palladium “Dick Whittington” in 1980 and the Shaftesbury Theatre’s “Emu In Pantoland” in 1976. He appeared with his great friend Barbara Windsor in two pantomimes, at Leeds Grand with Billy Pearce in “Aladdin” in 1999 and played the vast Apollo Hammersmith in pantomime with Freddie Lees and Jim Davidson among many other Panto appearances.

Britt Ekland,, wrote: “Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. I Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius.”

Victor recently co-wrote Britt’s One Woman tour that was seen across the UK.

 Barbara Windsor, his co-star in theWest End stage play Oh! What a Lovely War which transferred to Broadway and a lifelong friend, had visited Spinetti last Thursday.

“We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man,” she said.

“We just chatted and chatted and talked about old things. But he said, ‘let’s not talk about all that, let’s talk about the future’.

“What he was trying to say was that everything was happy in his room. I was happy to see him. He didn’t look ill. He looked great. He was swearing a lot, like that would get rid of the illness, and we just laughed.”

Victor had recently appeared on her two-part radio series Clubland, and she wanted to play it for him.

“I got the nurses to wake him up to hear it,” saidWindsor.

“Some of the nurses didn’t know who he was so I wanted them to hear it too.”

He was part of my life and I’m going to miss him so much. We’d go out for lunch and have a great gossip together.

“He was such a good actor because he took notice of people and used their characters. He portrayed them wonderfully, whatever he did.”

 

Scott Harvey recalls appearing in “Dick Whittington” with Victor :

My proudest moment as an actor was working in two pantos with Victor. (Even if he did send me and John Virgo off the stage for corpsing in the same scene twice a day, for a week!).

The crew were taking bets on whether we’d get through it without one of us cracking up. Victor said “Get off the stage you pair of fools… I’ll finish the scene myself”. As we scuttled off in shame he bellowed- “Go on, back to drama school”.

He was dressed as King Rat at the time- with Rat’s ears and a made up face with whiskers. A Priceless moment!

A lesson from a mighty actor – and we never laughed in that scene again!”

 

Jim Davidson appeared with Victor in the London Palladium Pantomime “Dick Whittington” in 1980. Victor played King Rat. He later starred Victor in his saucy “Adult” pantomime “Boobs In The Wood” as Friar Tuck.

In his blog Jim Davidson remembered Victor last night:

Dear old Victor has passed away.I will miss him.I first met Victor in 1980.I was to play Dick Whittington at the Palladium,he was to be King Rat.We became close friends.I used to go to dinner at his house with his partner Graham.We would eat drink and be very merry. He was a great teller of stories. I could listen to Victor’s tales forever.He was THE best person to have at a dinner table.

One of his stories tells of when he was sitting in John lennon’s front room and John said,”It’s a bit cold in here Vic,shall we go somewhere warmer?”They went to Marrakech.

Victor introduced me to the great director Joan Littlewood.I got on well with her.Victor loved her and spent a lot of time with her at the end of her life.Victor was like that, a true friend.His driver Jack was treated more like a brother than a worker. The last time I saw him he was happy and full of joy.He always seemed to be happy.

He played Friar Tuck for me in the mucky panto BOOBS IN THE WOOD.He was tremendous.

What a shame he has gone…all those great stories! Still he’s with Graham now.He’ll be happy with that. Goodbye old friend x

     

 

Freddie Lees recalls memorable pantomimes with Victor, as well as a long season at the London Palladium in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, when Victor played the Baron.

“ I said to Victor I always regret never having seen your One Man Show. He said “Sit down, I’ll do it for you now!”

It was his performance in Oh, What a Lovely War! that prompted the Beatles to ask him to appear in A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the first of the group’s five films. It is suggested George Harrison told Spinetti that he had to be in the film because “me mum will only go to see them if you’re in them”.

Spinetti’s collaboration with the Beatles saw him appear in their next two productions, Help! (1965) and the hour-long television film Magical Mystery Tour (1967).

His stage career saw him win a Tony award for his Broadway performance in Oh, What a Lovely War!, as well as co-starring with Jack Klugman when The Odd Couple touredLondon.

31 films, including Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew, Under Milk Wood with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Becket, Start the Revolution Without Me, Voyage of the Damned, The Return of the Pink Panther, Under the Cherry Moon and The Krays.

In his television career, he is perhaps best known for voicing the arch villain character Texas Pete in the S4C animated series SuperTed. And his Television adverts as the Mad Jaffa Cake Eater”, and the catchphrase “They’re Orangey!”

Victor Spinetti was also a noted raconteur whose creative output included poetry, an autobiography and his one-man show, A Very Private Diary. He appeared on Stage in The UK and on Broadway, on Television, Major Films  as well as Pantomime.

Victor’s lastUKtheatrical tour was in the comedy thriller “Murdered To Death” . Victor played Bunting, the aged retainer in this comedy which also starred Norman Pace and Sandra Dickinson. He was appearing in this tour into 2011.

 

From → Miscellaneous

One Comment
  1. Terry Powell permalink

    Had the opportunity to meet and chat with Victor at the London Palladium during the
    tech and dress runs of Dick Whittington in 1980. He always had time for a laugh with production staff as well as the cast. We drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of packet
    biscuits in the Variety Bar; there wasn’t a lot else! Great King Rat, great actor!

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