In a film career spanning more than 65 years, Herbert Lom played an extraordinarily wide range of characters. But he will forever be remembered as the French police chief Charles Dreyfus, who is gradually driven mad by the incompetence of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau in the long-running Pink Panther series of movies.
He was also the last surviving member of the cast of one of the best loved Ealing comedies, The Ladykillers (1955), playing a member of the gang of train robbers led by Alec Guinness. But in addition to his films, which numbered more than 100, he enjoyed a creditable stage and television career, most notably playing the male lead in The King and I at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London.
Lom, who was born in what is now the Czech Republic, took part in plays and films there before leaving for London in 1939, just in advance of the Nazis’ invasion of the then Czechoslovakia. Resuming his film career in Britain, he was first noticed for his portrayal of a psychiatrist in The Seventh Veil (1946), a role he repeated at the Princes Theatre, now the Shaftesbury, five years later.
Lom spent two years playing the King of Siam in The King and I (1953–55) opposite Valerie Hobson, who was making her last stage appearance before devoting herself to supporting the political career of her husband, John Profumo.
When Lom was offered the part in the musical, he was invited to America to meet the writers of the show, Rodgers and Hammerstein. But he was refused a visa, presumably because he was suspected of harbouring left wing views at a time when McCarthyism prevented many actors from pursuing their careers. Ironically, for many years Lom was barred from returning to Czechoslovakia because of his criticism of the communist government there.
After The King and I, Lom was not seen in the West End again until 1975, when he played Napoleon in William Douglas-Home’s Betzi, set during the French emperor’s last years of exile, at the Haymarket.
On television, he again played a psychiatrist, this time in The Human Jungle (1963-64). It was a role that brought him up to 2,000 letters a week from people who hoped he could help them with their problems. The postbag pleased Lom, because he felt he was contributing to resolving the fears many people still had about psychiatry.
Herbert Lom, who was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru on September 11, 1917, died on September 27, aged 95.