Born on March 21, 1936, Roger Hammond’s acting career began at Cambridge University in the early 1960s alongside fellow students Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi, Corin Redgrave, Clive Swift, Margaret Drabble and director Waris Hussein. He was part of an outstanding group that made an instant impression in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Caesar and Cleopatra, both productions transferring to the Lyric Hammersmith.
I first encountered Roger at RADA – in the locker room as we embarrassedly changed into tights and, er, ballet pumps, ready for movement class. Our friendship was cemented a couple of years later when we appeared together in Anouilh’s Poor Bitos, produced by Michael Codron at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
For more than 50 years, Roger gave admired performances in the cinema, on television, theatre and radio – sometimes in leading parts, more often in cameo roles for which he became much renowned. He featured in numerous West End productions and seasons at the National Theatre. A happy association with Alan Bennett on screen and stage included The Cricket Match, The Insurance Man (with Daniel Day Lewis) and the award-winning film An Englishman Abroad, directed by John Schlesinger.
He appeared as Sir George Baker in the two-year run of Bennett’s The Madness of George III at the NT with the late Nigel Hawthorne, subsequently touring the US. He later co-starred in the Oscar-nominated movie version, The Madness of King George. Other NT appearances included playing Donado in ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, directed by Alan Ayckbourn and as Pishchik in The Cherry Orchard with Ian McKellen.
In 1990, we acted together again in Yuri Trifonov’s Russian drama Exchange, adapted by Michael Frayn, first at the Nuffield, Southampton, then at the Vaudeville Theatre. When on stage with Roger, I was consistently amazed at how light on his feet he was, his entrances and exits effected with the speed and grace of a twinkle-toed balletic bear (RADA’s movement class all over again). Subsequently performed on BBC World Service, Exchange reached more than 100 million listeners around the globe. And in Peter Terson’s Zigger-Zagger, on TV, I was in awe of his ability to convey ‘appalled comic outrage’.
Roger was featured at the Lyric Hammersmith in The Seagull (as Shamraev) with the late Natasha Richardson. He enjoyed a critical triumph as Mr Dumby in Peter Hall’s production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, alongside Vanessa Redgrave at the Haymarket and followed this with the film version of the same play (A Good Woman) starring Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson. He had fun as Caesar’s creepy augurer in the popular TV series Rome.
He told me his recent role as Dr Blandine Bentham in The King’s Speech delighted him, as he himself had suffered from a stammer until he was 16. His way of overcoming it was, when words failed him, to pretend to be someone else – a big factor, he said, in his becoming an actor.
He played an extraordinary number of prelates and priests on screen (including the Archbishop opposite Ian McKellen in the film of Richard III). He featured in several of Mike Leigh’s films – our fellow student at RADA. Roger performed in more than 450 plays for BBC radio and was a regular in the long-running series Waggoner’s Walk. I was thrilled to direct him as a memorable Eddie, the old journalist, in Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning, dramatised for BBC Radio 4.
Roger Hammond’s gift of friendship was legendary in and outside his profession. He once told me how much he enjoyed life, work, family – that he “just loved everybody”. And everybody loved him.
He leaves a son, Dan Hammond – my godson, his loving ex-wife Helen and a thousand friends and colleagues.