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Geoffrey Toone

Distinguished character actor and one time matinee idol Geoffrey Toone appeared in some of the most famous West End classical productions of the last century.

A stalwart of the Old Vic Theatre since the early thirties, where he worked with stars such as Ralph Richardson and Roger Livesey, he went on to appear in John Gielgud’s magisterial 1934 production of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet (1935) with Gielgud and Laurence Olivier, and the lavish wartime production of Lady Windemere’s Fan (1945) designed by Cecil Beaton.

Toone’s striking looks as a young actor made him a favourite with pre-war audiences. One critic who commented on Toone’s “sculpted features” said the actor “could have stepped out of a Sargent painting”.

In his later career Toone’s powerful stage presence and keen intelligence saw him emerge as a leading character actor and he became one of television’s busiest performers. He was often cast as an aristocrat or military type in series such as The Avengers and Jeeves and Wooster and became something of a household name when he played the vengeful Nazi Von Gelb in the cult ITV children’s spy series Freewheelers.

Geoffrey Toone was born in Dublin, Ireland on November 15 1910, the son of Wilfred Parker Toone and Hilda Maria Webb. The family moved to England and Toone was educated at Charterhouse and Christ’s College, Cambridge.

He had aspirations to be an actor from an early age and in 1931, with encouragement from Lilian Baylis, he made his first appearance at the Old Vic in a walk-on part. The same year he played Peter of Pomfret in Harcourt Williams’ production of King John, opposite Ralph Richardson and Robert Harris.

He went on to do seasons of repertory at the Oxford Playhouse and toured the West Indies in a series of plays but his big break came when he was cast as Fortinbras to John Gielgud’s Hamlet (New Theatre 1934) in a company which included Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle and Jessica Tandy.

He then played Tybalt in Gielgud’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the New Theatre in the following year, in which Gielgud played Mercutio and Laurence Olivier Romeo. During the run they swapped roles.

Toone had several other West End roles before serving in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War. Invalided out in 1942 he appeared in Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine (Aldwych 1943) and as Laertes in Hamlet (New Theatre 1944).

Toone had been a close friend of Hugh ‘Binkie’ Beaumont, head of HM Tennant, then London’s most powerful theatrical management, and it was Beaumont who cast him as Lord Windemere in the all-star production of Lady Windemere’s Fan (Haymarket 1945). Directed by John Gielgud, Toone appeared opposite Isobel Jeans and Athene Seyler.

He made his Broadway debut as Banquo to Michael Redgrave’s Macbeth (1948) and back in England toured with Ivor Novello’s Perchance to Dream (1948). He rejoined the Old Vic Company the following year, touring Italy as Orsino in Twelfth Night.

Throughout the fifties and sixties he was rarely off the West End stage, notably in classical roles but also starring in the long-running comedy The Little Hut (Lyric 1950), where his understudy was a young Roger Moore.

Toone starred in several productions with the Bristol Old Vic and in 1966 played Sir Lucius O’Trigger in The Rivals (Haymarket) opposite Margaret Rutherford and Ralph Richardson. In 1970 he was Major Wimbourne in Val May’s production of the military drama Conduct Unbecoming (Queen’s Theatre). During the eighties he toured the country in Oliver! with Roy Hudd.

He had a prolific film career, which included roles such as Sir Edward Ramsay in The King and I (1956), Harold Hubbard in The Entertainer (1960) and several horror films including The Terror of the Tongs (1961) and Dr Crippen (1962).

His later career was mainly spent working in television both here and in America. He made guest appearances in series such as Colditz, 199 Park Lane and Only Fools and Horses and he featured in the American mini-series The Apocalypse Watch (1997).

He had recently retired to Denville Hall. He died on June 1, aged 94.

Patrick Newley

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