With a background in law, Felix Dexter emerged as one of the most versatile comedy actors of his generation. He came to prominence in the BBC television sketch show The Real McCoy (1991-96), a springboard for Afro-Caribbean and Asian performers.
Although he was best known for the range of comic characters he portrayed, there was a serious side to his work, evidenced by a season he played with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Dexter was born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, and moved to London with his family when he seven. He trained to be a barrister, but, when he failed his bar finals, he drowned his sorrows at a comedy club, where the compere asked if anyone in the audience wanted to do a set. Dexter volunteered, but, by his own submission, he was a complete failure.
Some time later, he tried again and began getting laughs. After that, he abandoned law, much to the disappointment of his mother, and viewed comedy as his new career. All the same, he found his legal skills useful when dealing with hecklers during stand-up performances.
He joined the cast of The Fast Show from 1994-97. By then, viewers had fallen for the range of comic stereotypes he presented, among them Nathaniel, a high-minded Nigerian accountancy student, and Brother Jeffers, an outspoken pastor. To these were added Early D, a would-be pundit on political affairs, and Aubrey Duboisson, who, in Dexter’s words, was “the classical posh English black bloke”.
He played the boyfriend of the strait-laced Saffron in the fifth series of Absolutely Fabulous, and then appeared in a show that the creators of The Fast Show, Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson, took to BBC Radio 4 – Down the Line, a spoof phone-in.
When the programme transferred to television as Bellamy’s People, Dexter, playing Early D, often upstaged everyone. The show had its own spin-off, Citizen Khan – a pun on Citizen Kane – which is currently being shown on BBC1, and in which Dexter plays Omar, a Somali man working in a mosque.
His serious roles included a part in a West End production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; a portrayal of Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale with the RSC; and an appearance opposite Helen Mirren in a National Theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra.
Felix Dexter, who was born on July 26, 1961, died of a form of bone marrow cancer on October 18, aged 52.