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Obituary: David Watson

David Watson had three careers and was successful in all of them, making the transition from nightclub singer to Hollywood actor to a much-respected agent with characteristically easy aplomb.

Encouraged by the actor Angela Worthington, in 1979 he joined the London-based agency White Light, where he worked alongside Worthington’s son, Robert Fox, and John Simpson. He stayed with the company for more than three decades as it transformed into Simpson Fox Associates with a client base that included the designers Bob Crowley, Joe Vanek and Gerald Scarfe, directors Patrick Mason and David Leveaux and the estate of the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan.

Born in London and adopted at the age of 10 months, as a four-year-old Watson won a Brighton talent competition singing The Rose of Tralee and later joined the Westminster Abbey Choir School. In 1953, he was one of three boy treble-soloists to sing at the Queen’s coronation.

In his late teens, he became a professional singer, working on the nightclub and cabaret circuit before making the transition into acting, an early credit seeing him appear alongside Jimmy Edwards in Merry King Cole at the New Theatre, Oxford, in 1963.

Later stage successes included The Great Waltz, a musical biography of the composer Johann Strauss II, which ran for 600 performances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1969-70) and sharing the title roles with Rosemary Williams in the premiere of Peter Ustinov’s R Loves J, a musical reworking of Romeo and Juliet, at the 1973 Chichester Festival.

By then, Watson’s career in America, which had begun as part of the British pop invasion of the early 1960s, had all but peaked, following his success there as a mop-topped balladeer and on television alongside a young Clint Eastwood in Rawhide (1965), in the teen soap Never Too Young (1965-66) and period adventure serial Daniel Boone (1968-70).

In 1970, he stepped in for an indisposed Roddy McDowall to play the simian lead, Cornelius, in the film Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Born on March 10, 1940, David Watson died following a heart attack in New York, where he had been attending the opening night of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, on October 5. He was 74.

A personal tribute from producer Robert Fox:

“When Bob Crowley rang me and said, “I can’t believe I am going to say these words – David has had a heart attack in New York and died”, it seemed entirely unreal and for a lot of the time, it still does.

I have known David for a very long time – more than 30 years. He was introduced to me by my mother, who thought he would make a wonderful agent. She realised his brilliant qualities that would make him a great agent – modesty, loyalty, discretion, devotion and kindness, to name just a few. John Simpson saw them, too, and so David joined Simpson Fox Associates and worked out of one small room in Filmer Road, Parsons Green.

From the start, the clients who were already represented by Simpson Fox Associates recognised his extraordinary abilities. Within no time, he had built the client list and moved offices to Shaftesbury Avenue.

His years working there were very exciting and increasingly successful. Anita Land and Georgina Capel joined the firm, and David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers were down the hall, starting their very successful production company. Rebecca Blond was at the beginning of her career as an independent agent, and David was like an elder brother and sounding board for everyone.

To say that work was a round-the-clock matter for David, particularly during those early years at Shaftesbury Avenue, would be to underestimate his commitment to his clients. It was they he loved most. They were his real family, and he fought for them, protected them, nurtured them and loved them like a big brother.

I was lucky enough to spend the last few years in the same office as David, and to have him there was a joy. When he was not there, I knew he would be somewhere in the world – at a preview or an opening night – always ready to support someone else whose big night it was.

He never made it about him, but always about his clients. Recently, he had been thinking about the future for them. That he is not here to follow that through to its conclusion would be annoying him intensely. And popping off before a triumphant opening in New York, rather than after the rave review in The New York Times – and the party and the jokes and the laughter and the networking and the making sure everyone was alright – would have driven him insane. But he died as he lived, with modesty and no fuss.

I have been trying to think of one word that summed up David, and the one that does it perfectly is ‘mensch’. David was a real mensch.”

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