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Obituary: Roy Dotrice

Actor Roy Dotrice, 94

A recipient of Tony and BAFTA awards, Roy Dotrice had two other claims to fame – or, at least, to longevity and stamina – both substantiated by the Guinness Book of Records.

His first mention in the compendium of achievements was for the most performances of a solo show – 1,782 in all – as the 17th-century antiquarian and diarist John Aubrey in Patrick Garland’s Brief Lives. Originally seen at the Hampstead Theatre in 1967, it transferred to the Criterion Theatre two years later and to Broadway in 1974. Dotrice returned to the role several times throughout his career, most recently in 2008 at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester.

An audiobook reading – one of many – of George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (the inspiration for HBO’s Game of Thrones) also earned him a place in the Guinness pantheon. He voiced all 224 characters.

Born in Guernsey to a Belgian pastry chef father and English baker mother, the family fled to Manchester at the outbreak of war in 1939, when Dotrice lied about his age to enlist as an air gunner in the Royal Air Force. Shot down and captured in 1942, he spent the rest of the conflict in prisoner-of-war camps where he gained his first experience performing in morale-boosting revues.

After the war, he refused a scholarship to RADA to join the Manchester Repertory Company in 1946. Much of the next decade was spent in regional reps until he returned home to form the Guernsey Repertory Company in 1955.

Joining the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre company in Stratford in 1957, he appeared in supporting roles alongside Laurence Olivier’s Coriolanus, Charles Laughton’s King Lear and Dorothy Tutin’s Viola in Twelfth Night.

He first commanded attention as Father Ambrose in John Whiting’s The Devils, which transferred to the Criterion Theatre in 1961. It was, said The Stage, “one of the most moving pieces of acting the West End is likely to see for many a long day”. His Firs to Peggy Ashcroft’s Madame Ranevsky and John Gielgud’s Gaev in The Cherry Orchard (in a version adapted by Gielgud) the same year was also admired.

More striking was his Edward IV in Peter Hall and John Barton’s seminal The Wars of the Roses in 1963 for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He rejoined the RSC in 1968 for Paddy Chayefsky’s The Latent Heterosexual and Jules Feiffer’s God Bless, in which he memorably played a 110-year-old statesman.

A late replacement for an indisposed Christopher Plummer, he was a mercurial Peer Gynt at Chichester in 1970. He returned there as Iago (Othello) and Billy Boanerges (George Bernard Shaw’s The Apple Cart) in 1977 for an Australian tour, and in 2006 as the Starkeeper in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.

Underused as Dr Arnold in a short-lived musical version of Tom Brown’s Schooldays at the Cambridge Theatre in 1972, he delivered an “outstanding personal triumph” (The Stage) as Sir Anthony Eden in Royce Ryton’s Suez at the Harrogate Theatre in 1977.

The early 1980s saw his profile in America enhanced by his acclaimed appearance in Herbert Mitgang’s one-man show Mister Lincoln, which was memorably filmed in Washington’s Ford Theatre – where the iconic president had been assassinated – at the beginning of the decade. The following year on Broadway, he received a Tony nomination for his sympathetic portrayal of the intolerant civil servant Drumm in Hugh Leonard’s A Life. He secured a Tony at the second attempt (along with a Drama Desk award) as the New England pig farmer Phil Hogan in Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten in 2000.

An Olivier nomination followed in 2006 for his George Bernard Shaw in James Roose-Evans’ revival of Hugh Whitemore’s The Best of Friends at the Hampstead Theatre. Among his last appearances on stage was General Waverley in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at The Lowry, Manchester in 2009.

Dotrice amassed 120 credits on screen, his television work including Egeus in Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1959), Davies in a 1966 Emmy award-winning broadcast of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and AP Herbert’s Misleading Cases, in which he co-starred with Alastair Sim and won a BAFTA, in 1967.

In Wolf Mankowitz and Marc Miller’s 13-part Dickens of London he played both the novelist and his father (1976) and Sir Timothy Farrar in Jack Rosenthal’s adaptation of Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes in 1977, Olivier’s small-screen directorial debut.

More recently, he was a familiar face on American television, returning home for appearances in Casualty (2005), Are You Jim’s Wife? (2006) and Mike Bullen’s comedy-drama Life Begins (2005-06). His last television role was Hallyne the Pyromancer in Game of Thrones (2012).

His few film appearances included The Heroes of Telemark (1965), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and Leopold Mozart, father of the composer, in Milos Forman’s Amadeus (1984).

Roy Louis Dotrice was born on May 26, 1923, and died on October 16, aged 94. He was appointed an OBE in 2008 and is survived by three daughters – actors Michele, Karen and Yvette – from his marriage, until her death in 2007, to the actor Kay Newman.

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