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Obituary: Dennis Ramsden – ‘a leading farceur and director’

Dennis Ramsden

When Dennis ‘Slim’ Ramsden announced his retirement (prematurely, as it proved) in 2001, The Stage hailed him as “one of the West End’s leading farceurs and directors”.

In a career dating back to the 1940s, the Leeds-born actor and director led a varied life, seemingly seldom out of work while running rep companies in Aberdeen and Glasgow, enjoying a defining association with Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy, building a wide-ranging profile on television and, in later years, a long relationship with the Mill at Sonning.

He earned his nickname at Dundee Rep in 1946 where, tall and lanky at the time, he was introduced to a visiting royal with: “We call him ‘Slim’, Sir.”

He made his West End debut alongside Margaret Rutherford in 1948 in John Dighton’s The Happiest Days of Your Life at the Apollo Theatre and worked widely in regional rep in the following decade.

As guest producer with Dundee Rep (1954-55), Ramsden established himself as a vivid pantomime dame, regularly repeating the role in later years. He came into Cooney’s circle as director of John Chapman’s The Brides of March at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen in 1959, succeeding AR Whatmore as the venue’s director for a period.

The 1960s saw him as resident director of The Mousetrap for four years and his relationship with Cooney flourishing on stage and screen, first in Chase Me, Comrade! (Whitehall Theatre, 1964) and subsequently as a member of the company that took up residency in the Garrick Theatre with a raft of plays including Stand by Your Bedouin! (1967) and Let Sleeping Wives Lie (1968).

At one point during the decade, he had three productions running in the West End while appearing in a fourth.

He was seen in Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot’s No Sex Please, We’re British (Strand Theatre, 1971), Dave Freeman’s A Bedfull of Foreigners (Victoria Palace and Duke of York’s theatres, 1976), Marriott and Chapman’s Shut Your Eyes and Think of England (Apollo Theatre, 1978) and Cooney’s Out of Order (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1990).

His sole Broadway appearance was as Detective Sergeant Porterhouse in Cooney’s Run for Your Wife in 1989, following its run at the Criterion Theatre.

Notable among his many directing credits were Chapman and Freeman’s Key for Two (Vaudeville Theatre, 1982), the Spike Milligan-starring Babes in the Wood (Chichester Festival Theatre, 1984), Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s television spin-off, Hi-de-Hi Spirits (Bournemouth Pier, 1986) and, throughout the 1990s, numerous productions for the Mill at Sonning. He came out of retirement to appear at the Mill in Philip King’s Pools Paradise (2003) and Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables (2005).

A familiar face on television, regularly guesting on popular comedies of the day, he amassed more than 90 screen credits, including A Present for Dickie (1969-70), A Roof Over My Head (1977) and Hi-de-Hi! (1986-88). He was also seen in To the Manor Born (1979-81), The Two Ronnies (1980) and Only Fools and Horses (1985). Fittingly, his last screen appearance was in a 2012 film version of Run for Your Wife.

Dennis Arthur Ramsden was born on November 7, 1918, and died on March 31, aged 99.

He was married to the actor Christine Russell (whom he met during the 1948 run of The Happiest Days of Your Life) from 1954 until her death in 2014. He is survived by three children.

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