Obituary: Peter Hughes – familiar face on stage and screen
A familiar face on British television in a screen career spanning more than six decades,
Peter Hughes also enjoyed a substantial stage career as an actor and director, forming significant early relationships with Richmond Rep and Watford Palace Theatre.
Born in Kensal Rise, London, the only child of a single mother, he was partly raised in a foster home before training as a draughtsman designing car chassis. When his mother died in 1939, he moved to Coventry to design armoured cars. There he joined a small repertory company and helped establish the Talisman Theatre in 1942 before gaining a scholarship to LAMDA.
His professional break came in the 1949 national tour of Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels.His West End debut followed in 1953 at the New Lindsey Theatre in HB Fortuin’s Cloakroom Ticket No 3. He was seen in Richmond for the first time the same year, returning often to the company, notably as Tug and Sir John Friendly in John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse (1954) and in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (1963).
Joining Watford Rep in 1955, he ventured into pantomime, took a leading role in the premiere of Falkland Cary’s Ring Twice (1956) and began directing.
In the late 1950s, he understudied John Clements in The Rape of the Belt and Robert Morley in Hook, Line and Sinker at the Piccadilly Theatre before being seen in Robert Tanitch’s Call it Love? at Wyndham’s Theatre and alongside Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, the first production in the newly opened Royalty Theatre, in 1960.
He ended the decade in Paul Raymond’s Pyjama Tops at Whitehall Theatre and with a four-year spell as the father in a series of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes television adverts. The exposure, he told The Stage, changed the direction of his career: “I used to do quite a lot of serious television [but] this has fallen off. On the other hand, I find I’m in greater demand for light entertainment work.”
Illustrating his point, he found himself as a straight man in the ad hoc company that formed around Leslie Crowther on ITV’s The Saturday Crowd and in summer seasons in seaside pier theatres.
As the Headmaster held hostage by Philip Davis’ rebelling pupil in Barrie Keeffe’s
Gotcha at the Soho Poly in 1976, he delivered a finely tuned performance that was captured on film for the BBC’s Play for Today and seen as part of Keeffe’s Gimme Shelter trilogy at the Royal Court in 1977.
That year also saw him partner Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy in George and Mildred (Bournemouth Pier) and join the launch company of Simon MacCorkindale’s Pedant Entertainments as sugar daddy Philip in Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking at the Questor’s Theatre.
In later years, he enjoyed something of an Indian summer on stage with the Mill at Sonning, making a notable appearance as the diplomatic Butler in William Douglas-Home’s Lloyd George Knew My Father in 1990.
Early television credits included The Larkins (1958), The Avengers (1963 and 1966) and Philip Mackie’s drama Good Girl with Julia Foster (1974). Significant later appearances included supporting Kenneth More in An Englishman’s Castle (1978), Simon Callow in Instant Enlightenment Including VAT (1980) and Michael Caine in Jack the Ripper (1988).
Moving easily between drama and comedy, he was seen in Guy Hibbert’s A Master of the Marionettes (1989), the 1994 Christmas special of David Suchet’s Poirot and episodes of Steptoe and Son, the Dick Emery Show and Birds of a Feather.
On film, he played General Franco to Madonna’s Evita in Alan Parker’s 1996 musical and was seen in A Passage to India (1984), Hope and Glory (1987) and Restoration (1995).
An avid cricket fan and player, he was a long-standing member, and sometime chair, of the London Theatres’ Cricket Club. He coached at Ealing Cricket Club for 35 years, becoming an honorary life member, and ran the Chiswick Indoor Cricket School for some years.
Peter Hughes was born on May 20, 1922 and died on February 5, aged 96. He is survived by his wife, daughter (historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes) and son (former professional cricketer and journalist Simon Hughes).
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