Actor, activist and Equity vice president, who was one of the first black actors to appear at the RSC and is best known for his TV roles in Doctor Who and Fawlty Towers
Acting and activism went hand in hand for Louis Mahoney, one of the first black actors to appear with the Royal Shakespeare Company, who later co-founded the Black Theatre Workshop and served as Equity’s vice president.
Born in the Gambia, West Africa, Mahoney came to the UK in the early 1960s to study medicine but abandoned it to train at the (now Royal) Central School of Speech and Drama.
On graduating, he worked with Colchester Rep, the Mercury Theatre and Watford Palace Theatre, before joining the RSC in 1967 where he was seen in minor roles alongside Ian Richardson’s Coriolanus, Ian Holm’s Romeo and Estelle Kohler’s Juliet.
Returning to the Mercury in 1970, he played Friday in Robinson Crusoe – a retelling by Keith Johnstone’s Theatre Machine – by which time he had become acutely aware of the ingrained racial prejudice that limited non-white actors to token parts, often laced with socially endemic racism.
In 1972, he became the first Afro-Asian actor to be elected to Equity’s council and took responsibility for its Afro-Asian committee, pointedly changing its previous designation for “Coloured Actors”. He made his presence felt immediately, locking horns with outmoded thinking within Equity and taking a more public stance, with regular articles and letters in The Stage.
With the actor Taiwo Ajai-Lycett and the writer Mike Phillips, in 1976 Mahoney launched the Black Theatre Workshop to provide a platform for African writers and performers.
The same year, along with Miriam Karlin, Anton Rodgers and six others, he resigned from Equity’s council in protest at its refusal to stand against apartheid in South Africa. It led to the creation of Performers Against Racism and a sustained effort by Mahoney before a ban prohibiting appearances in the country was passed.
Re-elected in 1977, Mahoney continued to advocate for change, notably campaigning for colour-blind casting on the BBC, opposing newly elected Equity president Derek Bond’s decision to ignore the cultural boycott in South Africa in 1984 and urging Cameron Mackintosh to employ Afro-Asian actors in Miss Saigon in the early 1990s. From 1994-96, he served with Charlotte Cornwell as Equity’s joint-vice president.
Throughout his activism, Mahoney maintained a steady acting career, appearing at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, Oxford Playhouse and the Almeida in London before returning to the RSC to double as Montague and the Friar for Ray Fearon and Zoe Waites’ Romeo and Juliet in 1997.
He was seen at London’s National Theatre in Matt Charman’s The Observer (2009) and Drew Pautz’s Love the Sinner (2010), and at the Royal Court in Debbie Tucker Green’s Truth and Reconciliation (2011) and Feast, a multi-authored celebration of Yoruba culture (2013).
His final stage appearance was in Alan Bennett’s pungent, if somewhat sprawling, hospital drama Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre in 2018.
On television, Mahoney will be remembered as the doctor in the recently controversial The Germans episode of Fawlty Towers, for appearing in both the original and most recent incarnations of Doctor Who and as Jake in The Lenny Henry Show.
His film roles included Guns at Batasi (1964), The Omen trilogy finale The Final Conflict (1981), Cry Freedom (1987) and the Tom Hanks-starring Captain Phillips (2013).
Louis Felix Danner Mahoney was born on September 8, 1938 and died on June 28, aged 81.