By the time he shot to fame as the footman Edward in Upstairs Downstairs in 1971, Christopher Beeny had been performing for nearly a quarter of a century.
Staying with the hugely popular precursor of Downton Abbey for four years, he later became a familiar television staple in a number of gentle comedies, including as a friendly neighbour to single mother Paula Wilcox in Miss Jones and Son and an ineffectual shop-floor foreman in the second iteration of Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe’s The Rag Trade (both running from 1977-78) and as the gormless nephew to Thora Hird’s overbearing undertaker-aunt in In Loving Memory (1979-86).
His television swansong was as the reformed debt collector Morton Beamish in 27 episodes of Last of the Summer Wine between 2001 and 2010.
Born in London to teacher parents, Beeny enrolled with the Ballet Rambert school at the age of six and later spent time at the Arts Educational School before finishing his studies at RADA. By then he was an established child actor on stage and screen, having made his professional debuts on television, film and stage – as Michael in Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre – in 1953.
The following year, he enjoyed several extended stints on the small screen in the pioneering soap opera The Grove Family, appearing in 125 episodes before the show was cancelled in 1957.
When work suddenly dried up in the early 1960, he abandoned acting and later created his own building company. Upstairs Downstairs revived his acting career, his new-found fame prompting a return to the theatre in Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale’s Moliere re-working, Scapino, at the Westcliff Theatre in 1975.
In 1976, he toured in Willis Hall’s The Long and the Short and the Tall and the Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse musical Stop the World, I Want to Get Off before chancing his arm against type as Fagin – “He is far too nice”, The Stage noted – in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal, Margate in 1990.
During the ensuing decade, Beeny appeared in several roles at the Thorndike Leatherhead, including alongside Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray in Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1992), Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest (1993), Noel Coward’s Present Laughter (1994) and as the ticket master Albert in Andrew Taylor’s adaptation of Brief Encounter (1996). He returned to the role in the West End at the Lyric Theatre in 2000 with Christopher Cazenove and Jenny Seagrove as the ill-fated lovers.
Ubiquitous in pantomime, his last stage appearances included the George Gershwin musical Crazy for You at the Theatre Royal Lincoln (2003), Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park (2009) and, on video, for the First World War pageant The Dreamers, co-written and composed by his son, James Beeny, at the St James Theatre in 2015.
Christopher Beeny was born on July 7, 1941, and died on January 3, aged 78.