David Collings came to acting without any formal training, having begun his working life as a font designer. He went on to become a recognisable face on television and a stalwart of the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company.
Born in Brighton, he acted at school and later, while working, pursued amateur dramatics. A recommendation by the actor Freda Dowie to David Scase, then running the Liverpool Playhouse, led to Collings’ professional debut in rep.
His television break quickly followed, with Collings delivering a “uniquely fine performance” (The Stage) as Raskolnikov in a 1964 live broadcast of Crime and Punishment. In all, he amassed more than 100 screen credits, notable among them another Dostoyevsky, The Possessed, and Chaucer’s Clerk in The Canterbury Tales in 1969.
By then, his theatre profile had begun to grow, helped by a spell at the Oxford Playhouse, where he made much of the underwritten Quilpe in TS Eliot’s The Cocktail Party at Chichester Festival Theatre, directed by and starring Alec Guinness in 1968.
The following year, he was back in Oxford to play Dauphin to Nyree Dawn Porter’s Saint Joan. He made his West End debut in John Chapman’s Move Over Mrs Markham alongside Dinah Sheridan at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1972.
At the Bristol Old Vic, he was Malcolm to Mike Gwilym’s Macbeth (1976) and a memorably whining Drinkwater in George Bernard Shaw’s Captain Brassbound’s Conversion with Penelope Keith at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1982.
He made his RSC debut (alongside his second wife, Karen Archer) in the 1986 revival of Nicholas Nickleby as a diffident, quirky Newman Noggs. His first appearance at London’s National Theatre followed in 1990 as King of France to Brian Cox’s King Lear.
Between the two was his first Polonius, to Philip Franks’ Hamlet (RSC, 1987), a second lent more comedic licence opposite Damian Lewis in Tim Pigott-Smith’s 1994 Regent’s Park revival.
The next decade was spent moving between Stratford, the Southbank, Chichester and Birmingham Rep, where he gave a beautifully rounded, warm-hearted performance as Kulygin in Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters in 1998.
He gave a beautifully rounded, warm-hearted performance as Kulygin in Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters in 1998
Contrasting roles such as the seedy, greedy colonial in Biyi Bandele’s adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (RSC, 1999), the Machiavellian Cardinal Pandulph in King John (RSC, 2001) and code-breaker Dillwyn Knox in Hugh Whitemore’s Breaking the Code (Royal and Derngate, 2003) showed the extent of Collings’ extensive but lightly worn range.
It was vividly in evidence, too, when he doubled as Sir Henry Green and the Duke of Surrey to Kevin Spacey’s Richard II (Old Vic, London, 2005) and in five plays for Cheek by Jowl, including a choleric Cymbeline (Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2007) and a manipulative Pandarus in Troilus and Cressida (Barbican, London, 2008).
He shared the stage with his son, Samuel, in Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II in 2011 at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, which is where he made his stage swansong as Francis Nurse in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in 2015.
His few film appearances included Bob Cratchit (with his screen wife, the late Frances Cuka) in the Albert Finney-starring musical Scrooge (1970) and Ken Russell’s Mahler (1974), although the small screen offered him greater opportunities.
He gained something of a cult following for his appearances in UFO (1970), a trio of roles in Doctor Who (1975-83) and alongside Joanna Lumley and David McCallum’s alien investigators Sapphire and Steel (1981-82).
In later years, he was regularly heard in radio dramas, including Legolas in Brian Sibley’s epic 1981 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
He is survived by his wife, Karen Archer, from whom he was separated but remained close friends, their two children, Samuel and Eliza (all three are actors), and his daughter Kate and a stepdaughter from his first marriage.
David Cressy Collings was born on June 4, 1940 and died on March 23, aged 79.