Nicky Henson was an actor of considerable, if lightly worn, resources blessed with leading man looks. Both qualities served him well in a long and varied career that included memorable appearances on stage with the Young Vic, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and in West End musicals. On television he moved easily between The Frost Report and Fawlty Towers, EastEnders and Downton Abbey.
The son of performers – his father was the actor-comedian Leslie Henson, his actor mother used the stage name Billie Dell – he trained at RADA in stage management before forming a short-lived pop band (with actor and writer Ian Ogilvy on drums) in the early 1960s.
Marked by the versatility that became his signature, early stage appearances included the All Square revue (Vaudeville Theatre, 1963), Mordred in Camelot (Drury Lane, 1964), a song-and-dance routine in the Palladium’s London Laughs (1966) and as the titular Toad of Toad Hall (Strand, 1969).
Under Frank Dunlop’s championing at the Young Vic, he revealed himself as an able classical actor, drawing attention in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (1970), as Jimmy Porter (John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, 1972) and Rosencrantz in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1973).
His RSC highlights included Henry Straker (Man and Superman, 1977) and his “dream part” and theatre swansong, Toby Belch (Twelfth Night, 2005) when the effects of chemotherapy for the cancer he had been diagnosed with five years earlier forced him to withdraw from the run and retire from the stage.
In between had been two vivid, Olivier award-nominated performances in the RSC’s 1985-86 season as Touchstone (As You Like It) and Ford (The Merry Wives of Windsor).
With the National Theatre, he made an impression as Simon Yepikhodov (The Three Sisters, 1979) and Frederick Reeves (The Elephant Man, 1982), and his final stage role was at the NT as an insinuatingly suave Archie in Stoppard’s Jumpers, transferring with it to the Piccadilly Theatre in 2003.
In 1989, his melancholic, lovesick Vershinin at Dublin’s Gate and the Royal Court shone out against the combined forces of the Cusack family in sharp contrast to his successes in farce: Ben Travers’ Rookery Nook (Her Majesty’s, 1979) and Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (Savoy, 1982).
His more than 100 screen credits included the lead in The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976), Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake (2004) and George Clooney’s Syriana (2005) on film. Notable television appearances included Keith Waterhouse’s adaptation of Jack Pulman’s advertising-world novel The Happy Apple (1983), opposite Albert Finney in Malcolm Bradbury’s 1990 take on Kingsley Amis’ The Green Man and the 1995 reboot of Shine on Harvey Moon.
Nicholas Victor Leslie Henson was born on May 12, 1945 and died on December 15, aged 74. Twice married – to the actor Una Stubbs and Royal Ballet principal Marguerite Porter, he is survived by both and three children.