Monday 27 July 2015

Whatever Happened To ... Richard Wattis?

Amazingly, Richard Wattis only appeared in one Carry On. He was one of those actors who seemed to pop up just about everywhere. He filmed a supporting role in Carry On Spying alongside Eric Barker in less than a week. Strangely, despite this successful appearance he wasn't asked back to do another film in the series.

Today Richard Wattis is probably best remembered for two roles. First of all, as the snobbish, insufferable neighbour Mr Brown in the BBC situation comedy series Sykes alongside Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques and Deryck Guyler. Wattis appeared in both the original 1960s black and white series and the return, in colour, in 1972. Wattis also starred in several of the St Trinian's comedy films in the 1950s and 1960s. He always played the suited, cowardly man from the Ministry of Education, usually alongside the likes of Eric Barker again.

Richard Wattis played supporting roles in a wide variety of British films during the 1950s and 1960s, although his acting career dates back to 1938. Among his many screen credits are Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Monte Carlo Or Bust; Hobson's Choice; Dentist On The Job; Very Important Person; Confessions Of A Window Cleaner; The Longest Day; The Colditz Story and perhaps most famously, in The Prince and The Showgirl opposite Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe.

On television, apart from his long running role in Sykes, Richard Wattis appeared with Kenneth Williams in Dick and The Duchess and cropped up in the likes of Father, Dear Father; The Goodies; Danger Man and The Prisoner. Interestingly, Wattis did return to the Carry On fold in 1975. He filmed a short cameo role in the episode Orgy and Bess, part of the ATV television series Carry On Laughing. Unfortunately his role, along with that of the actor Simon Callow, was cut from the final screened episode.

Richard Wattis was born in Staffordshire in 1912. He began his working life in the family's electrical engineering film before turning to acting in the 1930s. His first screen appearance came in the film A Yank At Oxford, released in 1938. Wattis was widely known within the acting profession as being gay, at a time when being open about such things was difficult. He frequently appears in the pages of Kenneth Williams diaries during the 1960s and 1970s, often meeting Kenneth at parties. Richard, always known as Dickie to his friends, is given rather a hard time by Williams in the diaries, often described as being lonely and fond of a tipple or two. As always, one can take aspects of Kenneth's diaries with a large pinch of salt.

When researching this post, it came as rather a shock to realise that Richard Wattis passed away more than forty years ago. So many of his appearances on film and television are still very recognisable that it seems weird that he has been gone for so long. He died of a heart attack in a London restaurant on 1st February 1975 at the age of just 62. Kenneth Williams recorded the news in his diary:

When I went in to see Louie at 11.45 she said "It's been on the radio that Richard Wattis is dead!"  and we had a v subdued lunch in consequence. The BBC rang and asked me to talk about him. I went round to B.H and recalled his kindness to me, beginning with Dick and Duchess.

The Kenneth Williams Diaries,  p, 487

Richard Wattis was yet another one of that band of regular faces; reliable character actors who would turn up in film after film for years without ever truly becoming a star. They were the backbone of our film and television industry for decades.

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  1. I remember him being in seemingly every British film of that era, but it's hard to find out anything about him. He'll live on in all his classic films though.

  2. So many of these great actors I loved as a child are gone now.They were all a huge part of my life. You were all wonderful.

  3. One of the many greats who could make you laugh without using foul language.

  4. He made British, British and one of the best of his erase and a credit to us all,always a pleasure what watch!