Saturday 19 January 2019

Remembering Windsor Davies

The actor Windsor Davies has very sadly passed away at the age of 88. Windsor, as has been seen by the reaction on Twitter today, was an actor held in tremendous affection by the British public, mainly thanks to a series of high profile and well received roles in television situation comedy. An instantly recognisable actor with an unforgettable booming Welsh voice, his death marks the latest in a very sad list of legendary Carry On faces we have recently lost.

Windsor came to acting relatively late on, turning professional in the early 1960s in his early thirties. He came to the Carry On films late in their run too. Joining the team for Carry On Behind in 1975, Windsor was an instant hit with both his fellow team members and the viewing public. His all guns blazing performance as lusty butcher Fred Ramsden was one of the highlights of the film and his double act with Jack Douglas was natural, easy going and very believable. I understand the role of Fred was written by Dave Freeman for Sid James, however with Sid touring overseas at the time, up stepped Windsor. He was the perfect choice. So popular was Windsor that he was quickly brought back for the following film, the Second World War comedy Carry On England in 1976. By now, sadly, Sid James had died and nothing would be quite the same again. Despite this, Windsor gives a spirited performance in a leading role, as the bombastic Sergeant Major, not a million miles away from one of his most famous small screen creations. Again forming a deliciously funny double act (this time with Kenneth Connor) Windsor is one of the few good things about England.

Windsor's Carry On association does not quite end there. Many years later he popped up for a cameo in the ITV drama, Cor Blimey! This adaptation of Terry Johnson's stage play Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick, told the story of Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Williams and their lives on screen and off. Windsor plays an actor rehearsing the role of Sir Toby Belch opposite Samantha Spiro's Barbara Windsor towards the end of the film. Curiously, Windsor had guest starred as Charlie, a co-worker of Sid James in Sid's classic sitcom Bless This House back in 1974, the year before he would take his place in the Carry On series.

Windsor Davies, one of our most famous Welshmen, was actually born in Canning Town on 28 August 1930. He actually shared a birthday with yours truly, although we were born quite a few years apart. Windsor was born to Welsh parents and the family moved back to Wales upon the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. After receiving his education in the Ogmore Valley, Windsor took on a variety of jobs including that of a coal miner before training to be a school teacher. He was also posted overseas to Egypt amongst other places during his National Service in the 1950s. During his time as a teacher, he also started to become involved in amateur dramatics in his spare time. This eventually sealed his fate, as his wife persuaded him to enrol in a drama course. 

The early 1960s saw Windsor well on his way to success as he began to rack up a long list of credits, mainly on the small screen. His debut came in 1962 when he played Wallace Morton in a television film called The Keep. This comedy drama focussed on a Welsh family tied to the memory of their revered and long dead mother. Before long recurring roles in television series came his way, with parts as Bill Morgan in Probation Officer (1962) and as Detective Sergeant Wade in Ring Out an Alibi (1964). Windsor also made his first forays in cinema at this time with supporting roles in two Agatha Christie adaptations - as Sergeant Brick with Margaret Rutherford in 1964's Murder Most Foul and a year later as Dragbot in The Alphabet Murders. 

He appeared several times as Willy the Gospel in the Sam Kydd family adventure series Orlando in 1966 before being cast as a Returning Officer in two episodes of Granada's Coronation Street later that year. His episodes see regular character Len Fairclough become a Weatherfield Councillor, beating the formidable Rovers Return landlady Annie Walker. Windsor also appeared in another soap opera around this time - as Dan Cray in The Newcomers, which also featured a young Wendy Richard. Later in 1967 Windsor also had a brush with Doctor Who, playing Toby in the Patrick Troughton saga The Evil of the Daleks. 

Windsor continued to play many supporting roles in a useful mix of comedy and drama across the late 1960s and early 1970s, appearing in series such as The Worker with Charlie Drake, UFO, Nearest and Dearest and Special Branch. In 1971 he even joined fellow Carry On actor Peter Gilmore to play Taffy in the classic serial The Onedin Line. However it was his starring role as Sergeant Major Williams in the Perry and Croft BBC sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum which catapulted this hard working character actor to lasting stardom. In a cast which also featured Melvyn Hayes, Michael Bates, Donald Hewlett, Michael Knowles and Don Estelle, Windsor played the most iconic character of all. It even led to a chart hit for Windsor and Don in 1975 - a certain Whispering Grass. The series ran to 56 episodes from 1974 until 1981 and became a huge hit, although it is rarely broadcast today due to certain themes broadcasters deem unacceptable. I'll leave you to make your own mind up on that one.

Despite the success of It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Windsor continued to make many appearances elsewhere, in what must have been a very busy schedule. Aside from the two Carry Ons, he also played Mr Truscott, father of Lynda Bellingham's character Mary in the 1976 film Confessions of a Driving Instructor. That same year he joined familiar Carry On faces Carol Hawkins, Leslie Phillips, Ian Lavender and June Whitfield for the Ray Cooney film farce, Not Now, Comrade. And in 1978 he took on what apparently proved to be his favourite part, as Welsh rugby fan Mog Jones in the comedy adventure, Grand Slam. As soon as It Ain't Half Hot Mum came to an end in 1981, Windsor launched himself into another long running sitcom role. He starred opposite Donald Sinden as two rival antiques dealers in the series Never the Twain. Produced by Thames, the series lasted for 67 episodes and for ten years, finally ending in 1991. The 1980s brought many other roles, quite a few of which were in children's television with appearances on The Sooty Show, Alice in Wonderland and Danger: Marmalade at Work. In 1985 he also starred in the comedy series The New Statesman, playing George Vance. 

Windsor continued to work right throughout the 1990s and although comedy still featured, with guest parts in the likes of Oh Doctor Beeching! and 2Point4 Children, both for the BBC, he also got to stretch his dramatic muscles in a range of period dramas. I remember him as Prime Minister David Lloyd George in Channel 4's excellent drama series, Mosley in 1998, with Jonathan Cake playing the infamous British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley. Windsor also played General Tufto in two episodes of the serial Vanity Fair, broadcast the same year. And in 2000, Davies was part of an all star cast for the BBC2 production of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. Windsor played Rottcodd in a cast which also featured Warren Mitchell, Eric Sykes, June Brown and Christopher Lee. Windsor's last appearances came in the medical drama series Casualty in 2000 and four years later, in a cameo as a Night Porter in the Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker BBC sitcom, My Family.

Windsor Davies chose to retire from the acting profession in 2004 at the age of 74. He retired to the South of France with his wife, Eluned. Windsor and Eluned had married in 1957 and were together until her death in September 2018. Together they had five children. 

Windsor clearly had a long, successful life, both professionally and personally. Reaching the grand old age of 88 is a wonderful thing, yet that does not make his passing any easier for those who knew him and loved him. As fans of the very best of British comedy and drama, we can cherish his prolific career and all those brilliant roles he played as only he could. Rest in peace, Windsor, and thanks for all the laughs. 

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  1. Superb account of Windsor's prolific career ... I learnt so much! And obviously a very devoted family man as well ...a great all rounder!

  2. Great words and he was a great actor