Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Richard Wattis: 1912 - 1975

Richard Cameron Wattis was born on 25 February 1912 and was an English character actor.

Richard attended King Edward's School, Birmingham and Bromsgrove School, after which he worked for the family electrical engineering firm before becoming a professional actor. After his debut at Croydon Repertory Theatre he made many stage appearances in the West End. His first appearance in a film was A Yank at Oxford in 1938, but war service interrupted his career as an actor. Wattis served as a Second Lieutenant with the Arms Section of Special Operations Executive at Station V1 during World War 2.

He is best known for his appearances in British comedies of the 1950s and 1960s, typically as the "Man from the Ministry" or similar character, with trademark thick-rimmed round spectacles.

This included the St Trinian's films (The Belles of St Trinian's, Blue Murder at St Trinian's and The Grteat St Trinain's Train Robbery), as "Manton Bassett", a Civil Servant who was the Deputy Director of Schools in the Ministry of Education, where he was often seen frowning and expressing indignation at the outrageous behaviour of other characters.

Other films included Hay Fever, Hobson's Choice, Chitty, Chitty,Bang, Bang, Carry On Spying, The Colditz Story, Dentist on the Job, Very Important Person, The Happiest Days of your Life and even The Longest Day, among many others.

Richard Wattis also appeared on television, including a long-running role opposite Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques in Sykes as their next-door neighbour, and appearances in Danger Man, The Prisoner, The Goodies, Hancock's Half Hour and Father Dear Father. In 1957-1958, he appeared as Peter Jamison in three episodes of an American Sitcom filmed in England, Dick and the Duchess, starring Patrick O'Neal and Hazel Court.

Richard was a gay man in an era when this was a taboo subject. He died of a heart attack in a Kensington restaurant in 1975 aged 62 years, in the middle of his favourite meal and claret.

Richard Wattis - copyright Gary Morgan 2004

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