Tuesday, February 9, 2010

English Actor Ian Carmichael Passes On

Actor Ian Carmichael OBE, who played both Lord Peter Wimsey and Bertie Wooster, passed on 5 February at the age of 89.

Ian Carmichael was born on 18 June, 1920 in Hull, Yorkshire. He attended Scarborough College and then Bromsgrove School in Worcestershire. Not particularly interested in school, he played with a dance band for a time before he took an interest in acting. He trained for a time at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his stage debut in 1939 as a robot in Karel and Josef Kapek’s RUR at the People’s Palace, Mile End, London. That same year he played Claudius in Julius Caesar at the Embassy in Swiss Cottage, London.

In 1940 Mr. Carmichael toured in the revue Nine Sharp before being commissioned in the British Army at Sandhurst. During World War II he served as a major in the 30th Armoured Brigade. Following the war Ian Carmichael returned to the stage. He made his first appearance on screen in Bond Street in 1948. In 1949 he appeared in uncredited roles in Trottie True and Dear Mr. Prohack. He also did a seven month tour in The Lilac with veteran comic actor Leo Franklin that year. He believed that gave him his best training as a light comedic actor.

The Fifties saw Mr. Carmichael appear in revues on the West End, such as The Lyric Revue (1951), The Globe Revue (1952), High Spirits (1952), and At the Lyric/Going to Town (1954).  It was in these revues that Mr. Carmichael established the sort of roles for which he was best known: bumbling Englishmen who nonetheless had perfect manners. He also continued to appear in such films as Ghost Ship (1952), Miss Robin Hood (1952), Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953), and Betrayed (1954). He made his television debut on Here's Television in 1951. As the Fifties continued, he appeared on the West End in such light comedies as Simon and Laura (1954)  Tunnel of Love (1957), The Love Doctor (1959), and The Gazebo (1960). He appeared in the films The Colditz Story (1955), the movie adaptation of Simon and Laura (1955), Private's Progress (1956), Lucky Jim (1957), I'm All Right Jack, and School for Scoundrels (1960). On television he appeared on Here and Now and BBC Sunday Night Theatre.

The Sixties saw Ian Carmichael appear on the West End in Critic’s Choice (1961), Devil May Care (1963). Say Who You Are (1965), and Getting Married (1967). He made his only appearance on Broadway in Boeing, Boeing in 1965. He appeared in the movies Double Bunk (1961), The Amorous Prawn (1962), Heaven's Above (1963), Hide and Seek (1964), and Smashing Time (1967). It would be his television work in the Sixties that he would be best known for .  Ian Carmichael starred as P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster in The World of Wooster from 1965 to 1967. From 1970 to 1971 he played Peter Lamb in Bachelor Father (not to be confused with the American show of the same name). He also appeared on television in Armchair Theatre, The Root of All Evil,and Play for the Day. 

It was in 1972 that Ian Carmichael was cast in one of his more famous roles, as Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsley in the TV series Lord Peter Wimsley. It ran from 1972 to 1975. He appeared in the films The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971), From Beyond the Grave (1973), and The Lady Vanishes. In 1983 he was the voice of Rat in the animated television adaptation of Wind and the Willows and the narrator of the subsequent series series The Wind and the Willows, which ran from 1984 to 1988. In 1989 he appeared in the film The Diamond Skulls.

The Nineties saw Mr. Carmichael doing more television. He was the narrator on the series Oh! Mr. Toad in 1990 . From 1992 to 1993 he starred as Sir James Menzies in the series Strathblair and in 1999 he appeared in four episodes of Wives and Daughters. His last work was on the series The Royal, on which he appeared from 2003 to 2009 as T. J. Middleditch.

As an Anglophile I cannot help but be saddened by the passing of Ian Carmichael. He was possibly the most English of actors, playing bumbling Englishmen with an alarming ease. He was perfect as the failure Henry Palfrey in School for Scoundrels and, although I have never seen the series (I want to), I have it on good authority that he was great as Bertie Wooster in The World of Wooster. Mr. Carmichael could play lovable losers, who nonetheless had perfect manners, with such aplomb that one could not help but root for him. Not that he was limited to playing bumblers. After all, he also played Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy L. Sayers' brilliant bon vivant detective who was always one step ahead of criminals. He was utterly convincing in the role, so much so it is hard for me to picture anyone else playing Lord Wimsey. Ian Carmichael was a great and beloved actor, whose passing, even at his age, no doubt makes many of us sad.


Holte Ender said...

My best memory of a Carmichael performance was in the film I'm Alright Jack. A film about industrial relations in which he played with Peter Sellars, they were both at the peak of their powers.

Terence Towles Canote said...

I have always wanted to see I'm Alright Jack. Carmichael and Sellers are two of my favourite actors, and I always thought it would be great to see them together!