James Aubrey was born in Austria in 1947. He made his film debut in 1963 with the leading role in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. For director Peter Walker, he made the movie “Home Before Midnight” and for director Norman J. Warren he made “Terror”. In 1983 he starred in “Forever Young”. On television he had a major success with “Bouquet of Barbed Wire” in 1976 in the role of Gavin Sorenson. He died in 2010.
Ronald Bergan’s “Guardian” obituary:
It must be galling for an actor who has a reasonable track record of films, stage and television, stretching over decades, to be remembered mainly for a role he played right at the beginning of his career. It hints, often unfairly, that everything was downhill thereafter. A case in point was James Aubrey, who was 14 when he played Ralph, one of the principal characters in Peter Brook’s film of Lord of the Flies (1963), a part for which he was highly praised.
Aubrey, who has died of cancer aged 62, was one of 30 British schoolboys chosen by Brook out of 3,000 candidates. In attempting to duplicate the conditions depicted in William Golding‘s novel about children on a desert island who have survived a plane crash, Brook transported his young cast to the island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico, and made them live in an abandoned pineapple cannery that had only the most basic facilities. As the children were only available during the school summer holidays of 1961, the film had to be completed quickly.
Ralph, the “genuine leader” and voice of conscience among the barbarism, was so central to the film that the shoot nearly came to a halt when Aubrey went down with an ankle injury. Luckily it healed quickly enough, but the tears that he sheds at the end of the film were partly genuine as he remembered the pain. Many years later, affectionately recalling the filming, Aubrey said: “For me something happened; a religious, spiritual experience. Peter Brook was the octopus and we were the arms.” The holidays over, all the boys returned to their schools. Only Aubrey and Nicholas Hammond, who played Robert, one of the choirboys who follows Jack (Tom Chapin), Ralph’s rival, continued acting.
Like Ralph, Aubrey came from a privileged background. Born James Aubrey Tregidgo in Klagenfurt, Austria, where his father, Major Aubrey James Tregidgo, was stationed, he was educated at private English schools in Jamaica, Germany and Singapore. His first enjoyable taste of acting as a child in Lord of the Flies, followed by a very short run on Broadway in Isle of Children, directed by Jules Dassin, led him to study at the Drama Centre in London from 1967 to 1970. Aubrey then joined the Citizens theatre in Glasgow, appearing in such roles as Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. This was followed by spells with the Cambridge Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. One of the highlights of his stage work was his portrayal of Tom Wingfield, the narrator, leading character and playwright’s alter ego in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie at the Shaw theatre in London in 1977.
In the meantime, Aubrey was starting to get work on television, his break coming in all seven episodes of Andrea Newman’s steamy soap opera, Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976), and a further seven episodes in the equally steamy sequel, Another Bouquet (1977), of which the TV critic Clive James wrote that “by the end, everybody had been to bed with everybody else except the baby”. Despite a rather wobbly American accent, Aubrey was rivetingly nasty as the abusive Gavin Sorenson, who marries the pregnant Prue Manson (Susan Penhaligon), but makes a play for her mother (Sheila Allen).
The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.
Other TV series in which Aubrey had significant roles were as a detective inspector in Rockliffe’s Folly (1988) and The Men’s Room (1991), as well as popping up in Lytton’s Diary (1986) and Dalziel and Pascoe (2005), among others. Of his films, it could be said, with some justification, that Lord of the Flies was the premature peak. They were a bizarre mix: a few gore and sexploitation movies; The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle (1980), Tony Scott’s lesbian vampire film The Hunger (1983), and Riders of the Storm (1986), in which he played an Italian-American Vietnam vet on an anti-rightwing crusade led by a crazed Dennis Hopper. Most of these, Aubrey chose to forget. However, among his treasured possessions were the conch shell he used to call the boys to order in Lord of the Flies, and a copy of a biography of Tennessee Williams, signed by the playwright: “To James. The best Tom ever.” No actor could receive a better testimonial.
He married Agnes Hallander, but the marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his daughter.
• James Aubrey Tregidgo, actor, born 28 August 1947; died 6 April 2010