David Lodge. Obituary in “The Guardian” in 2003.
The actor David Lodge, who has died at the age of 82, is best remembered for the string of British film comedies in which he appeared with Peter Sellers, such as Two Way Stretch (1960), where he played the amiable safecracker Jelly Knight, and Return Of The Pink Panther (1975). Although he appeared in over 100 films from 1959 to 1989, he never once had what he considered to be a starring role. He thought himself unattractive and ineligible for romantic roles, insisting “this ugly mug of mine gets me the meaty parts”.
Lodge was born in Strood, Kent, and for the first 12 years of his life, until his father left the Royal Navy, he knew him only for tearful goodbyes followed by joyous receptions two years later. After the family moved to London, he attended St Nicholas school, Golden Square, Soho, and worked at the same time as a paperboy and butcher’s assistant. Advertisement
On leaving school, he joined the Post Office, delivering commercial telegrams round the City of London. When war broke out in 1939, Lodge was recruited into the RAF.
His artistic career began, according to his own account, while he was spudbashing and singing loudly to alleviate the boredom. The pianist Teddy Rubach heard him and invited him to sing with the station band. By the end of the war he was one of 12 members of Ralph Reader’s Gang Show, along with Dick Emery and Sellers, the show’s drummer – a comic one, naturally – travelling round airfields in France and Germany to entertain the troops. He and Sellers spent at least some of their time selling black-market petrol and cigarettes: he remained loyal to Sellers for the rest of his life, and was best man at his marriage to Britt Ekland.
After the war, Lodge turned his hand to almost anything that would keep the wolf from the door. He worked as a circus clown and a ringmaster, later arguing that the experience had genuine theatrical value. Behind the clown’s mask there was no facial movement, so he was forced to act with his body. As a ringmaster, he had to learn how to make himself heard above a dozen others. When a touring show in which he was resident comedian folded in Limerick, he smuggled ballpoint pens, which were very precious at the time, back to England to repay the loan of his fare.
His determination eventually paid off. After struggling in variety, at holiday camps, in repertory and as a warm-up artist for the Goons, he was finally spotted on the stage in Windsor and offered a part in the film Cockleshell Heroes (1955), as one of a team of kayakers sent to attack German ships moored upriver at Bordeaux. It was also nearly his last film, as the vessel that he shared with Trevor Howard capsized, but he survived being thrown into the water while wearing a faulty frogman’s outfit.
From then on, he was rarely out of work. He appeared on the stage in the long-running Peter Ustinov play Romanoff And Juliet, and established himself in both military films, such as Ice-Cold In Alex (1958) and Guns At Batasi (1964), and in numerous comedies, including I’m Alright Jack (1959), The League Of Gentlemen (1959), Carry On Regardless (1961 – five more Carry Ons followed in the 1970s) and Dock Brief (1962). Both aspects of his screen persona made him a natural recruiting sergeant in Oh! What A Lovely War (1969).
Six-foot tall and muscular, he was frequently cast as a heavy, but what endeared him to audiences was his evident vulnerability behind the moustache. His reputation as a reliable character actor brought him roles in such television series as The Saint, The Champions and Bless This House.
His early association with the Goons had already borne surreal, silent fruit in The Running Jumping And Standing Still Film (1959), created by Spike Milligan and Richard Lester. On television, Lodge joined Milligan in the anarchic Q5 (1969) and its successors Q6 to Q9 (1975-80). In the mid-1960s, Lodge was team manager Gerry Barford in the BBC football soap opera United!
For many years he lived as a bachelor with his parents and a budgerigar in Winchmore Hill, north London. However, in June 1963, while working in Yugoslavia on the Viking epic The Long Ships, alongside Richard Widmark and Oscar Homolka, he surprised everyone. After a whirlwind 24-hour courtship, he proposed to a French journalist and ex-model, to whom he remained devoted.
His wedding was the source of one of his favourite anecdotes as, for him, it struck a blow for sexual equality. His bride was asked, “Do you, Marilyn, undertake to keep your husband in the manner to which he is accustomed, even if he is not gainfully employed?” She predeceased him.
· David Lodge, actor, born August 19 1921; died October 18 2003