August 29, 2003
by Patrick Newley
ANDREW RAY, ACTOR; STAR WHO CHARMED A QUEEN THEN PLAYED A KING
ANDREW RAY was one of Britain’s most successful child stars. The younger son of the comedian Ted Ray and the brother of the broadcaster Robin, he shot to fame at the age of 10 when he played the title role in the film The Mudlark, opposite Irene Dunne and Alec Guinness. Within five years he had made several other films, amassed a small fortune and become a household name.
Stardom took its toll on the perky youngster. At 17 he had already gained control of GBP 5,000 of his earnings as a child actor, held in trust, and spent it recklessly in a short time. He partied wildly, bought a string of sports cars and survived two near-fatal crashes. Unemployed and burnt-out at 25, he attempted suicide.
However, by the mid-Seventies he had worked his way back from the brink to become a familiar and popular face in television drama. Born Andrew Olden (Ray was his father’s stage name) in London in 1939, he became a star by chance. He was recovering from the mumps when a casting director with 20th Century Fox called on his parents to see if his older brother would audition for The Mudlark. Robin proved too tall – Andrew got the part instead.
In the film, a cockney orphan lives by scavenging the banks of the Thames and finds a medallion of Queen Victoria. Obsessed with meeting her, he gatecrashes Windsor Castle and charms the widowed Queen out of seclusion.
Andrew’s impish performance was widely praised and the public adored him. He followed his success with films such as The Yellow Balloon and Woman In A Dressing Gown, but his schooling suffered.
“My education really stopped at 10, ” he admitted. “How can you go back to school and remain unchanged when you’ve suddenly become a film star?”
Worse, his disciplinarian father resented the fame. Comedian Barry Cryer, who knew both, says: “I was always taken aback when I heard Ted Ray talking about his sons in public. He would praise Robin to the hilt but never Andrew. He always referred to him as ‘the other’. It was sad.”
Andrew also did good work for charity, including the Evelyn Norris Trust and Comic Heritage.
His father also objected to Andrew’s engagement at 19 to Rhodesian-born actress Susan Burnet. Ted thought he was too young and refused to attend the wedding. The couple, who had two children, separated in the Seventies but remained firm friends and did not divorce. Andrew appeared on Broadway in 1960, receiving rave notices as Geoff, the gay friend of Joan Plowright’s unwed mother Jo in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey but when he returned to Britain his star had waned. In April 1965, feeling washed-up, he took a drugs overdose. His return to a successful career was slow. He appeared in several plays and toured the Middle East but it was his brilliant stage performance as the stammering George VI in Crown Matrimonial in 1972 that led to his reprising the role six years later in the classic television series Edward And Mrs Simpson.
While filming, he became known for practical jokes. Jessie Matthews, then 71 and rather plump, played Mrs Simpson’s aunt Bessie Merryman. On set she grandly wrote letters on notepaper embossed “Jessie Matthews OBE”. She came back from one scene to find that Andrew had amended it to “Jessie Matthews OBESE”. She was so furious he fled to the gents’ and locked himself in.
Towards the end of his career he guested in numerous TV dramas including Atom Spies, Death Of An Expert Witness and Inspector Morse, and played Dr John Reginald in Peak Practice.
He was also an ardent boxing fan and a popular speaker at boxing dinners. He knew everyone connected with the game, from Frank Bruno to underworld fans including Freddie Foreman and Charlie Kray. His close friend, boxing agent Paddy Byrne, said: “Andrew was a great authority on boxing and much respected. Everybody loved him and he was great fun to be with it. He was really into living.”
He is survived by his estranged wife Susan, daughter Suzanne [correction: Madeleine] and son Mark.
Andrew Ray, born London, May 31, 1939. Died London, August 20, 2003, aged 64.