August 25, 2003, Saturday

By Harry Landis

Andrew Ray died on 20 August 2003 aged 64. A few weeks earlier he had said to me: “Our generation hasn’t changed the world as we had hoped. I guess that’s now the job of our grandchildren. But every victory, big or small, that we achieve at Equity makes it all worthwhile,” writes Harry Landis.

His work as an Equity Councillor meant a great deal to Andrew. I first met Andrew, who was the son of nationally famous comedian Ted Ray, in those far off days when actors congregated in the coffee bar of the Arts Theatre in London. The artistic director Alec Clunes let it be known that we were welcome to sit there chatting with one coffee lasting for hours ­ that is if you bought one at all. Most of us were unknown and unemployed. There was the young Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Fenella Fielding, Kenneth Haig and cast members of West End plays, of whom Andrew was one. There was a lively, buzzing atmosphere.

Some of us were waiting for five o’clock to go to Guild House, now Equity’s London office, but then the offices of the Film Producers’ Guild. There we would sit in the foyer waiting for Ronnie Curtis, he of the glass eye and monocle, who would dole out two and three line parts for the next day’s filming at Merton Park studios.

Andrew didn’t need this. At the time he was at the Haymarket Theatre in The Flowering Cherry starring Ralph Richardson. In the cast was a young Rhodesian actress Susan Burnet, whom he later married. Andrew’s honest and simple style endeared him to all in the Arts coffee bar. He loved the camaraderie and when Harry Fowler made one of his rare appearances (he was a very busy film actor) there was laughter and mischief all round. Harry F, Andrew and myself remained friends since we shared progressive trade union views.

Andrew’s career began aged ten in the film The Mudlark with Irene Dunne as Queen Victoria. The next 30 years saw him in many films, among them The Yellow Balloon, Escapade, Woman in a Dressing Gown, Gideon of Scotland Yard, and Serious Charge. On TV he will be remembered as the Duke of York who became George VI in Edward and Mrs Simpson, Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations and the Duke of Windsor in Passion and Paradise – something of an irony since Andrew was a republican. Other TV appearances of which there were so many included episodes of Tales of the Unexpected, Inspector Morse and Upstairs Downstairs.

Performances in the West End include Howard’s End, for which he received much praise, and George VI in Crown Matrimonial. On Broadway he played the young homosexual friend of the heroine in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey.

Andrew felt very deeply about racism, homophobia and any form of inequality and injustice. It was while touring in Rhodesia in J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls in 1976 that he could not contain himself and had to speak out about the way the black population was treated. This brought him to the notice of the Rhodesian Special Branch, who kept their eye on him until he left the country.

Andrew’s fight for fair play never faltered as he got older. I remember a year or two ago, trying to get to sleep with a phone-in radio programme on, when I heard the presenter say “Andrew from Bayswater”. Sure enough it was Andrew. Frustrated at the reactionary nonsense he was hearing, he was moved to ‘phone in and give them a piece of his mind. He must have enjoyed it because he became something of a regular for a while.

Andrew also did good work for charity, including the Evelyn Norris Trust and Comic Heritage.

Andrew’s wife Susan, his son Mark and daughter Madeleine are very proud of his commitment to people, and he would want to be remembered as a life-long socialist. A more committed, caring, warm-hearted man it would be hard to find.

And who could forget that smiling face?