August 23, 2003, Saturday
Obituary of Andrew Ray Actor who found fame at the age of 10 and went on to play George VI
ANDREW RAY, who died on Wednesday aged 64, became an actor when he was only 10, and matured from an impish child star through a troublesome adolescence to become best known for his portrayal of George VI, both on the stage in Crown Matrimonial (Duke of York, 1973) and in the popular television drama Edward and Mrs Simpson (1980).
Andrew Olden (Ray was his stage name) was born in London on May 31 1939 while his father, the radio and stage comedian Ted Ray, was making his first broadcast.
Described by Ted Ray in his autobiography as “perky” and “inquiring”, the saucer-eyed Andrew, with his tousled fair hair, became a child star quite by chance.
He was recovering at home from an attack of mumps when Ben Lyon, the casting director for Twentieth Century Fox, called his parents to see if Andrew’s older brother Robin – who later became a well-known broadcaster and musician – would be tested for a film part. But Robin was too tall, and Andrew was cast in the role.
The Mudlark (1950), the story of an orphan boy who earns a miserable living beachcombing on the lower Thames and sneaks into Windsor Castle, was a charming, if sentimental, film; audiences and critics alike were delighted by Ray’s performance as the guttersnipe wandering through the enchanted castle, and he was hailed as a child prodigy.
He followed up his success with other films, notably The Yellow Balloon (1953), the story of a child who gets mixed up with London gangsters; Escapade (1955), about three boys who steal an aeroplane; and Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957). He also appeared in a number of plays, including a production of I Capture the Castle, based on Dodie Smith’s novel.
By the time he was 14, Andrew Ray was regularly described by the press as “Ted Ray’s film star son”, and his father put his considerable earnings in trust until his 17th birthday. But stardom had taken its toll on his childhood, and Andrew had left Franklin House prep school in north London at the age of 11.
“My education,” he recalled, “really stopped at 10. How can you go back to school and remain unchanged when you’ve suddenly become a film star?”
When Ray came into his trust at the age of 17, it was almost inevitable that he would go, in his own words, “a bit mad”. He bought sports cars and wrote off two in six months in near-fatal crashes. At 19 he became engaged to the Rhodesian-born actress Susan Burnet and, despite his father’s objections, married her a year later.
But after a spell on Broadway, Ray returned to Britain to discover that his star was no longer in the ascendant. In April 1965, feeling that he was “washed up” at 25, he attempted suicide. He returned to the stage in a West End production of Howard’s End (1967), when his portrayal of Leonard Best was described by The Daily Telegraph as “a sensitively perfect piece of acting”.
Following Ray’s success as a stammering George VI in the stage and television productions based on the Abdication of Edward VIII, he appeared in a number of television dramas, including The Bunker (1981) and Death of an Expert Witness (1983). From 1992 to 1994 he played Dr John Reginald in the drama series Peak Practice.
In later life he was an active member of the Equity Council and cared for his mother, who died last November. At the time of his death he was planning to write a biography of the Ray family. He married Susan Burnet in 1959. They separated in the 1970s, but remained on excellent terms and never divorced. She survives him with a son and a daughter.