August 26, 2003
By Dennis Barker
Andrew Ray: Actor whose reliance on royalty belied his leftwing views
One of the paradoxes of the often erratic life of the actor Andrew Ray, who has died of a heart attack aged 64, was that he made and established his name by playing parts associated with royalty while himself being inclined towards the more flamboyant sort of leftish, flower-powered, antiracist views and postures.
He made his professional debut in 1950, at the age of 10, in the film The Mudlark. He played a poor cockney boy who makes a living by scavenging the banks of the Thames and strays into Windsor Castle, where his elfin charm helps Prime Minister Disraeli (Alec Guinness) persuade Queen Victoria (Irene Dunn) to come out of her prolonged mourning for Prince Albert and rejoin public life.
The film was praised for its sentimental view of both childhood and royalty, but Ray himself was to emerge as more leftwing. In 1967, he dropped out of a play about English middle-class mores when on a British Council tour in India, maintaining that it was trivial, and arrived in Rhodesia, where his wife came from, saying that he had had dreams about the Garden of Eden, wearing Pandit Nehru trousers and jacket, and talking about the inadequacies of western life.
He had been meditating with Brian Jones, Arthur C Clarke and others. The Rhodesian special branch began to take an interest. In 1976, he went to Rhodesia in a tour of the JB Priestley play castigating the indifference and callousness of the English upper classes, An Inspector Calls, and further agitated the Rhodesian special branch by seizing an entertainer’s microphone in a club to pronounce that, black or white, people were just people. He was subsequently warned that stool pigeons might try to incriminate him by selling him pot, and left the country under a cloud.
Though there were some who saw his gestures as part of his tempestuous lifestyle, his son Mark Olden (the family’s real surname) regarded him as a serious supporter of the liberation of black people, and wholehearted in his political beliefs. Ray joined the Zanu-PF party after Rhodesia achieved independence and became Zimbabwe.
His life had been chequered. He had won the Mudlark role almost by accident. When he wanted a trip away from the family home in north London while recovering from mumps, his father, the comedian Ted Ray, took him with his older brother Robin (the entertainer, broadcaster and writer; obituary, November 30 1998) to meet the 20th Century Fox casting director Ben Lyon, star of the popular radio show Life With The Lyons. Robin was pronounced too tall for the Mudlark, and Andrew got the part instead.
In the face of the other child parts that were offered him, Ray left Franklin House prep school in north London and was effectively not to resume his academic education. He appeared as the neglected son of a wife trying to save her marriage in Woman In A Dressing Gown (1957); other films included Escape By Night (1953), The Young And Guilty (1958) and Serious Charge (1959).
His father had conscientiously put all his earnings into a trust for him until he was 17. When he reached that age, he used the money to buy fast cars, two of which he promptly and nearly fatally crashed. In 1960-61, he took the part of a young homosexual friend of the heroine of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey on the Broadway stage, but when he returned to Britain, the roles for him were no longer there. By April 1965, at the age of 25, he thought he was finished, and attempted suicide.
It was a slow climb back. In 1967 he appeared in the West End production of Howard’s End, and was praised for his sensitive performance. By the 1970s he was beginning to achieve as an adult performer what he had once achieved as a child. A resem blance to King George VI helped him to take on the role in the West End play Crown Matrimonial in 1972, and in 1978 on television he played George VI when still the Duke of York in the television drama Edward And Mrs Simpson. His own insecurities also helped him tackle the part of the highly-strung George VI. The following year, he moved away from royalty to appear in Ian Curteis’s play Atom Spies as another confused man, this time Klaus Fuchs, who sold nuclear secrets to Russia.
Ray made several television appearances in the Tales Of The Unexpected series (1979), was in the television version of PD James’s Death Of An Expert Witness (1983), and made a guest appearance in the 1987 series of Inspector Morse. In the 1993 series of Peak Practice, he played Dr John Reginald. He became an active member of the Equity Council.
Andrew Ray’s personal life was turbulent. At 20, in 1959, he married Susan Burnet against his father’s wishes, and they had a son and daughter. At times she returned to Rhodesia with the children; the couple separated in the 1970s, but never divorced, and remained on good terms.
Andrew Ray (Olden), actor, born May 31 1939; died August 20 2003