August 26, 2003
by Tom Vallance
ANDREW RAY achieved instant fame as a child star when he was chosen at the age of 10 to play the title role in the film The Mudlark, which starred Irene Dunne as Queen Victoria and was the Royal Performance Film of 1950.
Ray was part of a show business family – his father Ted was a famous comedian who had his own radio show, while his older brother Robin was to become a musician and popular radio and television personality – so he should have been better prepared than some for youthful acclaim but, like many child actors, he found early stardom a mixed blessing.
His education, he said later, effectively stopped when he was 10 years old. “How can you go back to school and remain unchanged,” he asked, “when you’ve suddenly become a film star?” At the age of 25 he attempted suicide, claiming that he was “washed up”, but he was later to find some success on television and in stage productions.
Born Andrew Olden in London in 1939, while his father Ted Ray (real name Charles Olden) was making his first radio broadcast, he won his big chance by accident. Ben Lyon, a film and radio star who was then working as a casting agent for 20th Century-Fox, called on the Rays to see if Robin would test for The Mudlark.
Andrew was at home recovering from mumps and when Lyon saw that Robin had grown too tall for the role, he suggested that his brother try for the part.
Amid much publicity, Andrew Ray won the part of the cockney orphan who discovers a medallion picturing Queen Victoria and becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting her. His capture while sneaking into Windsor Castle provokes controversy, but he eventually meets the Queen and charms her into coming out of the seclusion she has sought since being widowed.
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.
Directed by Jean Negulesco, the film had a distinguished cast – besides Dunne as the Queen it featured Alec Guinness as Disraeli, Finlay Currie as John Brown and, in a small role, Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia. It was generally agreed, however, that Ray stole the film, which tended to be stilted when he was not around.
His second film, J. Lee Thompson’s The Yellow Balloon (1952) was a suspenseful thriller in which Ray, who thinks he has killed a playmate in a struggle over a balloon, is blackmailed into helping a homicidal crook. Kenneth More, one year away from winning major stardom in Genevieve, played Ray’s father, but the film was most notable for being the second British film to be awarded the recently created “X” certificate, which meant that Ray was officially too young to see it.
Both Ray and his father Ted had supporting roles (as father and son) in John Gilling’s thriller Escape by Night (1953), which starred Bonar Colleano. In Philip Leacock’s screen version of Roger MacDougall’s play Escapade (1955), Ray and two other youths (Jeremy Spenser and Peter Asher), inspired by their pacificist father (John Mills), run away from boarding school and steal an aeroplane. Their purpose is to distribute a petition for peace, signed by boys all over Britain, to the great powers that are meeting in Vienna. A comedy which also tackled some serious themes, it proved less effective on screen than it had been in the theatre.
As Ray reached his late teens he found good roles harder to get. He was billed seventh in Mark Robson’s crime caper movie A Prize of Gold (1955) starring Richard Widmark and Mai Zetterling. In J. Lee Thompson’s powerful drama about a marriage break-up, Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957), Ray played the son of the hapless couple, but the film was dominated by the three protagonists, the slovenly wife (Yvonne Mitchell), the straying husband (Anthony Quayle) and the other woman (Sylvia Syms).
He had more opportunity in The Young and the Guilty (1958), in which Ray and Janet Munro were praised for their sensitive performances as two above-average students whose innocent romance is nearly ruined by their suspicious elders. In John Ford’s Gideon of Scotland Yard (1959), depicting one day in the life of Police Inspector Gideon (Jack Hawkins), he provided some of the film’s lighter moments as a zealous young constable who starts the day by booking Gideon for speeding, after which he turns up at generally inopportune moments and is finally revealed to be the boy Gideon’s daughter is dating. Terence Young’s Serious Charge (1959), based on the play by Philip King, is primarily recalled now as the first film of Cliff Richard, but Ray had the film’s key teenage role as the malicious youth who falsely accuses the town’s vicar (Anthony Quayle) of sexual assault. It was to be Ray’s last good film role for some time.
His father had put his earnings into a trust until Ray was 17, and he later confessed that when he received the small fortune (pounds 5,000) he went “a bit mad”. He bought two sports cars and wrecked them both in near-fatal accidents in the space of six months. “I was in a West End play and had three films waiting to come out,” he said later. “I thought, It’s my money and I have a right to spend it.'” Against his father’s wishes, he married the actress Susan Burnet in 1959. Ted Ray thought his son too young to marry, and did not attend the wedding, causing further rifts in the already difficult relationship Andrew had with his disciplinarian father. Andrew and Susan Ray, who had two children, separated in the 1970s but remained friends and never divorced.
In 1960 Andrew Ray had a personal success on the Broadway stage playing Geoffrey, the sensitive homosexual who befriends an unwed mother (Joan Plowright) in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey. On his return to Britain, lack of work and near penury led to his suicide attempt in April 1965, but two years later he was winning excellent notices for his portrayal of Leonard Bast in a West End dramatisation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.
So successful was his depiction on stage of the stammering George VI in Crown Matrimonial (1972) that he was cast in the same role (though when George was still Duke of York) in the hit television series Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978). Other television plays included Great Expectations (1974), in which he was a perky Herbert Pocket, Ian Curteis’s Atom Spies (1979), in which he starred as the spy Klaus Fuchs, The Bunker (1981), about the last days of Hitler (Anthony Hopkins), and Passion and Paradise (1989), in which Ray played the Duke of Windsor. He also appeared in such series as Dixon of Dock Green, Upstairs, Downstairs and Inspector Morse. From 1992 to 1994, he played the recurring role of Dr John Reginald in the popular series Peak Practice.
At the time of his death, he was planning a biography of the Ray family.
Andrew Olden (Andrew Ray), actor: born London 31 May 1939; married 1959 Susan Burnet (one son, one daughter); died 20 August 2003.