August 25, 2003, Saturday
Andrew Ray Andrew Ray, actor, was born on May 31, 1939. he died on August 20, 2003, aged 64.
Scion of a showbusiness family who unexpectedly won his own screen break at the age of ten
The younger son of the comedian Ted Ray, Andrew Ray became a child star at ten when he played the cockney waif who gatecrashes Windsor Castle and charms Queen Victoria out of seclusion, in the 1950 film The Mudlark. Chosen for the Royal Command performance, it gave Ray’s career the best possible launch as well as the chance to present a bouquet to the Queen, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
He had never seriously acted before, and auditioned for the part after his older brother, Robin, had been turned down by the casting director, the well-known comedian Ben Lyon, as being too tall. Andrew had gone along to the studio with his father to get out of the house after a bout of mumps.
Lyons spotted him there and asked him to play a scene and gave him a screen test. During the 1950s Ray developed into one of Britain’s most promising young actors, with prominent roles in films such as Woman in a Dressing Gown, Gideon’s Day and Serious Charge, and plays on the London stage.
But the troubles that would dog him on and off in later years had already begun.
At 17 he gained control of the Pounds 5,000, held in trust, which he had earned as a child actor, and spent it in a reckless few months. Among his purchases were two sports cars, both of which he wrote off after barely surviving the crashes. He later explained: “I was in a West End play and had three films waiting to come out and I thought, it’s my money and I have a right to spend it.”
At 20 he married Susan Burnet, an 18- year-old actress he had met while they were appearing in Robert Bolt’s play Flowering Cherry. The marriage caused tensions with his father, who thought he was too young to settle down, and Ted Ray missed the wedding because he was away shooting a film.
Andrew Olden (his father’s real name) was born in North London and attended a preparatory school in Palmer’s Green, but he had little schooling once he became an actor. He blamed his personal and professional problems on the lack of discipline that a school might have instilled, as well as a difficult relationship with a strict and dominant father, though they became closer in time.
In the early 1960s he had a personal success playing the young homosexual who befriends the pregnant Jo in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey in New York. But after his return to Britain the work dried up and by the age of 24 he was almost broke and living in a flat over a Wimpy bar with his wife and baby daughter. He was on the point of emigrating to Rhodesia, where his wife came from, to work in television when the offer of a part in a West End play persuaded him to stay.
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 April 1965 he was taken to hospital after taking a drugs overdose. He said he had been depressed. He received psychiatric treatment but he and his wife separated and she went to live in Rhodesia with her parents, taking their two children with her. Ray, meanwhile, toured the Far East with a theatre company sponsored by the British Council and tried his hand at theatrical management, promoting a successful one-woman show in South Africa by Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston.
After three years, Susan Ray and the children returned to Britain and the family was reunited. Ray’s acting career, too, entered a more stable phase. In 1972 he played King George VI in the West End play Crown Matrimonial, which was later adapted for television.
He returned as George, when he was still Duke of York, in the 1978 television series Edward and Mrs Simpson, which centred on the Abdication crisis. Ray created an impressive portrait of a nervous, insecure man who never expected to be king and was daunted by the responsibility.
In the 1970s he was Herbert Pocket in a television film of Great Expectations, and when Edward and Mrs Simpson ended he was glad to exchange George VI for Klaus Fuchs, who was given a 14-year prison sentence for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Ian Curteis’s play Atom Spies (1979), was an attempt to show Fuchs as a victim of circumstance rather than a calculating traitor.
Ray’s personal life became unsettled once more, with his wife spending long periods in Rhodesia with the children. He made several appearances in the series of half-hour television plays Tales of the Unexpected and in 1983 he played Clifford Bradley, the laboratory technician, in an ITV adaptation of P. D. James’s mystery Death of an Expert Witness.
During the early 1990s he had guest roles in Inspector Morse and was Dr John Reginald in the medical series Peak Practice. But he had acted little in recent years.
He is survived by his wife, daughter and son.