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In Memoriam of English actor Charles Gray (1928-2000)

By: Anders Frejdh
Charles gray obituary
English actor Charles Gray, who played a series of elegant cads - and a memorable opponent for James Bond - passed away.

Obituary written by Eric Shorter for The Guardian, first published on March 9, 2000.

The actor Charles Gray, who has died aged 71, never wanted to be loved, but he won plenty of applause for his portraits of silken arrogance, self-importance, oily malice and egotism. Among his film parts were the wily Blofeld, James Bond's antagonist in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and the chief apostle of evil in Terence Fisher's The Devil Rides Out (1967).

Gray endowed toffs, cads, crooks, and braggarts with hauteur and elegance. What gave them authenticity was his belief in them. The voice was commanding, though it rarely needed raising, and its tone belonged to high society.

Gray learned his powers of spoken speech as a young Shakespearian in Regent's Park, at Stratford-on-Avon and the Old Vic in the post-war heyday of Richard Burton, John Neville and Paul Rogers. The actor cut an imposing figure; and the voice and its inflections were under such control that together they served undetectably as Jack Hawkins's when that even better actor lost his voice from throat cancer.

Gray's shamelessly affected persona, which could be arrestingly camp or plain overbearing, sometimes spilled over into his private life in Kensington. Not as private as some neighbours, Gray used to entertain friends into the small hours on his apartment balcony. When asked why he cut such a self-important dash, he would protest: "I'm not in the least aristocratic in real life, old boy. I much prefer a pint at the local."

Born in Bournemouth, he spent his early adult years in an estate agent's office. By his mid-20s he felt the call of the stage; and under his real name, Donald Gray, made his first professional appearance in As You Like It (1952) for Robert Atkins in Regent's Park, playing Charles the Wrestler.

Changing his name to Charles for the next production, Cymbeline, Gray then moved to Stratford-on-Avon in walk-on parts and in 1954 joined the Old Vic. Almost immediately he created a stir as the messenger Mercadé, coming on at the end of Frith Banbury's revival of Love's Labour's Lost, with decor and costumes by Cecil Beaton.

By 1956 Gray was taking leads. One of his best was Achilles in Tyrone Guthrie's Edwardian revival of Troilus And Cressida. "Looking like a prize-fighter gone to seed, with muscle turning to flesh, a puffy, dissipated monster, alternately petting and tormenting his favourite orderly Patroclus," as Ivor Brown wrote in the Observer. Other Old Vic credits included Macduff to Paul Rogers's Macbeth, Lodovico to Richard Burton's and John Neville's Othellos, Escalus to Neville's Romeo, and Bolingbroke to Neville's Richard II. If neither his Bolingbroke nor Macduff could stir the audience, that would remain part of Gray's dramatic problem: however much we might admire his acting, he could never touch our feelings.

After a north American tour in those roles and as Achilles, Gray returned to the West End in 1958. In Wolf Mankowitz's musical Expresso Bongo (Saville 1958) he played Capt Cyril Mavors, condescending restaurateur.

In 1961 Gray was back on Broadway, this time as the Prince of Wales, later William IV, in Kean, Sartre's sardonic revision of the Alexandre Dumas play about the 19th century actor. When Peter Hall's newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company launched its contemporary season in 1962, Giles Cooper's black comedy Everything In The Garden did so well that it transferred to the West End; and Gray then took over as the aghast suburban husband who discovers in sundry pots and jars hundreds of pound notes, his wife's illicit earnings in Wimpole Street.

Back at the Old Vic later that year Gray revelled in the role of the voluptuous glutton, Sir Epicure Mammon, in Tyrone Guthrie's modern-dress revival of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist; and in 1964 he won the Clarence Derwent Award for the year's best supporting actor as the land-owning host of a party given to taunt the hero of Anouilh's Poor Bitos (Arts, Duke of York's and Broadway). Staying on in New York, Gray took the title-role in The Right Honourable Gentle man (1965), a Victorian politician and sexual hypocrite. Plenty of other stage credits followed.

Among small screen credits were Strickland in The Moon And Sixpence, rated as rivalling George Sanders in the film, the bland brother-in-law in Pinter's The Tea Party, the amorous TV personality in Fay Weldon's The Three Wives Of Felix Hull, an overbearing Randolph Churchill in Hugo Charteris's Asquith, the trouble-making judge in Blind Justice, the acerbic Sir Cathcart in Porterhouse Blue, an impoverished peer in The Upper Crust series and an imperious old buffer in Longitude.

Among film credits were Narrator in Jim Sharman's The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the satanic priest who duelled with Christopher Lee in The Devil Rides Out, the sinister butler in The Mirror Crack'd and Judge in Shock Treatment.

Charles Gray never married.

Charles (Donald Marshall) Gray, actor, born August 29 1928; died March 7 2000.

Editor's note:
Charles Gray played Auric Goldfinger for Harold Sakata's screen test. He was also one of the two 'voices' during the son et lumière at the pyramids in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

For more "Bond villains" featured on From Sweden with Love, click here.

Photo above:
Signed portrait by Charles Gray from Anders Frejdh's collection. © 2004 From Sweden With Love

Learn more about Charles Gray's career in films, check out his profile on IMDB:



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