Death of a raconteur


Farewell Victor Spinetti.

For half a century the wry Welshman, who has died at the age of 82, offered a reassuring presence in various British films.

Raised in the Ebbw Vale, where his Italian father really did run a fish and chip shop, Spinetti attended the Cardiff School of Music and Drama and, after dabbling in variety and revue, found himself cast in the West End musical Expresso Bongo. He really came into his own, however, when he landed at Joan Littlewood’s influential Theatre Workshop. Working alongside future stars such as Barbara Windsor and Harry H Corbett, Spinetti helped Littlewood tear London theatre away from the nobs and hand it back to the people. The Beatles took notice and cast Spinetti in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

Spinetti had a sporadic acting career, but he retained affection as one of the UK’s great theatrical raconteurs. His appearances on talk shows were always enlivened by inappropriate anecdotes. Openly gay, he admitted that, during the 1960s, he occasionally “spanked old gentlemen for money” to pay for Christmas gifts.

“My dear old mother told me that, if she’d known at the time, she would have come along and given me a hand!” he quipped.

That class of flamboyant British character actor is now a dying breed.