From `Reilly Ace of Spies' to Shakespeare

 

It sounds like fate that the parents of Norman Rodway, who died on March 13th aged 72, should have lived at the time of his birth in a house on Coliemore Road, Dalkey, named Elsinore. For, when Norman John Frank was born on February 7th, 1929, to an English couple who had come to Dublin two years previously - Frank Rodway, who ran a small shipping agency, and his wife Lilian Sybil (nee Moyles) - the last thing they must have envisaged for their son was an acting career.

Sent first to St Andrew's Church of Ireland National School in Malahide, he went on to The High School, then in Harcourt Street. He took a BA in classical studies at Trinity College, was elected a scholar in 1948 and, after graduating, returned as a lecturer in Latin and Greek. He then worked in Guinness and, while there, took a degree in accountancy.

In 1954, he married actress Pauline Delany, whom he met while they were both working with Barry Cassin and Nora Lever's 37 Theatre Club: she as a well-established actor and he - as many did in those days - working on a semi-professional basis in his free time.

In much the same way, he became business manager for Godfrey Quigley's Globe Theatre Company at the Gas Company Theatre, Dun Laoghaire. He was made a director of the Globe in 1954, and became a full-time professional actor a year later.

For the Globe, he played leading roles in the Gaiety, Olympia and Gate theatres, including Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Camera (1956) and George in Epitaph For George Dillon (1959). In the Gas Company Theatre, his memorable roles included Montserrat in Lilian Helman's play of that name. He also played The Citizen in Hugh Leonard's A Walk On the Water for the 1959 Dublin Theatre Festival, when the Globe suddenly ceased to exist.

When the production was taken over by Phyllis Ryan's Orion Productions, Norman Rodway proposed a theatrical partnership with Ryan and Gemini Productions was founded.

For this company he performed in William Gibson's Two For the Seesaw, with Maureen Toal; in Tennessee Williams's Cat On a Hot Tin Roof; Tom Murphy's Whistle in the Dark and Leonard's The Passion of Peter Ginty. But it was in the title role of the latter's Joyce adaptation Stephen D that Norman Rodway became a leading actor in Britain.

He had first appeared in London at the Royal Court in 1959 in O'Casey's Cock-a-Doodle- Dandy. Stephen D travelled from the Gate to St Martin's Theatre, London, in 1963 and, although he returned for Leonard's The Poker Session for the 1963 theatre festival, that too travelled to the Globe Theatre in London in 1964 and thereafter he performed in Dublin only rarely.

One such occasion was in 1970 when he made his first appearance on the Abbey stage to give readings from Pleasure and Repentance with colleagues from the Royal Shakespeare Company. He had joined the company in 1966, performing more than a dozen leading or major character roles at Stratford-on-Avon or the Aldwych.

In the early days of RTE Television, Norman Rodway starred in several plays, including Everyman and Terence Rattigan's Heart to Heart, though sadly the last thing he did for RTE was to play the editor in the poorly-regarded situation comedy series Extra, Extra in 1993-94. He featured in television series from Inspector Morse to Reilly Ace of Spies, and from Rumpole of the Bailey to ITV's The Professionals.

Norman Rodway also worked in many films, from The Quare Fellow and This Other Eden to Four In the Morning, in which he starred opposite Dame Judy Dench and which was awarded Best Film at the Locarno Film Festival. He also played Hotspur in Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight, giving Sir Peter Hall the idea of casting him in the same role in Henry IV, Part 1, thus beginning his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company. As for radio, he took part in over 300 broadcasts for the BBC drama department, including Brian Friel's The Faith Healer, for which he won the 1980 Pye Radio Award for Best Actor.

Norman Rodway was married four times, his marriage to Pauline Delany being followed in turn by those to casting director Mary Selway, photographer Sarah Callaby (nee Fitzgerald), of the famous Irish theatrical family, and, finally, to Jane Thorogood, who survives him. He also leaves a daughter, Bianca, by his third wife, and a sister, Sylvia Joy Houston.

Always a charming, debonair and gregarious companion, Norman Rodway gave friends, family and wine as his recreations as well as listening to Mozart, whom he considered even greater than Shakespeare.

Norman Rodway: born 1929; died, March 2001