Henley Morrison - perhaps Britain's greatest unknown actor - has graciously consented to be one of our patrons.
Here's a brief summary of his career - now you can't ask 'who?' when someone mentions his name!
Who Is Henley Morrison?
Henley Morrison has been an ever-present, but shadowy, figure in British films, television and radio, as well as on the stage, for more years than anyone, except possibly he himself, cares to remember. He's one of those instantly recognisable faces that you somehow can't put a name to, the voice you've heard a hundred times before selling insurance on LBC radio, the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.
In short, he's a footsoldier in the army of so-called 'character actors' that every casting director knows. He's spent most of his career being upstaged by stars of the calibre of Redgrave, Richardson, Olivier and Gielgud.
A Life For The Stage
Henley Morrison was born some time in the early 1920s in or near Wokingham, Berkshire, England. He is understandably a little vague on the exact details, as he prefers not to have to admit that he was actually christened Arthur James Blodgett. He adopted his present stage name for a school performance of Peter Pan at the age of 8 (He doubled Nana and Slightly).
You Might Have Seen Him In:
1938 - Modern dress Titus Andronicus at Birmingham Old Rep. Menswear Weekly said 'The gentlemen's evening dress was a disgrace'.
1942 - Jewelled Wings, by Clemence Dane. 'This rising star - see him now, or regret it for ever' - Jim Taylor.
1950 - Octagonal Lists by Dodie Smith. Played Luke De Lacey, his last juvenile lead. 'Schoolgirls still seem to like him - grown-ups may feel differently' - Jim Taylor.
1954 - 1955 - His first Stratford season. Played Orlando, Malcolm, Albany and Supervacuo in The Revenger's Tragedy. 'Vacous indeed' - Jim Taylor.
1960 - Loach in The Landing, by Harold Pinter. Jim Taylor said: 'Morrison uses the wilful obscurity of the text as a shield behind which to hide his empty performance'.
1961 - Touring with Joe Orton's Rising Above It (actually written by Kenneth Halliwell). Jim Taylor - 'For once, Henley Morrison's abilities have met their match'
1963 - La Cloche (The Diving Bell), by Samuel Beckett. Billie Whitelaw (immersed up to her neck in a water tank) played a diver slowly drowning in a sunken diving bell while her life unspools itself through her mind. Henley was heard only over a loudspeaker as a naval officer vainly trying to communicate with her via a broken telephone line. Performed in French.
1965 - The 'Dirty Plays' season with the RSC at the Aldwych. ('Oh my God' - Jim Taylor).
1972 - Orchids from Thailand by James Elroy Flecker at Hampstead. 'The remains of a once considerable personal beauty seem to represent all that Henley Morrison has left to offer us' - Jim Taylor.
1976 - 1977 - His second season at Stratford. A misconceived King Lear (set in Jamaica and partly translated into patois) was universally panned. He also played Angelo, and Sergeant Plume in The Recruiting Officer - in comparison with the Great Lear Disaster these were very well received. Even Jim Taylor was complimentary, in his own way.
1985 - The Sentence, by Harley Granville Barker, with Judi Dench. 'Dearest Jude saves this show' - Jim Taylor.
1986 - Lithuania, by Rupert Brooke. Played The Ambassador against Denholm Elliott's Spy. For some reason Jim Taylor gave no notices for this show.
1938 - Shop Floor Charlie, with Will Hay.
1947 - The Heart in Exile, with Celia Johnson.
1952 - Detective Sergeant Smith in Cosh Boy.
1954 - Squire Hackett in This Green and Pleasant Land.
1960 - Marquess of Queensbury in This Man Wilde. Michael Redgrave was Oscar, Montgomery Clift played Bosie.
1962 - While holidaying in Santa Barbara, California, he was persuaded to play an eccentric English landlord in the beach movie Beatnik Clambake. He also made cameo appearances in Shutdown!, Surfin' Chicks and GTO Strip. The contacts he made at this time served him well in the 1990s when he was able to establish himself as an English type in various American miniseries and sitcoms, notably his spots as Daphne Moon's other grandfather in the second season of Frasier.
1966 - Two Girls in a Bus. With Janice Nicholls (of Thank Your Lucky Stars) and Cathy McGowan (Ready Steady Go - 'The Weekend Starts Here'). Wild and wacky fun ensues as two dolly birds set up home in a converted double-decker bus in Swinging London. Henley played Janice Nicholls' crusty father (he gets 'with-it' by the end).
1967 - Cast for the third Beatles film Up Against It, written by Joe Orton. However, this was nixed by Brian Epstein who couldn't believe that Henley's convincingly homophobic and anti-Semitic performance the previous year in the TV play Get Them Out By Friday was just acting. The project was later shelved.
1968 - Die, Zombie, Die. With Wilfred Hyde White and Jane Birkin. The flesh-eating corpses of Black Death victims are revived by radioactive fallout and terrorise the trendy customers of a Carnaby Street boutique. Remembered now mostly for a night-club scene featuring the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart.
1970 - Perchance to Scream. Ketchup-soaked Hammer horror with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Adrienne Corri.
1974 - Superintendent Jones in Confessions of a Park Keeper - a nadir of sorts, but he needed the alimony...
1975 - Father Thames in Barbara Pym's A Glass of Blessings. A hoped-for TV series failed to materialise.
1988 - played the corrupt Commissioner in Alien Nightmare with Rik van Nutter, Jodie Foster and Sigourney Weaver. (Jodie played the android).
1990 - present day - steady work for HBO and MTM. Plays stereotypical elderly posh English types.
1962 - 1965 - Tim Johnson in the BBC soap Compact.
1966 - Wednesday Play Get Them Out By Friday. His brutal portrayal of the Rachmannesque landlord Speight (pronounced 'Spite') was very well received.
Early 1970s - Field Marshall Haig in Upstairs Downstairs.
1972 - 1975 - The Jackanory Years. Reads all of the Swallows and Amazons books but fails to land the part of Captain Flint in the film of Peter Duck. (Blurb - 'A solitary bachelor is inexorably drawn into the violent fantasy world of underage gangs').
1991 - Uncle Edward in The House of Eliot.
1993 - Elderly Mugging Victim in The Bill.
1994 - Elderly Burglary Victim in The Bill.
1995 - Elderly Drunk in The Bill.
1996 - A surprisingly successful appearance in Ian Hislop's team in Have I Got News For You. He only accepted the offer when he learnt that the whole programme was scripted. He hates improvisation and 'that awful Mike Leigh stuff'
Far too many appearances to enumerate here. Fondly remembered by many listeners for his Doctor Craig in Mrs Dale's Diary. While not formally a member of the BBC Repertory Company, he is a Radio 4 drama regular.
He Has Tried To Sell You:
Just about everything! His professionalism in voice-overs is famous. Known as One-Take Morrison in the ad agencies of Soho, he was for many years the voice of the Welsh Mutual Insurance Company. Other spots include:
The influential Porcelain Pearls toothpaste commercials for ITV in the late 1950s.
Katy's father in the Oxo ads of the 1960s.
The notorious cinema commercials for Reefer cigarettes in 1969. The agency that thought up the name was looking for a naval connotation similar to the Capstan brand. 'The Sun, the Sea, the Sky - and a Reefer.'
TDM home computers ('Technology that moves in with you').
He was first Tangoed in 1994.
They Could Tell You Plenty About Him:
Nina Lutterworth - ballerina and first wife.
Alan Bates - drinking partner.
Ninian Tant - his original agent. He retired for health reasons in 1968.
Salome Jackson - second wife.
Sam Lynch - present agent. Gets him lots of voice-over and miniseries work.
Jarvis Egerton - best friend in the theatre.
Lachlan MacGregor - another drinking partner. Lives in Edinburgh and puts Henley up for the Festival.
Linnet Ray - current partner.
Mimsy Gay - American musical comedy star of the 1930s-40s.
Oberon Wishart - directed him in his first season at Stratford and took a fancy to him which has never been requited (despite some near misses).
Jim Taylor, critic, has followed Henley throughout his career - rather as Mark Chapman followed John Lennon.
Martin E Pryke of Guildford, regular correspondent in Plays and Players.
Edna Welthorpe (Mrs).
Geraldine McMahon, theatrical landlady.
More Things We Know:
He was blessed as a young man with remarkably good looks. As a result, when he graduated from RADA he found it easy to get work. What he failed to appreciate was that it was not necessarily his acting ability that attracted producers and directors. This had two unfortunate consequences; firstly he got himself a reputation as a tease which took years to shake off and secondly he didn't develop his professional skills as he should have. He was never as terrible an actor as Jim Taylor claims, nor were they always enemies. There was a falling-out between them sometime in the 1950s which neither will discuss.
He served in the RAF in WWII and, so far as is known, never performed on any stage for the duration of hostilities. Rumours abound concerning his war experiences but he will say nothing himself.
He has, naturally, always wanted to play Hamlet. The nearest he got to it, though, was some uncredited post-production work for Decca overdubbing Michael Redgrave's fluffs in the Marlowe Society LP recording of the 1950s.
In middle age he became a pretty good and very professional actor. In fact, when he's with a director who understands him he can produce very fine work indeed. If only that happened more often!
He has been married twice (see above) and has two daughters (Elaine and Marjorie) by his first marriage and one son (Hereford John Morrison) by the second. He lives in Brighton with his current partner Linnet Ray (an expert on C16 Flemish ceramics) and dabbles in antiques between runs up to town to record voice-overs, audiobooks and educational CD-ROMs, and trips to Los Angeles for his miniseries work.
He becomes wistful when he considers how well 'Sir Henley Morrison' would roll off the tongue. But he knows now that this will never happen.
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