Pink Panther actor Burt Kwouk dies aged 85
Published 24/05/2016 | 14:11
Burt Kwouk, best known for playing Cato Fong in the Pink Panther films, has died aged 85.
As well as seven Pink Panther films, the Manchester-born actor also appeared in three Bond films and BBC comedy Last of the Summer Wine.
His agent said he died "peacefully" on Tuesday.
He is most recognisable for his big-screen role as Inspector Clouseau's manservant in the popular Pink Panther films.
He was cast as the servant Kato, the spelling of which was later changed to Cato, in the 1964 Inspector Clouseau film A Shot In The Dark.
The character became a hit with fans as their quirky friendship of servant and sometimes attacker developed.
Kwouk continued in the role following the death of Clouseau actor Peter Sellers in 1980.
During an interview in 2010 with film historian Barry Littlechild at The Cinema Museum, he spoke about working with Sellers.
He said: "I know that since Peter died, which is 30 years ago, there's been a lot of knocking copy on it, books, articles, films, television programmes, radio programmes, and they've all sort of dwelled on the dark side of Peter.
"I never really saw anything of the dark side. For me it was the light side of Peter Sellers I knew and enjoyed, and would like to remember."
He starred in seven films in the Pink Panther franchise, appearing alongside Sellers, Roger Moore and Roberto Benigni in their incarnations of the inept French detective Inspector Clouseau.
A running gag throughout the films was that marital arts specialist Cato would attack Clouseau at random, often inopportune, moments, to keep him on guard.
Talking about the role of Cato to Littlechild, he explained: "He (director Blake Edwards) made it into a silly. Until then martial arts had always been taken very seriously and in the early 60s judo became the fashionable thing, everyone wanted to know about judo, and it was done in a very serious way like Bruce Lee, and we decided to take the Michael out of it, so we did."
Later in his career, Kwouk would join Harry Hill's eponymous TV show and become the face of Channel 4's gaming show Banzai.
But he memorably returned to the small screen in BBC's Last Of The Summer Wine as Chinese electrician Entwistle, from 2003 until its end in 2010.
Born in Manchester in 1930, he was raised in Shanghai, China, until he was 17, when he moved to the United States.
His plans to study in the US were thwarted when his family's wealth was wiped out in the 1949 revolution, and he came back to Britain in 1954.
He is quoted as recalling that his girlfriend at the time "nagged me into acting".
His first role was in a film called Windom's Way and he then landed what is considered his big break in The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness.
He has three James Bond credits to his name, appearing in Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice and the 1967 spoof Casino Royale.
His best-known TV work includes shows like The Avengers and Danger Man and another of his film credits is Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun.
He married Caroline Tebbs in 1961 and the couple had a son together. He was honoured with an OBE for his services to drama in the 2011 New Year's Honours list.
His family will be having a private funeral but there will be a memorial service at a later date.
Actor Herbert Lom, best known for playing the hysterically-twitching Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus, became friends with Mr Kwouk when they appeared in the Pink Panther comedies together.
His son Alec Lom remembered Mr Kwouk as "a charming man who always had a beaming smile when you met him". He seemed "to take the shenanigans of the film industry in his stride and with a good sense of humour".
Remembering the friendship between Mr Kwouk and his father, he said: "Burt was an actor who played many roles in his life and like my father very much enjoyed the comedy stretch in their careers.
"He had an extremely dry sense of humour. I remember one occasion when there was a premiere of the Pink Panther in Leicester Square, my father was looking out for Burt and to everybody's surprise Mr Kwouk arrived in a gleaming rickshaw, which was in line with his unpredictable character in the movies.
"He created a spectacle which was in keeping with the pattern of behaviour of Cato."
Actress Kathy Burke paid tribute to Kwouk online, writing "RIP Burt Kwouk" next to an image of a love heart.
Comedian Al Murray said: "I was very lucky to have worked with Burt Kwouk on the Harry Hill show way back when. 'Hey Little Hen, when when when?'''
David Bowie's film director son Duncan Jones said: "Just heard the wonderful Burt Kwouk has passed away. Lovely man. Was willing to work with film students like myself."
Actor Sean Pertwee tweeted: "RIP Burt Kwouk. Superb actor, genius comedian and a truly hilarious man. An honour to have known you.#RIPCato."
Writer and director Paul Duane said: "Burt was endlessly patient with strangers coming up to him."
The British Film Institute tweeted that it was "saddened" to hear of Kwouk's death.