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Obituary: Ron Moody


Ron Moody with Mark Lester (left) and Jack Wild in Oliver!

Ron Moody with Mark Lester (left) and Jack Wild in Oliver!

Ron Moody with Mark Lester (left) and Jack Wild in Oliver!

Ron Moody, the actor and comedian, who died on Thursday aged 91, was one of the most original comic talents of his post-war stage generation; his best-known performance on stage and screen was as Fagin in Oliver!, Lionel Bart's musical comedy (1960) from the novel Oliver Twist.

With his height, stooped figure, long, hooked nose, large eyes, lop-sided face, mournful expression, busy, inquisitive manner and India-rubber gait, Moody was unforgettably well cast as Dickens's villainous old Jew and employer of thieves and pickpockets, and gave a superbly robust, precise and incisive performance.

Among his brilliantly delivered songs were 'You've got to pick a pocket or two' and 'I'm reviewing the situation'. After a year as Fagin he reviewed his situation. As a graduate of long-running West End satirical revues, with a gift for impersonation, caricature and satirising issues and icons of the day, he had become - with a single role - a star. The clever new clown with the tragi-comic stance and the larger-than-life technique decided to quit. He never found another part to match its triumph, though he remained in more or less constant employment for the rest of his career in films, on television, in musical comedies of his own devising, and in cabaret. He had been typecast: he could never break the mould.

He was also a graduate of the London School of Economics. "When you have spent five of your formative years thinking and studying in a university, it affects your values. You live your life on a different level," he said years later. "I don't consider myself a professional actor. I have failed all my life, and I'm not ashamed of it. After all, what's so good about success? It is unhealthy. It creates a completely false sense of values."

He was born Ronald Moodnick in Tottenham, north London, on January 8, 1924 and brought up in what he liked to call "a persecuted atmosphere which made me a bit like a bar of soap. When I'm squeezed I just pop up again instead of melting away."

After gaining his BSc (Econ) degree, he became a research graduate in Sociology. He intended as a Fabian Socialist to become a lecturer, but, when the first girl he fell in love with turned down his proposal of marriage, he turned at 29 to the professional stage and without training found immediate success in small-scale, satirical musical revue, then still in London fashion.

At a West London fringe theatre, the New Lindsey in Kensington, he made his first appearance in Intimacy at Eight (1952) with a cast including Leslie Crowther and Joan Sims. He played in its sequel, More Intimacy at Eight, a year later and stayed for 500 performances of its West End transfer as Intimacy at 8.30 (Criterion, 1954).

In his next revue, For Amusement Only (Apollo 1956) he clocked up 700 performances. In its sequel, For Adults Only (Strand, 1958), he had two minor triumphs, first as Dylan Thomas comparing notes with Hugh Paddick (as James Dean) from their celestial clouds in a sketch called Over Milk Wood, and then as Pierrot, the mime, at large in London Airport, a favourite role.

In Leonard Bernstein's Broadway musical comedy, Candide (Saville, 1959) he created another stir as the lecherous governor of Buenos Aires in his tricorn hat, imprisoning with relish all the less-attractive pilgrims.

It was, however, as Fagin, the Dickensian leader of a gang of Cockney thieves in the 1960 musical Oliver! that Moody had the kind of success by which an actor's art is sometimes immortalised.

He was 36. It made him, overnight, a star. His departure after a year's run, dismayed the author and the management. "Fagin," he said at the time, "is a very demanding part. I can't relax for a moment. I use up a lot of nervous and physical energy. But I need a rest. Fagin has done a lot for me. I've had film offers, and I think my career has advanced considerably. Now it's time for me to try something new."

From leaving Oliver!, Moody had appeared, though not to any critical success, in his own BBC television series, Moody in Storeland, and in cameo roles in numerous film comedies. In 1968 the screen version of Oliver! brought him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination as Fagin - honours which led to his first, disenchanted visit to Hollywood - and awards from the Moscow Film Festival and the Variety Club of Great Britain.

From 1974 Moody lived with his elderly mother, his sister, brother-in-law and three nephews in a house in Hornsey.

But at the age of 60 he met and, in 1985, married Therese Blackbourn, a Pilates teacher. She survives him with their six children.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent