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Obituary: Paul Ritter, the versatile actor best known for playing the eccentric dad in Friday Night Dinner


Actor Paul Ritter who has died at the age of 54

Actor Paul Ritter who has died at the age of 54

Actor Paul Ritter who has died at the age of 54

Paul Ritter, who has died of a brain tumour aged 54, took his acting talents from England to Broadway and, courtesy of the Harry Potter films, the silver screen, but he was best known for playing the outrageous patriarch Martin Goodman in the hit sitcom Friday Night Dinner.

Ritter and Tamsin Greig, as Martin’s wife Jackie, played the north London Jewish couple welcoming their twentysomething sons, musician Adam (Simon Bird) and estate agent Jonny (Tom Rosenthal), to a traditional Friday-evening Shabbat dinner.

The sharply written scripts over six series (2011-2020) reflected the secular Jewish upbringing of the programme’s creator, Robert Popper.

Before Friday Night Dinner, Ritter was familiar to film fans in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) as the vampire-loving writer Eldred Worple, desperate to write a biography of the schoolboy hero. On stage, he received a Tony Award nomination when he appeared at New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre in a 2009 Old Vic company revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests trilogy.

He was born Simon Paul Adams on December 20, 1966 in Dartford, Kent, to Jean (née Mooney), a school secretary, and Ken Adams, a toolmaker.

On leaving Gravesend Grammar School, he read modern languages at St John’s College, Cambridge, then spent a year at the German National Theatre, in Hamburg.

His acting talent was recognised early in his career when, in 1994, The Stage remarked on him “trebling up” as the map-maker Mercator, the botanist Humboldt and a pregnant settler, alongside James Nesbitt as a wisecracking Jesus, in Snoo Wilson’s play Darwin’s Flood at the Bush Theatre, London. 

After seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon (1996) and London (1997), Ritter acted with Peter Hall’s company at the Old Vic Theatre and found a home with the National Theatre for several years (2000-2002) in roles that included Karl Marx in Tom Stoppard’s trilogy Coast of Utopia.

He played the former British prime minister John Major in Peter Morgan’s play The Audience at the Gielgud Theatre in 2013 alongside Helen Mirren as the Queen.

Three years later, he attracted good reviews in an Old Vic revival of Yasmina Reza’s three-hander Art, bringing tension to the role of Marc.

In 2007, 15 years after making his TV debut in The Bill, Ritter landed his first regular role, in the comedy-drama City Lights, as the gangster Scott Sweeney.

He also took roles as real-life stars in two TV biopics — the comedian Eric Sykes in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This (2014) and the comedy writer Jimmy Perry in We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story (2015).

Ritter’s first quirky TV character was Dr Billy Cartwright, the irreverent forensic pathologist in the first three series (2011-13) of the crime drama Vera. He played another forensics expert in the Paul Abbott-written police series No Offence (2015-18).

Ritter brought fear to a role when he played Anatoly Dyatlov, deputy chief engineer of the nuclear reactor, in the 2019 series Chernobyl.

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His other television roles included the ambitious civil servant Bobby Waterhouse in the Cold War spy thriller The Game (2014); Werner Leinhard, a Swiss company’s chief executive officer, in the improvised comedy Hang Ups (2018); and General Ormonde Winter, Dublin Castle’s chief of intelligence, in the Irish War of Independence drama Resistance (2019).

On the big screen he played Guy Haines, a special adviser to the British prime minister, in the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace.

Following his first marriage to Michele Barber, Paul Ritter married Polly Radcliffe in 1996. She and their two sons survive him.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2023]

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