Tuesday 20 February 2018

James Grout

Versatile character actor on both the stage and screen who became best known for his role as Morse's boss

JAMES Grout, who has died aged 84, was a versatile character actor on both stage and the small screen, but became particularly familiar as Chief Superintendent Strange, John Thaw's boss in the long-running television series Morse.

Grout, a burly man with an avuncular air, was distinctive for his comic timing and impassive manner. In his role as Strange, he exhibited an exasperated affection for the brilliant but temperamental Inspector Morse, always doing his best to keep his mercurial detective out of trouble. Grout had previously played Thaw's superior in Redcap, the Sixties' series about the military police.

Equally capable in the classics, thrillers, comedy and farce, Grout could occasionally reveal unsuspected reserves of power. In Harold Pinter's West End production of Tennessee Williams's Sweet Bird of Youth, in 1985, starring Lauren Bacall, he brought an alarming, even sinister, quality to the role of the corrupt politician Boss Finley. To the role of Henry Windscape in Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms in 1981, he brought a chilling ruthlessness. His air of decency, however, made him most at home in ordinary, kindly, no-nonsense roles, such as unpretentious detectives like Strange or affable hosts in country house whodunits.

In the Seventies, Grout also turned his hand to directing, first in the West End (The Patrick Pearse Motel; Some of My Best Friends Are Husbands; Out on a Limb), then in the regions.

James David Grout was born in London on October 22, 1927, the son of a shoe shop owner, and educated at Trinity Grammar School in Wood Green, where his English teacher encouraged him to become an actor.

He did national service in the RAF, trained at Rada and made his first professional appearance at The Old Vic in 1950 in Twelfth Night. He gained further experience between 1953 and 1955, at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon.

Grout was regularly on stage throughout the rest of that decade, including a spell in The Mousetrap. During the Sixties he was performing in both London and New York; one of his favourite parts was as Harry Chitterlow in the Tommy Steele musical Half a Sixpence. Grout was nominated for a Tony award.

He enjoyed a long run in William Douglas Home's Lloyd George Knew My Father (Savoy, 1972) as the son to Peggy Ashcroft's Lady Sheila; and after a spell in Restoration comedy in Vanbrugh's The Provok'd Wife (Greenwich, 1973), he toured America, Korea and Japan with the RSC in The Hollow Crown. At the Vaudeville in 1977, he was Inspector Craddock in A Murder is Announced, and in Michael Frayn's Make and Break (1980) he strutted smugly at a salesmen's conference. At the Haymarket in 1982 he appeared with Peter O'Toole in Shaw's Man and Superman.

Grout's many television credits included the roles of Judge Ollie Oliphant in Rumpole of the Bailey and George in Shelley. He also appeared in All Creatures Great and Small; A Fine Romance and Yes, Minister, among many other shows .

In 2002, he announced that he was planning to slow down: "When you have got two artificial knees, you find it difficult to walk the stage," he said.

James Grout, who died on June 24, is survived by his wife, Noreen.

Sunday Independent

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