Playwright and Writer for TV and Radio
Was an actor whose dark good looks and 6 ft frame helped to launch his screen career in roles with Margaret Lockwood in J Arthur Rank’s post-war film extravaganzas Hungry Hill, Jassy and Bedelia.
He went on to appear in some 40 films made for cinema and 100 for television. In the 1960s, he enthralled British and American television viewers in the title role of the series Richard the Lionheart, which ran to 39 episodes.
An Irishman by birth, he felt a special rapport with the works of Shaw and Sean O’Casey. It seemed therefore the obvious choice that he should both play the part of Bernard Shaw and produce the ‘one-man-show’ devised by Michael Voysey.
‘MY ASTONISHING SELF’ in the City of London Festival in 1988
In the opening of the play Shaw proclaims that he went as a young man to work in the office an Irish estate agent. He gleefully proclaims “My prospects in Dublin were stupendous. The employer’s daughter would have been mine for the asking and a partnership in the firm assured. The only obstacle to the fortune – I cared neither for the post nor the daughter……And so I broke loose in defiance of all prudence and became a professional man of genius.”
Dermot Walsh, the son of a journalist and civil servant, was born at Dublin on September 10 1924. It was as a schoolboy at St Mary’s College, Rathmines, that he decided he would like to be an actor; but on leaving at 16 he bowed to his parents’ wishes and entered a solicitor’s office in Dublin.
He also attended Law lectures at University College, Dublin; but in the evenings he went to the Abbey Theatre School of Acting, taking part in amateur productions. Realising that Dermot had set his heart on acting, his parents then let him take a walk-on role in a play at the Olympic theatre.
Before long he had landed a 10-line part in a production at the Gate theatre, Dublin, and this led to an invaluable spell as assistant stage manager (at £2 a week) with Lord Longford’s repertory company. Over the next three years he proved his usefulness, graduating to juvenile leads.
In 1945 he worked his passage to England – looking after a shipment of horses – and in December joined the Croydon Repertory for a brief spell. He then returned to the Gate company in Dublin where, playing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he was spotted by Brian Desmond Hurst, of J Arthur Rank.
Hurst was casting for Hungry Hill (1946), a film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of 1943 about an Irish family feud spanning three generations. He recruited Walsh, whose performance – acting alongside Margaret Lockwood, Dennis Price, Cecil Parker, Jean Simmons and Michael Denison – led to a part in Sydney Box’s Jassy (1947), the tale of a gypsy servant girl who falls in love with her master and is accused of murder.
Walsh also had a part in the film Bedelia (1946), a drama about a psychotic woman who is found to have murdered three husbands. More prominent roles followed – in The Mark of Cain, with Sally Gray; My Sister and I, with Hazel Court, Martita Hunt, Barbara Mullen and Sally Ann Howes; Third Time Lucky, with Glynis Johns; and Torment, with Rona Anderson.
Having married Hazel Court (the first girl to be put under contract by Rank) in 1949, and become a father the next year, Walsh was naturally anxious to remain in work. This he did successfully, appearing in a series of thrillers, in which he was usually cast as the decent hero, or the detective who solved the mystery. After The Frightened Man (1952), he appeared in The Ghost Ship and Counterspy – all with Hazel Court.
His face became well-known, and on one occasion, standing on a railway station platform in Manchester with Rank’s publicity manager, he espied a crowd of small boys heading his way. Noticing that the boys were clutching notebooks and pads, Walsh asked the publicity man to lend him a pen – because, he explained, autograph hunters always handed him pens that leaked. But the small boys rushed straight past him and on down the platform – on their way to collect engine numbers.
In the theatre, meanwhile, Walsh made his mark with his first appearance on the London stage in the original production of Bernard Shaw’s Buoyant Billions.
He loved comedy, and at the Whitehall theatre in Colin Morris’s farce Reluctant Heroes, a caricature of Army life as lived by National Servicemen, Walsh joined a cast that included Brian Rix. In 1952, with Hazel Court, Walsh appeared in William Ransted Berry’s World Without End (Fortune theatre), and, at Malvern, in Allan Langdon Martin’s romantic play Smilin’ Through. In James Parrish’s new piece The Distant Hill, a play about a theatrical company’s summer stay in a seaside boarding house, he played alongside Dulcie Gray and Maurice Teynac.
He was with Hazel Court again in Martin Landau’s production of Edwin Lewis’s Relations Are Best Apart (Garrick, 1954), a comedy about the complications that arise when different generations of a family live under the same roof. The critic of The Daily Telegraph noted that, as a young couple in the play, Walsh and Miss Court “used hammer and tongs with all the vigour in the world”.
His screen work in the later 1950s encompassed roles in, among other films, Sea Fury (1958), with Stanley Baker; Sea of Sand (1958), with Richard Attenborough and John Gregson; Make Mine a Million (1959), with Sid James and Arthur Askey; and The Challenge (1960), with Jayne Mansfield.
Remaining active in the theatre throughout the 1960s, Walsh was also frequently cast for television, often as a character who would not reveal himself as good or bad until the last minute. His credits include Danger Man, Court Martial, The Invisible Man, and John Mortimer’s play Too Late for the Mashed Potato. He embarked on the 1970s with a provincial tour, heading for the West End, of a new production of Somerset Maugham’s first play, Lady Frederick, a piece that includes the memorable scene in which the leading lady shows her young lover just how old she is by coming on without make-up, and then making-up in front of him.
Over the next three decades, right up until the time of his final illness, Walsh continued to work in the theatre, in London and in the provinces. Rather than stay in a hotel or boarding house when on tour, he would almost always take his caravan with him and park at a local spot with a fine view.
Although he never forgot his Irish roots, Walsh came to feel most at home in the Weald of Kent, where over the years he lived in several different houses. He was a great man for making lists and for hoarding menus and he collected stamps.
He held firm to his intention not to retire while still fit. In recent years, his stage roles included Joe Chamberlain in My Father’s House; the Duke in The Revenger’s Tragedy; and Absolute in The Rivals.
Dermot Walsh died in hospital on June 26. By his marriage to Hazel Court, which was dissolved in 1963, he had a daughter. He married secondly, in 1968 (dissolved 1974), the actress Diana Scougall; they had a son. He married thirdly, in 1974, Elizabeth Knox (nee Scott), who predeceased him; they had two daughters.