Many may not know his name but all will know the face of actor Peter Vaughan who garnered a new legion of fans from his role in ‘Game of Thrones’. A character actor par excellence he made a lasting impression as the prisoner Grouty in the iconic 70 ‘s TV comedy, ‘Porridge’ despite only appearing in three episodes fans still shouted, ‘Let you out have they Grouty?’ whenever they saw him in the street.
Born in Shropshire in 1923 his real name was Peter Olm and was the son of a bank clerk and nurse and started acting in repertory theatre in Wolverhampton before the Second World War where he joined the army and served in both Singapore and Normandy before returning to London and acting.
His career lasted for an astonishing 75 years with his TV career started in 1954 in mostly forgotten series but where he would make indelible and lasting impressions in not only ‘Porridge’ but also as the strict father in the comedy ‘Citizen Smith’, one of script writers John Sullivan’s first successes (before he went on to writing ‘Only Fools and Horses’) and to huge acclaim in the BBC series, ‘Our Friends in the North’, the only role for which he was ever nominated for a BAFTA as Best Actor.
He was married to the late Billie Whitelaw in 1952 who had become something of a muse to playwright Samuel Beckett and she went on to critical success in his plays whereas he was working in small roles in theatre and she attributed, rightly or wrongly, his envy of her success to the failure of their marriage.
He was the first to admit that his looks were not that of a leading man and his fierce appearance belied a pleasant man and it would keep him in regular work throughout his life. Our Deputy Editor worked with him in the mid 90’s on a BBC series and described him as a, ‘decent, hard working man who was highly knowledgeable about his craft’.
He went on to achieve success in memorable roles in films including the notorious 1971 film, ‘Straw Dogs’ describing its director Sam Peckinpah as, ‘one of the best directors ever’. He worked with many notable directors including Ken Russell in 1972’s ‘Savage Messiah’, and 1977’s ‘Valentino’. He also worked with Terry Gilliam in ‘Time Bandits’ and ‘Brazil’, Karel Reisz’, ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’, Nicholas Hytner’s ‘The Crucible’ but really hit pay dirt in the last role of his career as Maester Aemon in ‘Game of Thrones’ which would ensure his legacy would live on as one of the great British character actors
He was married to the actress Lilias Walker and he died peacefully at 10:30 on 6th December surrounded by his family.