By Calvin Palmer
He was the bumbling upper-class Oxbridge graduate Stanley Windrush in the Boulting Brothers’ comedy film classics Private’s Progress (1956) and I’m All Right Jack (1959) and later the monocled English gentleman Bertie Wooster in the BBC TV series The World of Wooster, based on the Jeeves novels by P.G Wodehouse.
Ian Carmichael died yesterday at his home in the Esk Valley on the North York Moors, after falling ill between Christmas and the New Year, said his wife Kate. He was 89.
Born in Hull in 1920, the son of an optician, his film career began with serious roles in Betrayed (1954), starring Clark Gable and Lana Turner, and in The Colditz Story (1955).
But it was his comedy roles in films for the Boulting Brothers that endeared him to the British public.
One of the most memorable scenes from Private’s Progress sees Carmichael (Private Windrush) disguised as a German officer behind enemy lines but he cannot speak German. Suddenly, he is confronted by a real German officer who addresses him. Carmichael puts on a brave face and in his inimitable way stammers: “Ich… Ich…Ich…”
In School for Scoundrels (1960) he formed part of the triumvirate of comedy acting genius, appearing alongside Alastair Sim and Terry-Thomas, in one of my all-time favorite comedy films from a bygone age. In the clip below, he appears with Alastair Sim, Dennis Price and Peter Jones.
Of course, School For Scoundrels is also remembered for the tennis match between Carmichael and Terry-Thomas.
Carmichael’s career turned to television in the 1960s and 1970s. He starred opposite Dennis Price in The World of Wooster and had further success as Lord Peter Wimsey in several drama series based on the mystery novels by Dorothy L Sayers.
He appeared in the BBC serial Wives and Daughters in 1999 and also appeared in the ITV hospital drama The Royal as recently as last year.
He made his stage debut as a robot at the People’s Palace in Mile End, East London in 1939, but with the outbreak of the Second World War interrupted his acting career. He served with the the Royal Armoured Corps, as a commissioned officer in the 22nd Dragoons.
As a reporter with the Mossley & Saddleworth Reporter, I conducted an interview in 1990 with his second wife, the novelist Kate Fenton, during the launch of her debut novel – The Colours of Snow. When the interview was over, I asked her to thank Ian for bringing so much joy with his wonderful performances.
English comedy acting has lost one of its all-time greats. Once again, I will say, “Thank you, Ian.”
[Based on a report by The Daily Telegraph.]