Nicky Henson

Nicky Henson
Nicky Henson

Nicky Henson. (Wikipedia)

Nicky Henson was born in 1945 is an English actor who has portrayed many roles since 1963. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1977.

Henson was born in London, the son of Harriet Martha (Collins) and comedian Leslie Henson.  Henson attended St. Bede’s Prep SchoolEastbourne and Charterhouse in Godalming. He trained as a stage manager at RADA, and first appeared on stage himself as a guitarist. As a member of the Young Vic Company he played Pozzo in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Henson has appeared in various television roles, including guest roles in Fawlty TowersMinderBoonA Touch of FrostHeartbeatAfter You’ve Gone and Doctors. He also played the eponymous hero in Shine On Harvey Moon when the series was revived in 1995. In 2005 he played Hugo, an antique dealer in Bad Girls. In February 2006, Henson joined the cast of the BBC1 soap opera EastEnders, playing Jack Edwards. Henson left the production towards the end of the year due to health problems.

Henson has played three different characters the police drama series The Bill, the first in 1991, the second in 1998, and the third in 2007. In 2010, he appeared in an episode of the ITV period drama Downton Abbey and appeared in two further episodes in 2013.[3] He also played Randolph Mepstead, the older brother of David Jason’s character in the pilot episode of the 1976 series Lucky Feller.

Nicky Henson’s film appearances include Witchfinder General (1968), There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970), Mosquito Squadron (1970) and Psychomania (1971). He graduated to lead roles in The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976) and  No. 1 of the Secret Service (1977), before returning to supporting roles in Vera Drake (2004) and George Clooney‘s Syriana (2005).

On stage, Henson has played many Shakespearian characters and has had leading roles in Look Back in AngerMan and SupermanRosencrantz and Guildenstern are DeadShe Stoops to ConquerNoises Off and many other plays. He appeared as Mordred in the original 1964 London version of Camelot opposite Laurence Harvey as King Arthur. Henson made his Broadway debut in a production of Oscar Wilde‘s An Ideal Husband, opposite Stephanie Beacham. He was nominated for a 1998 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical of 1997 for his role in Enter the Guardsman.

He started directing with a Restoration workshop at LAMDA with a production of The Provok’d Wife. In 2009 he directed the Jack Shepherd play Only When I Laugh at the Arcola Theatre in London and Alan Ayckbourn‘s Intimate Exchanges at Sheringham Little Theatre.

He played Lemuel ‘Chipper’ Barnet in Space Force series 1 and 2 (1984–85).

Henson married actress Una Stubbs (who incidentally played his sister-in-law Caroline Bishop in EastEnders). The couple had two sons, Joe and Christian, both of whom are composers.

After their divorce He then married ballerina Marguerite Porter, by whom he has a third son, Keaton, a musician and illustrator.

Adam Henson, a farmer and regular presenter on BBC TV‘s Countryfile, is a nephew.

Henson was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. Surgeons removed tumours from around his spleen, but a routine check-up in 2006 showed that other tumours had grown and it would be dangerous to remove them. Henson was put on a regimen of chemotherapy, and worked regularly to raise funds for cancer charities, especially Marie Curie Cancer Care. Nicky Henson died in December 2019 at the age of 74.

Nicky Henson obituary in “The Guardian” in 2019.

Tough and tender marked the acting style of Nicky Henson, who has died after a long illness aged 74. Energetic and ebullient were other critical adjectives flying around a career of more than five decades in revue, musicals, with the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and on television (Fawlty Towers and EastEnders) and in films by Roy Boulting (There’s A Girl in My Soup, 1970), Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, 2004) and George Clooney (Syriana, 2005).

The range and variety of his work was astonishing, and seems even more so after taking into account the cancer and serial medical procedures he endured over the last 20 years of his life. But he was like Bobby Vee’s rubber ball that came bouncing back all the time.

It was the director Frank Dunlop who really unleashed his talent when he founded the Young Vic in 1970 and picked Henson as a cornerstone actor – alongside Jim Dale, Denise Coffey and Gary Bond – in a project revitalising classics for a new audience.

Between 1970 and 1973, Henson played in Molière, Goldsmith, Shakespeare and Stoppard, scoring particularly as Pozzo in Waiting for Godot, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet and Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger. He was also the sado-masochistic housemaid Solange in Jean Genet’s The Maids.

Now ready for take-off, in 1973-74 alone he played in Peter Handke’s enigmatic A Ride Across Lake Constance at the Hampstead theatre and the Mayfair with Alan Howard, Nicola Pagett and Gayle Hunnicutt; Laertes, Bottom (never was bully Bottom bullier) and Petruchio at the Open Air theatre, Regent’s Park; and Buttons to Twiggy’s Cinderella at the London Casino (now the Prince Edward). And on television he starred as a rumbustious Balzac in a three-part study of the novelist’s love life – Prometheus: The Life of Balzac (1975) – with a top cast including Helen Ryan, Rosemary McHale and Elizabeth Spriggs.

Born in London, Nicky was the son of the music hall star and producer Leslie Henson and his third wife, Billie Collins. He was educated at St Bede’s prep school, Eastbourne, and Charterhouse, Godalming, Surrey, before training as a stage manager at Rada. Also a musician, he formed, and played guitar in, a pop group called the Wombats and wrote songs for Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

He made his West End debut in a revue, All Square (1963), at the Vaudeville, with Beryl Reid, Naunton Wayne and Julian Holloway, after Beyond the Fringe had changed the face of the genre.

Before joining the Young Vic he was modestly established in West End musical theatre. He played Mordred in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot at Drury Lane (1964), with Laurence Harvey and Elizabeth Larner; joined other young hopefuls Francesca Annis and Bill Kenwright in Wolf Mankowitz and John Barry’s Passion Flower Hotel at the Prince of Wales (1965); supported Harry Secombe, Thora Hird and Russ Conway in London Laughs at the Palladium (1966); and spent 18 months in the Martin Starkie/Nevill Coghill musical version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1968) at the Phoenix with Jessie Evans and Wilfrid Brambell. Henson’s big number was I Have a Noble Cock (“he crows at break of day”).

His early films included the low-budget cult movie Witchfinder General (1968), a graphic tale of torture and persecution in the civil war, starring Vincent Price and Ian Ogilvy, the latter becoming a lifelong friend; There’s A Girl in My Soup, starring Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn (Henson was Goldie’s rock musician boyfriend); and The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976), Henson succeeding Albert Finney as the athletic lothario in the superior 1963 Tony Richardson version, though Henson’s fellow actors included Joan Collins, Terry-Thomas, and Trevor Howard.Advertisement

After the Young Vic and a 1977 tour – and season at the Savoy – with Shaw’s Man and Superman for the RSC, co-starring Richard Pasco and Susan Hampshire, Henson joined Peter Hall’s National on the South Bank from 1978 to 1980, playing in Chekhov, Edward Bond (The Woman), Middleton and Rowley’s A Fair Quarrel and two Restoration classics directed by Peter Wood, The Double Dealer and The Provok’d Wife. Somehow he squeezed in a reunion with Dunlop for a West End season in the Ben Travers farce Rookery Nook, at Her Majesty’s (1979). This was a play first produced by his father with Tom Walls in the Aldwych farce series in 1926.

His second great farce triumph came in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (1982) as the ageing juvenile lead Roger Templemain, who can only articulate semi-sensibly while spouting the lines “in character” as the hapless Gary Lejeune. He returned to the RSC for the 1985-86 seasons and gave two fantastic performances as Touchstone in As You Like It, a role usually immune to comic invention but here transformed into a music hall chameleon; and as the frenetic Frank Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, searching a palpably uninhabited laundry basket for his cuckolder and adopting a ludicrous disguise as a moustachioed little Hitler in a yellow bicycle plastic mac.

In the second series of Fawlty Towers (1979), Henson had played a fruity medallion man Basil suspects of smuggling a woman into his room. He had. She was his mother.

In the subsequent decade, his TV work embraced several mini-series: The Happy Apple (1983), scripted by Keith Waterhouse from a Jack Pulman stage play set in a failing advertisement agency; Thin Air (1988), in which a radio reporter uncovers local corruption; and Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man (1990), Finney leading a cast including Henson, Linda Marlowe, Josie Lawrence and Michael Grandage.

In the 1990s, he appeared as Vershinin in Frank McGuinness’s version of Three Sisters with the Cusack sisters and their father Cyril at the Royal Court; in Ronald Harwood’s Reflected Glory with Finney at the Vaudeville; and on a bill of Frayn playlets and sketches, Alarms and Excursions, at the Gielgud. His final stage role came as the suave vice-chancellor and lead gymnast, Archie, in David Leveaux’s fine National Theatre revival of Stoppard’s Jumpers (with Simon Russell Beale and Essie Davis) on its transfer to the Piccadilly in 2003.

By then he was seriously ill in sustained bursts, but still he managed to make a Shakespeare TV film, A Waste of Shame (2005), with a script by William Boyd that weighed the mystery of the sonnets, and he made that EastEnders appearance as Jack Edwards in 2006, threatening the putative husband of his daughter (“I will hunt you down. With dogs. On horseback.”) He even popped up twice in Downton Abbey (2010 and 2013) as a washed-up music hall artiste, partner in a long-ago double act with Jim Carter’s Carson.

In 2005 the RSC had invited him back to play Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, but he had to quit the role – an ideal one for him – after just one public preview. He knew his life on stage was over, but in 2017 I found him bouncing around still in the interval of a play he had directed at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. This was John Cleese’s Bang Bang, an adaptation of Feydeau, with Oliver Cotton playing the John Cleese role. He had done it really well.

His last film credits were in The Holly Kane Experiment (2017), a spooky thriller in which he played the sinister nemesis of an obsessive psychologist (Kirsty Averton); and in a low-budget crime thriller, Tango One (2018).

In 1968 Henson married Una Stubbs. After they divorced in 1975, he was in a relationship for five years with the actor Susan Hampshire.

In 1982 he met and married Marguerite Porter, a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. She sustained him through his illness and survives him, along with their son, Keaton, the two sons from his first marriage, Christian and Joe, and four grandchildren. All three sons are musicians and composers. 

• Nicholas Victor Lesley Henson, actor, born 12 May 1945; died 16 December 2019

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