Martin Benson

Martin Benson was born in London in 1918.   His appearacnes on film stretched over fifty years from “The Blind Goddess” in 1948 to “Angela’s Ashes” in 1999.  Best remembered roles were as Karalholme in the Hollywood production of “The King and I” in 1956 and as the gangster Solo in “Goldfinger” in 1964.   Martin Benson died in 2010 at the age of 92.

Martin Benson’s obituary in “The Guardian”:

The actor Martin Benson, who has died aged 91, occupied a screen category filled in its time by Herbert Lom, with whom he acted on several occasions, and previously Conrad Veidt – that of the worldly, sophisticated, foreign villain. With jet-black hair, dark colouring and pronounced eyebrows on a thin face, he never seemed properly dressed without a tuxedo. As well as remaining furiously busy during six decades as an actor, he pursued several artistic disciplines.

Born into a Jewish family in London, he seemed briefly destined to become a pharmacist. As a gunner in the army during the seond world war, he organised entertainment for the troops, and produced a tour of Gaslight in aid of a fund to replace HMS Dorsetshire. By 1944, he had been promoted to captain and was posted to Alexandria, Egypt, where he built a theatre from scratch, assisted by his sergeant-major, another aspiring actor – Arthur Lowe.

Among Benson’s earliest screen roles was an unbilled part for Alfred Hitchcock in Under Capricorn (1949). The King and I had its British stage premiere at Drury Lane in October 1953, with Lom as the King, and Benson as his court chancellor, Kralahome. Benson played the part again opposite Yul Brynner in the Hollywood film version in 1956. He also played the King himself in February 1955, when Lom was ill. Benson later asserted that “despite the reputation which Yul Brynner continues to enjoy, the more intelligent as well as intelligible performance came from Herbert Lom, notwithstanding a good deal less swagger”.

Back in Britain and in modestly budgeted monochrome thrillers, he was on characteristic form in Soho Incident (1956) as a “big boss” running crooked boxing and horse-racing schemes. Venturing into television, Benson was among a repertory company of actors in the half-hour anthology Douglas Fairbanks Presents (1953-57), aimed at US television, shown in Britain as cinema shorts and as schedule-fillers in ITV’s early days. Benson also worked on the scripts, where as many foreign settings were included as possible. Another rep company member was Christopher Lee, who called it a valuable training ground. He and Benson made up a comic double act for one segment, The Death of Michael Turbin (1953), as slow-witted east Europeans.

He was a regular, as the villainous Duke de Medici, in Sword of Freedom (1957-58). In 1958 and 1959, he played a barrister in the unscripted courtroom series The Verdict Is Yours and, in On Trial (1960), which recreated celebrated cases, Micheal MacLiammoir played Oscar Wilde, with Benson as his prosecutor, Edward Carson.

After a role in Cleopatra (1963), he was an American gangster coerced into taking a doomed car ride with the henchman Oddjob, in Goldfinger(1964). He was among a houseful of suspects in Peter Sellers’s second outing as Clouseau, A Shot in the Dark (1964).

From 1960 to 1985, Martin Benson Films, based in Radlett in Hertfordshire, made more then 100 educational and training films, which Benson directed, wrote and occasionally narrated. Some were for Save the Children.

For Lew Grade’s ITC series, the logical successors to the Fairbanks shows, he variously played corrupt South American ministers, Algerian majors, ruthless Turkish policemen and cigar-smoking gamblers. Submerged under green makeup, Benson played the Vogon Captain, an excruciatingly bad poet, in Douglas Adams’s The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981).

Benson began painting in his stage dressing room, and in 1993 he staged an exhibition of his Shakespearean paintings at the Shakespeare Globe Centre, the subjects including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Alec Guinness.

His later credits included Alan Parker’s adaptation of Angela’s Ashes (1999) and a 2005 episode of Casualty.

His wife Joy, son and three daughters, two stepdaughters and one stepson survive him.

• Martin Benson, actor, born 10 August 1918; died 28 February 2010

 This “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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