Moray Watson

Thorley Walters

Moray Watson. Obituary in “The Guardian” in 2017.

Moray Watson, who has died aged 88, had a long career as an actor in the theatre and cinema, but may be best remembered as the retired brigadier in The Darling Buds of May (1991-93), the popular ITV series based on the HE Bates novel and starring David Jason as Pop Larkin, Pam Ferris as Ma and Catherine Zeta-Jones as their daughter Mariette. Watson, who had two British army majors as brothers and had been an army officer himself, found this part to be familiar territory. He reflected at the time that he was really just like the brigadier in the programme, and was quite comfortable living in country seclusion, knowing no more than half a dozen people.

On stage Watson could hold an audience even when he was the only player. In the 1970s he performed in a one-man show, The Incomparable Max, about the witty writer and cartoonist Max Beerbohm, for which he was highly praised. Some 30 years later, another one-man show again earned him plaudits, this time as the architectural historian and novelist James Lees-Milne in Ancestral Voices (2003), by Hugh Massingberd. In the meantime, Watson had been constantly in work, on stage and screen.

Son of Gerard Watson, a ship broker, and his wife, Jean (nee McFarlane), Moray was born in Sunningdale, Berkshire, into a thoroughly genteel family, and went to Eton. He always wanted to be an actor, and once his national service was out of the way – from 1946 to 1948 he served in the Northamptonshire regiment, reaching the rank of captain – he went to London to study acting at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.

His first stage appearances were with the Nottingham repertory company and his first London role came in 1955 when he appeared in Small Hotel at the St Martin’s theatre. He played Trevor Sellers, a novel-writing butler, in The Grass is Greener (St Martin’s, 1958), and when this play by Hugh and Margaret Williams became a film, Watson took the same role. The 1960 movie, directed by Stanley Donen, starred Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons.

Watson appeared at the Haymarket theatre in George Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma (1963) and, with Ralph Richardson, in You Never Can Tell (1966) and Sheridan’s The Rivals (1967). He proved his versatility in the Brian Rix farce Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something (1972) at the Garrick. In the 1983 revival of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, he played the writer David Bliss to capacity audiences at the Queen’s theatre.

His film career had been launched with Find the Lady (1956), which, after The Grass Is Greener, was followed by The Valiant (1962), about a battleship and its stiff-upper-lipped captain and crew. Both were made for American film companies. He played the very British Colonel Kenneth Post in Operation Crossbow (1965), also for a US company, in which British scientists were parachuted into Europe to destroy a Nazi rocket-making operation. He also appeared in the British comedy Every Home Should Have One (1970), starring Marty Feldman. He returned to Hollywood for the second world war film The Sea Wolves (1980).

He most endeared himself to a wider public through TV. He played Peter Marsh in the BBC sci-fi serial The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and had a long-running role in a soap opera about magazine publishing, Compact (1962-65), as the art editor Richard Lowe – the character was eventually written out of the show because Watson said he wanted a more challenging and varied life.

He was Lord Collingford in 12 episodes of the children’s show Catweazle(1971), played the politician Barrington Erle in the BBC’s The Pallisers (1974), Angus Kinloch in the spy drama Quiller (1975), Mr Bennet in a 1980 version of Pride and Prejudice and Judge Frobisher in nine episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey (1978-88). He made guest appearances in Doctor Who (1982) and Miss Marple: The Body in the Library (1984). In 2002 he was Lord Dawson in the television play about the life of the Queen Mother, Bertie and Elizabeth.

In 1999 Watson returned to the stage, starring with Edward Fox in a touring revival of William Douglas-Home’s breezy 1940s political comedy The Chiltern Hundreds, and took the role of the rascally father in the comedy Nobody’s Perfect (2002), written by and starring the actor Simon Williams (son of Hugh, who had written The Grass is Greener).

Watson met his wife, the actor Pamela Marmont, at the Webber Douglas Academy, and they married in 1955. She died in 1999; he is survived by their daughter, Emma, and son, Robin, both of whom are actors, and by four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

• Moray Watson, actor, born 25 June 1928; died 2 May 2017

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