Charity Commission investigates actors’ fund over governance

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<span>Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock

A charity that supports actors who are experiencing hardship due to old age, injury or illness is under investigation over concerns about its governance.

A dispute at the Actors’ Benevolent Fund had pit a group of longstanding trustees – including the actor Dame Penelope Keith, who has been its president for the past 32 years – against its general secretary, who was appointed in 2016.

The Charity Commission said it had an “ongoing case” into the fund, which was set up in 1882 and whose patron is the Prince of Wales.

The commission said it was “assessing concerns reported to us about the charity’s governance” but declined to provide details.

Ten people, including Keith, were removed from the charity’s council of trustees in February in what they claim was a procedural manoeuvre. As well as Keith, who played Margo Leadbetter in the 1970s suburban sitcom The Good Life, the ousted council members included Dame Siân Phillips, James Bolam and Brian Murphy.

According to reports, the longtime trustees had earlier questioned Jonathan Ellicott, the fund’s general secretary, over financial issues. He lodged an official complaint of bullying and harassment. He eventually left his post at the end of March on unspecified terms.

There was no response on Monday to a request for comment from the charity.

The fund provides financial support to actors and stage managers who are experiencing hardship due to injury, illness or old age, distributing about £1m a year. It offers weekly help with household expenses, one-off payments for larger items such as disability aids, and benefits advice.

Founded by Henry Irving, its past presidents include John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.

Keith said the fund’s problems had been exacerbated by meetings being held remotely during the past two years, instead of monthly in-person gatherings.

“The dreaded Zoom was a great problem. I loathed it,” she told the Times. “With Zoom meetings, the people who talk and talk and talk will talk and talk and talk. The people you really want to hear won’t have their say … That was the time the divisions started in the council. It just got worse and worse. I put a lot of this down to Zoom.”

She said she had written to Prince Charles to let him know “there was a bit of trouble at mill”.

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