Desmond McNamara obituary

My friend Desmond McNamara, who has died aged 84, after suffering from a prolonged lung infection, had a long and busy career as an actor, both on stage, with the Young Vic, National Theatre and RSC companies, and on screen, in TV and film.

Desmond was born in Hackney, east London, the younger son of Winifred (nee Hopcroft) and Arthur McNamara, a clerical officer for Customs & Excise. After national service with the RAF in Germany, Desmond became a printer, before deciding to train as an actor at Rada in 1966, where he was awarded the Bancroft gold medal as the best student of the term. His classmates there included Richard Beckinsale, Nicholas Clay, David Bradley and Robert Ashby, each of whom became his friends.

After Rada, he joined the Birmingham Rep company, taking on the role of the Player King and the Grave Digger to Richard Chamberlain’s Hamlet, in a production filmed in 1970 for ITV Sunday Night Theatre, as well as Estragon in Waiting for Godot, and roles in Edward Bond’s Saved, Henry IV part 1 and numerous other productions.

In 1970, Des became a founding member of Frank Dunlop’s Young Vic company, playing Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, Malcolm in Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs and Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew.

Two years later, he joined Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company, playing Mr Honeywood in Goldsmith’s The Good-Natured Man as well touring Australia with their production of The Front Page. In 1974, he worked with Olivier once again at the Queen’s theatre in Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

Touring again, this time in Japan, he played Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show in 1975.

Later, in 1991, he worked with Trevor Nunn at the Young Vic in Timon of Athens; and then joined him again at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Other Place in Measure for Measure and the Blue Angel, which transferred to the West End in 1992.

In between this theatre work, Des became a very familiar face on television, in series such as Hazell (1978-79), in which he played Cousin Tel, sidekick to Nicholas Ball’s private detective James Hazell. He also appeared in, among many others, Fortunes of War (1987), Roll Over Beethoven (1985), Streets Apart (1988-89), Jury (1983), The Bill (in numerous roles), and All at Number 20 (1987). His films include The Great Paper Chase, (1986), Staggered (1994), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Lucky Break (2001).

Des later became an associate member of Rada, generously giving his time to help young actors with his invaluable advice and encouragement.

He cycled absolutely everywhere, long before that means of transport was taken up by trendsetters. This penchant added considerably to his incredible fitness throughout his life.

In 1961 he married Pam Bentley. She survives him, along with their sons, Robin and David.