Moray Watson, the dependable character actor who spent 60 years in the business working with major stars


Moray Watson’s 2016 autobiography was titled Looking Back and Dropping Names. As one of Britain’s most recognisable and dependable character actors, often in supporting roles as colonels, aristocrats or judges, he was able to litter the book with dozens of the biggest names on stage and screen.

He spent 60 years in casts alongside major stars ranging from Laurence Olivier and Celia Johnson to David Niven and Judi Dench, and was described by one critic as “handsome in a rugged, Peter Grimes-ish way”.

After his introduction to television audiences as assistant control engineer Peter Marsh in the landmark sci-fi serial The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Watson switched to soap opera, spending a year (1962-3) in the women’s magazine serial Compact as art editor Richard Lowe, then returning for the last month of its run in 1965.

Younger viewers saw him in the second series (1971) of the children’s fantasy drama Catweazle as the hard up Lord Collingford, whose son hides the time-travelling magician of the title in the grounds of their country estate.

Later, Watson brought his military bearing and experience as an Army officer to the role of the retired brigadier in The Darling Buds of May (1991-3). The feel-good comedy drama, based on H.E. Bates’s novels set in 1950s rural Kent, was a runaway hit with viewers.

Moray (pronounced “Murray”) Watson was born the youngest of three children in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to parents of Scottish descent – Gerard, a shipbroker who was killed fighting in the Second World War, and Jean (née McFarlane). His two brothers later served as majors in the Army.

Watson was educated at Eton and did two years’ national service in the Northamptonshire Regiment (1946-8). While training at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, he met actress Pam Marmont – daughter of the Hollywood silent film star Percy – and married her in 1955.

Following repertory theatre in Nottingham, Leatherhead and Liverpool, the West End beckoned. He made his debut in Small Hotel (St Martin’s Theatre, 1955), then was seen as the novel-writing butler, Trevor Sellers, in the comedy The Grass Is Greener (St Martin’s, 1958). He reprised the character in the film version two years later, alongside Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. Then came rare starring roles, in The Bad Soldier Smith (Westminster Theatre, 1960-61) and The Public Eye (Broadway, 1963-4).

Watson enjoyed touring in three one-man shows: as the English humorist Max Beerbohm in The Incomparable Max during the 1970s, the architectural historian James Lees-Milne in Ancestral Voices (2003) and reflecting on his own career in Looking Back and Dropping Names (2011-13), on which his memoirs were based.

He was cast to type in war films such as The Valiant (1962), Operation Crossbow (1965) and The Sea Wolves (1980) but was better utilised on television. His dozens of character roles included Godfrey Cass in Silas Marner (1964), Barrington Erle in the first series (1974) of The Pallisers, Angus Kinloch in Quiller (1975), Chief Constable Chubb in Murder Most English (1977), Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1980), Judge Frobisher (1978-88) in Rumpole of the Bailey and Wordsworth, the butler, in the sitcom Union Castle (1982).

After moving from London to an East Sussex village in 1968, Watson held summer fetes in his garden for many years in aid of theatrical charities and the local church. Stars such as Kenneth More ran the stalls and Roger Daltrey set up a miniature carousel.

Watson’s wife died in 1999. He is survived by their children, both actors – Emma Vansittart and Robin Watson.

Moray Robin Philip Adrian Watson, actor: born Sunningdale, Berkshire, 25 June 1928; married in 1955 to Pam Marmont (died 1999; one son, one daughter); died Hillingdon, Middlesex, 2 May 2017.