The earliest surviving episode of ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’,’ The Alpine Holiday’ (Series 2, 1st April 1957), included an appearance by Richard Wattis as the hotel manager. Richard went on to appear in a number of other ‘HHH’s, although he is perhaps better known as Eric Sykes’s long suffering neighbour, Mr. Brown, in the long running series ‘Sykes’. The following brief resume of Richard’s life is drawn from a book written by member Ian Payne, which can be accessed from the Walsall Local History Centre. The excellent portrait of Richard is by Gary Morgan.
Richard was born at Hollies Drive, Wednesbury, in 1912 and moved to Walsall with his family in 1916, where his family remained. His uncle was a former MP of Walsall called Billy Preston. Richard got involved in local repertory theatre work in Walsall, where he acquired his love of acting. In 1934, after writing twice to his acting hero, Robert Donat, he was introduced to the Croydon Repertory Theatre to train as a thespian. Co-incidentally, John Le Mesurier, who also went on to appear in ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, trained at the same time as Richard at Croydon Rep. It was run by the famous J B Somerville and he soon took Richard under his wing.
When he had finished his training in 1937, J B Somerville moved Richard around the various theatre reps to gain experience, and he played at Brighton, Oxford and even London. At this time he was acquiring his lifelong role as the bureaucratic civil servant for which he was well known, e.g. in the St. Trinians films; and the sitcom Sykes, as well as over 100 more films and TV roles over 40 years.
In 1939 Richard joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and remained with them until the war ended. His brother Tony was sadly killed in the conflict, fighting Japanese forces. After WW2, Richard moved quite quickly into the new theatre, film and TV genre of the day, and his first main role was in Christopher Fry’s ‘Ring Round the Moon’ at The Globe Theatre in 1951. It was in the 1950’s that Richard went on to star in the St. Trinians films as the bumbling civil servant, Manson Bassett. He also starred in ‘Hobson’s Choice’ with Sir John Mills and Prunella Scales; the Ealing Comedy ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ with Sir Alec Guinness; appeared in Norman Wisdom films; and following on from his appearance on stage in ‘The Sleeping Princess’ in 1955, was chosen by Laurence Olivier to star in the film version of the play ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ in 1956.
Richard became a popular sitcom guest in the 1960’s/1970’s starring alongside Eric Sykes, Derek Guyler, and Hattie Jacques in ‘Sykes’, where he played the nosey neighbour Charles Brown, as well as ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, appearing in ‘The Alpine Holiday’ as the hotel manager.
Richard also appeared in ‘Father Dear Father’; ‘The Dora Bryan Show’; and ‘Call My Bluff’, and was also involved in ‘The Avenger’s'; ‘Danger Man’ and ‘The Prisoner’, all popular TV series of their day.
Richard used to make regular visits back to the Midlands to see his parents but once they had both died in the 1950’s and 1960’s his visits to the Midlands eventually ceased. He lived at various addresses in London after he left the army in 1945, but settled in Codogan Square, Pimlico. He was a very social man and was always entertaining somebody or some party in his flat, and his favourite tipple was claret or whisky. He was also a great gourmet and ate out a lot, as well as enjoying to cook in his flat. He sadly died in a Kensington restaurant in 1975 aged 63 years, in the middle of his favourite meal and claret.
If anyone has any memories of Richard, or tributes for him, please contact Ian on: firstname.lastname@example.org