The Genial Peter Vaughan

Peter Vaughan had one of those faces. It appeared in all sorts of roles over the years, on TV, film and stage, and was very familiar to many, even if when asked to name him, many would fail to conjure up his real name. But ask those of a certain vintage, to name one of his roles and I’d wager many would say ‘Harry Grout’ or ‘Genial Harry Grout’ to give him his full title, who was the tobacco baron in the classic TV series ‘Porridge’ of course.

In the end, for many it will be the one part for which he will always be associated. The mad thing is, he only appeared in three TV episodes of the show in total, as well as the feature film spin off. The fact that he made such a lasting impression, as the smiling, though menacing gangster locked up at Slade Prison – though with attendant privileges, like a budgie called Seymour and crystallised fruits –  from such a relatively small role leaves you in no doubt, just  how good an actor he was.

He was born Pete Ewart Ohm in April 1923, in the market town of  Wem in Shropshire, the son of dad Max, a bank worker and Austrian by birth and mum Eva, a nurse. It is said whilst reciting poetry at school, he received his first applause for a ‘performance,’ and he liked the feeling and wanted more. A loner as a child, once he had left  Uttoxeter Grammar school, he joined the Wolverhampton Rep aged 16 in 1939, passing the audition with the help of a local drama coach.  Very soon after, he was called up for army service in the Royal Signals during the Second World War and saw extensive action in Normandy and later in the Far East. He proved to be a fine soldier, beginning as a private and ended up an officer.

Once demobbed, he was back treading the boards, now with the stage name of Peter Vaughan. After a few years, he picked up his first film part in the 1959 remake of ‘The 39 Steps,’ after which he continued to pop up in countless low budget films and B movies. Later films of note include ‘The Punch and Judy Man’ in 1963, alongside Tony Hancock’ ‘The Naked Runner’ in 1967 alongside Frank Sinatra , Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Straw Dogs’ in 1971, ‘Valentino’ for Ken Russel appearing alongside Rudolph Nureyev, ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’ in 1980, a brace of  Terry Gilliam films – ‘Time Bandits’ and ‘Brazil’ from 1981 and 1985 respectively,’ ‘The Face’ with Ray Winstone and Robert Carlyle in 1988, and ‘The Remains of the Day’ from 1996, in which he played Stevens, senior.

On stage, his role in the 1964 production of ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ by Joe Orton, playing ‘Ed,’ was said to brought  him to the attention of the industry as a character actor.

‘If you’re a character actor, you don’t need to wait for the next leading role. But if you are a leading man you have to wait for the next part. Sometimes that means long periods without work.’

His TV credits are extensive too and include ‘Randall and Hopkirk’ ‘ The Sweeney’ and ‘Citizen Smith,’ freedom for Tooting and all that. A particular favourite of mine was from 1980, namely the Thames TV series ‘Fox’ in which he played Billy Fox. He was the head of a family from Battersea, consisting of five sons, all with a different story to tell, and included Ray Winstone and Bernhard Hill – later ‘Yosser Hughes,’ in ‘The Boys from the Black Stuff,’ of course.

Peter’s portrayal as the Alzheimer afflicted ‘Felix’ in the drama ‘Our Friends in The North’ saw him nominated for a  Bafta as best actor 1996. In that seminal TV series, he appeared alongside a very strong main cast, of  Daniel Craig, Christopher Ecclestone, Gina McKee and Mark Strong.

‘My greatest TV experience was the wonderful ‘Our Friends in The North.’ Chris Eccleston, who played my son, and I just hit it off perfectly and we still are great buddies. But the great thing about it from my point of view was being able to show people the terrible Alzheimer’s Disease. As Felix, over the course of four decades, I was able to go from a hard nut right the way through the various stages of that illness and it was really the first time it had been brought seriously to notice. It was a great privilege to play that part, it blazed the trail. And, my God, what a cast! Chris, Daniel Craig, Mark Strong, Gina McKee — it would cost quite a few bob to assemble that cast now. Apart from me, of course, I’m very cheap!’

His last major TV work could be seen in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ in which he played Master Aemon Targaryen from 2011 to 2015.

In his personal life, Peter married the celebrated British actress Billie Whitelaw in 1952, Divorcing in 1966. His second wife was Lillias Walker. One other family member of note was Gregor Fisher, or Rab C. Nesbitt to you and me, who was his son in-law.

Peter Vaughan died aged 93 of natural causes in 2016.

‘I’ve been so lucky with parts. They talk about actors resting. The only time I have ever rested in my 77 years as an actor has been when I’ve wanted to.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.’


The Mumper of SE5



*Update – Volume 2 has gone to print & will be delivered soon.


THE SPEAKEASY Volume Two by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)

Illustrations by Lewis Wharton

Foreword by Rhoda Dakar

Available to PRE ORDER here



THE SPEAKEASY Volume One by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)

Illustrations by Lewis Wharton

Foreword by Gary Crowley

Available to ORDER here



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