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Robert Dorning (13 May 1913 – 21 February 1989) was a musician, dance band vocalist, ballet dancer, and stage, film, and television actor. He is known to have performed in at least 77 television and film productions between 1940 and 1988.
Robert Dorning was born at 108 Croppers Hill in St Helens, Lancashire, England, on 13 May 1913. His father was Robert John Dorning who worked in a local pit as a coal miner haulier and his mother was Mary Elizabeth Dorning, formerly Howard. He was educated at Cowley Grammar School in St Helens, where he also learnt to play violin and saxophone. After leaving school, Dorning studied drama and dance in Liverpool with the intention of becoming a ballet dancer. During the 1930s he had a brief career as a musical comedian in theatre, before choosing acting as his profession.
His first known film role was in the crime drama, They Came By Night (1940). However, his acting career was interrupted by World War II and Dorning served in the RAF. After being demobbed, he utilised his ballet dancing talents when cast as a dancer in The Red Shoes (1948). During the 1950s he had supporting roles in at least ten films, mainly B-film crime dramas. Although his film career was overshadowed by his more prolific television work, towards the end of his career he was cast in a number of notable film productions. These included Cul-de-Sac (1966), directed by Roman Polanski, The Black Windmill (1974), Ragtime (1981), Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Mona Lisa (1986).
From 1958 Dorning began a lengthy television career appearing in many classic comedies such as Hancock's Half Hour (1959–60), Bootsie and Snudge (1960), Steptoe and Son (1965) and Rising Damp (1978). Dorning played Mr. West, the bank inspector, in the classic Dad's Army episode "Something Nasty in the Vault" (1969) in which a bomb lands on Mainwaring's bank. Writer Jimmy Perry initially envisaged Jon Pertwee as the pompous bank manager and Home Guard officer Captain Mainwaring with Robert Dorning as Sergeant Wilson but eventually gave the roles to Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier respectively.
Dorning also had roles in a number of television soap operas and appeared as two different Coronation Street characters. He was Edward Wormold in 1965 and Alderman Rogers in an episode in 1972. In addition to this, he also starred alongside Arthur Lowe in the second series of Coronation Street spin-off Pardon the Expression, and a follow up series, Turn out the Lights as Wally Hunt. He played Tupman in the TV musical Pickwick for the BBC in 1969. In 1974 he played Lewis Potter in Emmerdale Farm. Dorning also appeared in a number of television thrillers including The Avengers (1966), The Sweeney (1975), The Professionals (1978) and Bergerac (1988).
In 1975, Dorning took the part of Colonel Grope, described as "an ex-Indian army, alcoholic racialist", in The Melting Pot. This was a sitcom written by Spike Milligan and Neil Shand, which was cancelled by the BBC after just one episode.
His thespian family
His daughter, Stacy Dorning (born 1958) is, perhaps, better known than her father having starred in the children's television series The Adventures of Black Beauty (1973–74) as well as Just William (1976). Acting was a family tradition as Robert's Lancaster-born wife, Honor Shepherd (1926–2000), had been an actress since the age of eleven when she played a dwarf in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Like her husband she appeared in a number of television programmes, including Emergency Ward 10 (1957), Hancock's Half Hour (1961), Dixon of Dock Green (1966) and Juliet Bravo (1981). Their youngest daughter Kate Dorning appeared in Rumpole of the Bailey (1979) The Professionals (1980) and Alice in Wonderland (1986).
Family members would sometimes appear together within the same programme. In 1979 Kate, Stacy and their mother Honor all appeared within an episode of the television drama Dick Turpin.
Robert Dorning died on 21 February 1989 in London of diabetes.