Victor Spinetti

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Victor Spinetti
6702 Victor Spinetti.jpg
Born Vittorio Giorgio Andrea Spinetti
(1929-09-02)2 September 1929[1]
Cwm, Ebbw Vale, Wales
Died 18 June 2012(2012-06-18) (aged 82)
Monmouth, Wales
Cause of death
Prostate cancer
Residence Monmouth, Wales
Nationality Welsh
Education Monmouth School, Monmouth
Alma mater Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Occupation Actor/Theatre director
Years active 1961–2012
Home town Monmouth, Wales
Partner(s) Graham Curnow
(1953 – 1997; his death)
Family Henry Spinetti (brother)

Vittorio Giorgio Andrea Spinetti (2 September 1929 – 18 June 2012)[1][2] was a Welsh comedy actor, author, poet and raconteur. He appeared in dozens of films and stage plays throughout his 50-year career and is best remembered today for appearing in the three Beatles films in the 1960s, A Hard Day's Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour.

Born in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, Wales, Spinetti was educated at Monmouth School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, of which he became a Fellow. After various menial jobs, Spinetti pursued a stage career and was closely associated with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. Among the productions were Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be and Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), which transferred to New York City and for which he won a Tony Award. Spinetti's film career developed simultaneously; his dozens of film appearances would include Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew, Under Milk Wood, The Return of the Pink Panther and Under the Cherry Moon.

During his later career, Spinetti acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in such roles as Lord Foppington in The Relapse and the Archbishop in Richard III, at Stratford-upon-Avon; and, in 1990, he appeared in The Krays. In 2008 he appeared in a one-man show, A Very Private Diary, which toured the UK as A Very Private Diary ... Revisited!, recounting his life story. Spinetti was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 and died of the disease in June 2012.

He was the older brother of session musician Henry Spinetti.

Early life[edit]

Spinetti was born in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, Wales, of Welsh and Italian heritage from a grandfather who was said to have walked from Italy to Wales to work as a coal miner. His parents, Giuseppe and Lily (née Watson),[1] owned the chip shop in Cwm, over which premises the family lived and where Spinetti was born. Spinetti was the eldest of six;[3] his younger brother, Henry (born 1951), is a session drummer. Spinetti was educated at Monmouth School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, of which he became a Fellow. Early on he was a waiter and a factory worker. It was at the college that Spinetti met the actor Graham Curnow, who became his partner. The two shared a house and were openly non-monogamous.[4]

Film career[edit]

Spinetti sprang to international prominence in three Beatles films in the 1960s, A Hard Day's Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour. He also appeared on one of the Beatles' Christmas recordings. The best explanation for this long-running collaboration and friendship might have been provided by George Harrison, who said, "You've got to be in all our films ... if you're not in them me Mum won't come and see them — because she fancies you."[5] But Harrison would also say, "You've got a lovely karma, Vic." Paul McCartney described Spinetti as "the man who makes clouds disappear". Spinetti would later make a small appearance in the promotional video for Paul's song "London Town" from the 1978 album of the same name. His July 2010 performance of the song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", at The Festival Theatre, Malvern, would later be made available on "The Beatles Complete on Ukulele" podcast.[6]

Spinetti appeared in more than 31 films, including Sparrows Can't Sing, The Wild Affair, Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew, Under Milk Wood with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Becket, Start the Revolution Without Me, Voyage of the Damned, The Return of the Pink Panther, Emily, Casanova & Co., Under the Cherry Moon and The Krays.

Spinetti's last on-screen appearance was in the DVD release of the independent film Beatles Stories by US musician Seth Swirsky, issued to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first recording sessions at Abbey Road.[4]

Theatre[edit]

Spinetti in 1969

Spinetti's work in Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop produced many memorable performances including Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be (1959, by Frank Norman, with music by Lionel Bart), and Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), which transferred to New York City and for which he won a Tony Award for his main role as an obnoxious Drill Sergeant. He appeared in the West End in The Odd Couple (as Felix); in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the West End; and as Albert Einstein in a critically lauded performance in 2005 in a new play, Albert's Boy at the Finborough Theatre. He launched his own one-man show of witty reminiscences, A Very Private Diary, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.[4]

One of Spinetti's most challenging theatre roles was as the principal male character in Jane Arden's radical feminist play Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven, which played to packed houses for six weeks at the Arts Lab on Drury Lane in 1969. In 1980 he directed The Biograph Girl, a musical about the silent film era, at the Phoenix Theatre. In 1986 he appeared as Fagin in the musical Oliver!, which was the last professional production to use Sean Kenny's original stage design. He appeared on Broadway in The Hostage and The Philanthropist, and also acted in 1995 with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in such roles as Lord Foppington in The Relapse and the Archbishop in Richard III, at Stratford-upon-Avon, although this was not a happy experience for him.[4]

Spinetti co-authored In His Own Write, the play adapted from a book by John Lennon with the Beatle which he also directed at the National Theatre, premiering on 18 June 1968, at the Old Vic. Spinetti and Lennon appeared together in June 1968 on BBC2's Release. During the interview, Spinetti said of the play,

"it's not really John’s childhood, it's all of ours really, isn’t it John?" John Lennon, assuming a camp voice answered "It is, we're all one Victor, we're all one aren't we. I mean 'what's going on?'" Spinetti said the play "is about the growing up of any of us; the things that helped us to be more aware".

He also directed Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, including productions staged in Europe. His many television appearances on British TV, include Take My Wife in which he played a London-based booking agent and schemer who was forever promising his comedian client that fame was just around the corner, and the sitcom An Actor's Life For Me.

In September 2008 Spinetti reprised his one-man show, A Very Private Diary, touring the UK, as A Very Private Diary ... Revisited!, telling his life story.[7]

Television[edit]

Between 1969 and 1970 Spinetti appeared on Thames Television, alongside Sid James, as one half of Two In Clover over two series. A sitcom about two office workers who jack it all in to become farmers, he starred in all but one of the 13 episodes. His absence in episode #3 of the second series was covered by fellow Welsh actor Richard Davies, playing Spinetti's character's brother.

In the 1970s Spinetti appeared in a series of television advertisements for McVities' (now United Biscuits) Jaffa Cakes, as "The Mad Jaffa Cake Eater", a turbaned, Middle-Eastern style character who rode a bicycle and surreptitiously stole and ate other people's Jaffa Cakes, prompting the catchphrase "There's Orangey!" He hosted Victor's Party for Granada. Later he voiced arch villain Texas Pete in the popular S4C animated TV series SuperTed (1982–84) and narrated several Fireman Sam audiobooks. In 1992, He voiced The King of the Rats in the British children's programme Tales Of The Tooth Fairies- The Stolen Present on BBC, produced by Welsh animation company Calon.[citation needed] In 1995 he appeared in an episode of Bottom with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as Audrey the Maitre d'.[citation needed] Spinetti also starred in Boobs in the Wood' with Jim Davidson, filmed for DVD in 1999.[8]

From 1999 to 2002 Victor played Max, the 'man of a thousand faces', in the popular Children's TV programme Harry and the Wrinklies, which also starred Nick Robinson (Goodnight Mister Tom) in the title role.

Writing[edit]

Spinetti's poetry, notably Watchers Along the Mall (1963), and prose appeared in various publications. His memoir, Victor Spinetti Up Front...: His Strictly Confidential Autobiography, published in September 2006, is filled with anecdotes. In conversation with BBC Radio 2's Michael Ball, on his show broadcast on 7 September 2008, Spinetti revealed that Princess Margaret had been instrumental in securing the necessary censor permission for the first run of Oh! What A Lovely War.

Personal life[edit]

Spinetti was gay;[9] his partner of 44 years, Graham Curnow, died in 1997.[4] Curnow appeared in the 1959 British horror film Horrors of the Black Museum directed by Arthur Crabtree.[10]

Death[edit]

At Monmouth School on speech day, 2009

Spinetti had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2011, after he collapsed onstage on Valentine's Day. He suffered a spinal fracture and discovered only by chance that he had a tumour. He was at first treated in London, but after being cared for by sister and brother-in-law, Gianina and David Hughes, moved to the Velindre Cancer Centre in Whitchurch, Cardiff for radiotherapy treatment.[11][12] He died from the disease[13] at Monnow Vale Community Hospital in Monmouth on the morning of 18 June 2012, his agent announced.

Spinetti had been visited shortly before his death by Barbara Windsor, who had co-starred with him in the West End production of Oh! What a Lovely War. Windsor said: "We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man," adding "He was such a good actor because he took notice of people and used their characters. He portrayed them wonderfully, whatever he did."[5]

Comedian Rob Brydon tweeted: "So sad Victor Spinetti has died. The funniest story teller I've ever met and a lovely warm man." Spinetti also received warm tributes from actor and singer Britt Ekland and from fellow Welsh actor Sian Phillips, who told BBC Wales that she was shocked and saddened. Phillips added: "He was such a force of joy and vitality. When one saw him across a crowded room, one couldn't wait to get together with him and have a chat and a catch-up."[5] Paul McCartney paid tribute to Spinetti on his website: "Victor was a fine man, a great pal and a fantastic actor and someone I am proud to have known for many years. His irreverent wit and exuberant personality will remain in my memory forever. I will miss his loyal friendship as will all the others who were lucky enough to know and love the wonderful Mr Spinetti."[14] and pasted the tribute to his Facebook page.[15] At a memorial service for Spinetti, attended by McCartney, The Beatles' song In My Life was sung by Michael Ball.[citation needed]

Preston FM scheduled a tribute broadcast, for 22 June, of a previously unaired in-depth interview with Spinetti, recorded when he visited Blackpool in July 2010, in Paul and Lucy Breeze's "Best Kept Secrets In Conversation".[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Victor Spinetti – the man The Beatles loved. WalesOnline (2010-09-15). Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  3. ^ Victor Spinetti. Telegraph.co.uk (2012-06-19). Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  4. ^ a b c d e Coveney, Michael (2012-06-19) Victor Spinetti obituary. guardian.co.uk. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  5. ^ a b c "Victor Spinetti, actor and star of Beatles films, dies", BBC News, 19 June 2012
  6. ^ "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" – Victor Spinetti. Thebeatlescompleteonukulele.com. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  7. ^ Entertainer Spinetti to tour life story. Thestage.co.uk (2013-08-30). Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  8. ^ Boobs in the Wood (1999). IMDB.com
  9. ^ Hardcastle, Ephraim (2012-06-19) Laurence Olivier and the John and Yoko mix up. Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  10. ^ Graham Curnow (1930–1997). IMDB.com
  11. ^ TRIBUTES TO LARGER-THAN-LIFE STAR SPINETTI WHO'S DIED AT 82. WalesOnline.co.uk via Thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
    "Victor was a magnificent man, a wonderful man who was full of great stories... Liz Taylor and Richard Burton wanted him at their parties, The Beatles loved him – they wouldn't do a film without him."
  12. ^ Victor Spinetti. Beatlesbible.com. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  13. ^ Actor Victor Spinetti loses his battle with prostate cancer, aged 82 at walesonline, 19 June 2012. Walesonline.co.uk (2012-06-19). Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  14. ^ "Victor Spinetti 1929 – 2012" at paulmccartney.com
  15. ^ Paul McCartney. Facebook.com. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  16. ^ In Conversation: Victor Spinetti Special – Friday 7pm. Bestkeptsecrets.biz (2012-06-21). Retrieved on 2013-09-03.

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