2019-02-01 18:26:14 UTC
Television & radio
Clive Swift obituary
Actor best known as the downtrodden husband of Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances
Fri 1 Feb 2019 10.36 EST
Clive Swift, who has died aged 82, believed that unemployment was as natural, and possibly even as necessary, a part of an actor’s life as employment, enabling him to experience, feel and think afresh. He encountered comparatively little of it, however, working steadily on television as well as having a solid stage career, with the occasional film thrown in. It was on television as Richard Bucket, downtrodden husband of the petty snob Hyacinth Bucket (which she pronounced “Bouquet”) in the BBC series Keeping Up Appearances from 1990 to 1995 that he is likely to be most remembered. He appeared in more than 40 episodes of the TV sitcom.
Working with Patricia Routledge, who played his social-climbing wife, was an experience he found stimulating. He was able to suggest a man apparently so cowed that the idea of escape was simply unthinkable. Swift would often receive marital advice or encouragement from members of the public. He complained that lorry drivers beside him at traffic lights would shout out: “Why don’t you leave the old cow?”
In real life Swift had married the writer Margaret Drabble in 1960. They were together for 15 years, and had two sons, Adam and Joe, and a daughter, Rebecca. When Drabble published her second novel, The Garrick Year, in 1964, about a woman married to an actor, Swift accepted that the character was a composite figure rather than based on him, but said he lived with the feeling that “you didn’t know what was going to happen next”.
He was born in Liverpool, one of four children of Abram Swift, a prosperous furniture retailer, and his wife, Lily (nee Greenman). Clive and his brother, David – who also became an actor – were sent to Clifton college in Bristol. When in 2004 the actor Simon Callow referred to it as “a minor public school”, Swift wrote a letter to the Guardian pointing out that, when he attended it, Clifton was “one of the elite schools allowed to play annually at Lord’s”.
At Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied English, he took part in student dramatics and met Drabble. His first professional appearance, in 1959, was as Dr Bushtact in the British premiere of Take the Fool Away, a JB Priestley play in which a Victorian clown is transported into the future world of bombs and moon rockets. The Manchester Guardian regarded the play as “a depressing experience” but praised the cast.
In 1960 Swift joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. He remained a member of the company until 1968, taking roles in Cymbeline, Measure for Measure, Henry V, The Merry Wives of Windsor, All’s Well That Ends Well, Macbeth and King Lear, as well as playing Inspector Voss in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists and the Sewerman in John Whiting’s The Devils. He also toured America with the RSC.
Then he gravitated to the Prospect theatre company, and appeared in The Big Breaker, The Tempest and The Gamecock. From 1970 he taught and directed at the Rada and Lamda acting schools in London. At Lamda in 1970 he directed The Wild Goose Chase and his own adaptation of The Lower Depths.
His television work initially paid the bills rather than making him famous, though it included plays by Shakespeare including All’s Well That Ends Well and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1968, and the miniseries of Dickens’s Dombey and Son the following year. In 1970 his face became more familiar in the Inspector Waugh crime series, though he was still in demand for TV Shakespeare, playing Friar Lawrence in the 1976 production of Romeo and Juliet and also appearing in Pericles (1984) and Othello (1990).
In 1988 he played a money-grubbing pharmacist in the series A Very Peculiar Practice. He also took roles in Winston Churchill: the Wilderness Years (1981), Tales of the Unexpected (1982), The Barchester Chronicles (1982), The Pickwick Papers (1985) and First Among Equals (1986), before being cast in Keeping Up Appearances. Later TV included Born and Bred (2003), in which he played the Reverend Brewer, The Old Guys (2009), a series in which he co-starred with Roger Lloyd Pack, and an appearance in the sitcom Cuckoo (2014). His films included Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) and David Lean’s A Passage to India (1984).
Swift’s interest in, and concern for, other actors led him to write two books on his vocation. The Job of Acting (1976) was a steady seller that he revised for a new edition eight years later, and he followed it up with The Performing World of the Actor (1981). He was also the moving spirit in 1979 in establishing the Actors Centre in London, where actors can experiment with techniques and ideas.
Swift’s daughter died in 2017. He is survived by his sons, and by four grandchildren, Danny, Lillie, Stanley and Connie.
• Clive Walter Swift, actor, born 9 February 1936; died 1 February 2019
• Dennis Barker died in 2015