Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

June 20, 2012

RIP Victor Spinetti

very sad to hear that JAM guest Victor Spinetti  has died.

Victor did two JAMs in 2004 and another two in 2005, appearing with Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock and Steve Frost.

The BBC has a nice tribute to him here. A good read.

Victor Spinetti, Welsh-born star of stage and screen, has died at the age of 82.
Born to an Italian-Welsh father and Welsh mother in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, he was a regular performer in London's West End as well as with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He appeared in more than 30 films, including the Beatles' movies and Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
He had been diagnosed with cancer.
Spinetti's agent, Barry Burnett, said: "He had cancer for a year, but he was very cheerful to the end. I spoke to him on Friday and he was talking about his plans and everything."
News of his death prompted a stream of tributes from fans and members of the entertainment world on Twitter.
Actor Rob Brydon tweeted: "So sad Victor Spinetti has died. The funniest story teller I've ever met and a lovely warm man. Proud to have been his friend. 'Eh, Vic...'"
Britt Ekland, actor and singer, wrote: "Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius."
Welsh actor Sian Phillips told BBC Wales she was shocked and saddened, adding: "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."
Barbara Windsor, his co-star in the West End stage play Oh! What a Lovely War which transferred to Broadway and a lifelong friend, had visited Spinetti last Thursday.
"We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man," she said.
"We just chatted and chatted and talked about old things. But he said, 'let's not talk about all that, let's talk about the future'.
"What he was trying to say was that everything was happy in his room. I was happy to see him. He didn't look ill. He looked great. He was swearing a lot, like that would get rid of the illness, and we just laughed."
Spinetti had recently appeared on her two-part radio series Clubland, and she wanted to play it for him.
"I got the nurses to wake him up to hear it," said Windsor.
"Some of the nurses didn't know who he was so I wanted them to hear it too.
He was part of my life and I'm going to miss him so much. We'd go out for lunch and have a great gossip together.
"He was such a good actor because he took notice of people and used their characters. He portrayed them wonderfully, whatever he did."


Spinetti was born in the living quarters above the chip shop his family owned in Cwm, Ebbw Vale. He attended Monmouth School and initially had ambitions to be a teacher.
But after turning to acting he studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff.
His early stage career saw him make a number of memorable performances with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, whose production of Oh, What a Lovely War! transferred to the West End and Broadway.
It was his performance in Oh, What a Lovely War! that prompted the Beatles to ask him to appear in A Hard Day's Night (1964), the first of the group's five films.
It is suggested George Harrison told Spinetti that he had to be in the film because "me mum will only go to see them if you're in them".
Spinetti's collaboration with the Beatles saw him appear in their next two productions, Help! (1965) and the hour-long television film Magical Mystery Tour (1967).

'Great eccentric'

He also worked with John Lennon to turn Lennon's book, In His Own Write, in to a play which he then directed at the National Theatre.
Sir Paul McCartney described him as "the man who makes clouds disappear".
His stage career saw him win a Tony award for his Broadway performance in Oh, What a Lovely War!, as well as co-starring with Jack Klugman when The Odd Couple toured London.
His film career included starring in Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew, again alongside Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Return of the Pink Panther as well as The Krays in 1990.
In his television career, he is perhaps best known for voicing the arch villain character Texas Pete in the S4C animated series SuperTed.
Spinetti was also a noted raconteur whose creative output included poetry, an autobiography and his one-man show, A Very Private Diary.
A BBC documentary on his life and work saw contributions from Barbara Windsor and Rob Brydon praising a "great Welsh eccentric".
Spinetti died at a hospice in Monmouth on Monday morning, his agent said.

and the Telegraph's take is here

Victor Spinetti, who has died aged 82, was a versatile comic actor, half-Welsh, half-Italian, best known for his roles in the Beatles films of the 1960s; he admired and befriended the group, in particular John Lennon, to whom he became close.
When they made their first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the Beatles (with no previous acting experience) were still comparatively impressionable, and not a little star-struck to find themselves working with the likes of Spinetti. With his dark eyes, turned-up nose, short receding hair, Italian looks and slightly pained expression, the extrovert Spinetti, who liked to style himself “the Welsh wop”, was already a familiar face on television and in the cinema, and knew or had worked with Noël Coward, Tennessee Williams, Laurence Olivier and many Hollywood stars.
Cast as a camp, nervy and irritable television director recording a “live” Beatles concert in front of an audience of screaming girls, Spinetti immediately hit it off with the group, and found them unpretentious, despite being in the eye of a media maelstrom.
“You’ve got to be in all our films,” George Harrison told Spinetti, explaining that otherwise “me mum won’t come and see them because she fancies you.” Spinetti was duly cast in the group’s follow-up film Help! (1965), as a surgeon employed to cut a ring off Ringo Starr’s finger.
Although Help! was filmed on location in the Bahamas and in Austria, Spinetti did not consider it a happy time. “The spirit of invention that had seen us through A Hard Day’s Night had gone,” he wrote. “Tiredness and sullenness permeated the shoot.”
Back in London when filming finished, Spinetti found himself drawn into John Lennon’s social circle, with nights out with the Beatle in West End clubs and invitations to Kenwood, his mansion at Weybridge.
Spinetti was present on at least one drugs bust by the police, and — at the urgent pleading of Lennon’s first wife Cynthia — dealt with hangers-on who had worn out their welcome at Kenwood.
Sensing that the Beatles’ media honeymoon was over, and as Lennon became more absorbed by drugs, Spinetti furnished him with an unexpected brand of distraction; at Spinetti’s invitation and expense, Lennon and his wife would slip into a box at a West End theatre to watch a light musical show.
On one such occasion, entertaining the couple to a production of The Desert Song at the Palace Theatre, Spinetti also laid on jam “butties”, a Lennon favourite. “You don’t need hash, do you, Vic?” asked Lennon. “You’re permanently ------- stoned on life.”
The eldest of six children, Vittorio Georgio Andrea Spinetti was born on September 2 1929 at Cwm, a mining village outside Ebbw Vale where his Italian father, Joe, ran a fish and chip shop; his mother was Welsh. When war was declared, Joe Spinetti was interned on the Isle of Man. At Monmouth School, where Victor’s English master noted the boy’s “dramatic instinct”, he was a bright pupil, coming top of his form and winning prizes.
Artistically-inclined from an early age, Victor entertained his friends with impressions of people he had heard on the radio, from George Formby to Adolf Hitler, and only gave up piano lessons out of embarrassment because the woman who taught him was afflicted by chronic flatulence.
As a teenager, he joined the Ebbw Vale Playgoers’ Society, which was short of men with an English accent . For his National Service, Private Spinetti was confirmed A1 even though he was deaf in one ear, but in 1948 was admitted to a TB hospital with a pleural effusion. After a question in the House of Commons by his local MP, he was invalided out of the Army on a full disability pension of £2 10s a week.
Having proved unsuitable to take charge of the family chip shop, Spinetti enrolled at the Cardiff College of Music and Drama and, to eke out his grant, performed in the evenings in local shows. A South Wales agent, Betty Kellond, spotted him and offered him work, not all of it theatrical; his early bookings included a job looking after the classical pianist Solomon when he appeared at the Llanrwst Eisteddfod.
After joining a Welsh concert party in 1953, and appearing in revue at the Irving Theatre, London, three years later, Spinetti made his West End debut in 1958 playing four different roles in Expresso Bongo at the Saville. This led to his being cast in two parts in a production of Candide at the same theatre.
After his first London booking, Spinetti was offered words of encouragement by Bud Flanagan — “You’ve got it, son” — and shortly thereafter joined a provincial tour of South Pacific, in which a fellow actor in the chorus introduced himself, while naked and urinating into the dressing room sink, as Sean Connery.
In 1959, after working in a strip club off Leicester Square, introducing a nude act, Spinetti auditioned for Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and, having appeared in Make Me An Offer at Wyndham’s Theatre, flew to New York to play the IRA officer in Brendan Behan’s The Hostage. After a run on Broadway, the play went on a US tour, but not before he and Behan had climbed to the top of the Empire State Building to conduct a memorial service for King Kong.
Recalled to London, Spinetti took over as Tosher in Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be (Garrick), and, as the loud-mouthed drill sergeant, appeared in Oh What A Lovely War! (Wyndham’s, 1963), Littlewood’s West End hit with which he also transferred to Broadway, earning a Tony award.
In 1966 Spinetti played Felix opposite Jack Klugman’s Oscar in Neil Simon’s comedy The Odd Couple at the Queen’s Theatre in London. When Spinetti was invited by Olivier to direct a play based on John Lennon’s books A Spaniard In The Works and In His Own Write (Old Vic, 1968), the project involved working closely on the original script with Lennon himself. “Eh, Vic,” Lennon suddenly announced, “let’s go somewhere warm”, and within hours Spinetti found himself whisked to Marrakesh.
He claimed in his autobiography, Victor Spinetti Up Front (2006), that for a time in the late 1960s he was scooped up into Princess Margaret’s social circle. She was guest of honour at the London premiere of the film Staircase (1969), which Spinetti attended at the invitation of its star Richard Burton, who was accompanied by Elizabeth Taylor. Afterwards at the Savoy, while the Princess monopolised Burton, Spinetti consoled Miss Taylor, who was wearing a particularly large diamond ring. (“How vulgar,” remarked the Princess, “but I’d love to own it.”)
Spinetti’s cameos with the Beatles raised his film profile. He subsequently landed a tiny but much recalled role as a Swiss hotel desk clerk in The Return of the Pink Panther (1974) in which, when Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau inquires: “Der yer 'ave a rheum?” Spinetti queries simply: “A rheum?”
In the 1980s and early 1990s, he toured in his one-man show A Very Private Diary, in which he successfully merged personal reminiscences and anecdotes from his 40-year career.
Two of Spinetti’s Beatles’ film relics became collectors’ items: the fluffy mohair sweater he wore in A Hard Day’s Night was put on display at a girls’ school in Philadelphia, and his fur hat from Help! was reportedly offered for sale on the internet for $10,000. He also appeared in a cameo role in the third Beatles’ film, Magical Mystery Tour (1967).
Victor Spinetti was, for 44 years, the partner of Graham Curnow, who died in 1997. 


Anonymous Perra Dox said...

Sad news indeed, enjoyed his shows :(

10:46 am  

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