Scottish actor known for Carry Ons and The Darling Buds of May

Born: November 6, 1929;

Died: November 19, 2017

JOHN Carlin, who has died aged 88, was a Scottish actor known for his supporting roles in TV dramas and comedies of the 1970s and 80s. He had a recurring role in the sit-com Man About the House and was part of the ensemble cast of the television series Carry On Laughing, based on the popular films, with Barbara Windsor, Sid James and Hattie Jacques.

He was a master of shooting a disapproving glance, and conveying prim indignation, with a refined, mellifluous voice capable of switching easily between an English accent and his native Scots. An experienced player in the now disappeared repertory theatre system, where he displayed a wide range of characterisations, his stocky frame also lent itself to scene-stealing television roles, most notably in the sitcom Man About The House.

Born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Carlin studied at the Glasgow College of Dramatic Art, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where his work in the Borders comedy Toom Byres was a highlight of the students’ diploma performance in May 1955. Another was his winning of the James Bridie Gold Medal, and being awarded a contract with the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, where his cast mates included Fulton Mackay and Andrew Keir. He also made his radio debut on Children’s Hour the same year, in the title role of a newspaper copyboy in The Adventures of Deadline Donovan.

Writing in The Stage in 1963, Carlin said he was very proud of his four years at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre; “there were such opportunities afforded to 'serve an art' and at the same time develop oneself,” he said. He began there in 1958, as Banquo to the Macbeth of the emergent Albert Finney, directed, as were most of his plays there, by Bernard Hepton, later a noted actor himself. Lady Macbeth was June Brown, who was still decades away from becoming Dot Cotton on EastEnders; by an odd coincidence, two of Carlin’s Birmingham colleagues, Thelma Barlow and Arthur Pentelow, would attain soap success on Coronation Street and Emmerdale, respectively. Carlin was Horatio to fellow Scot Ian Richardson’s Hamlet there, in 1959.

He remembered that at Birmingham, there was never any type-casting and actors were allowed a great variety of parts; he played in one season Henry IV in Parts One and Two, Joseph Surface in The School For Scandal and Trefimov in The Cherry Orchard. This was in 1960, and the following year Carlin and Hepton read Shakespeare's Fear no more the heat o’ the sun at the theatre founder Sir Barry Jackson’s memorial concert. Carlin’s fellow actors at Birmingham also included Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Elizabeth Spriggs, Rosemary Leach and John Standing.

Taking steps to avoid what he termed “the twice-weekly journey to the Labour Exchange”, Carlin was a disc jockey on the BBC Light Programme in 1964, hosting Music To Midnight and Songs From The Shows, both characteristic of pre-Radio 1 programming. He also reviewed books and lectures for The Stage.

He acted at Leatherhead rep in 1963, and then, with comedy writer-performer John Junkin, he played a gay couple in the now dated Staircase at the Phoenix, Leicester in 1969. In Blithe Spirit (Watford Palace Theatre, 1977) he was Charles Condomine to Irene Handl’s Madame Arcati, undertaking another repertory season at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury three years later, where he scored a particular success in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular.

His sitcom career had a false start when he began making an ATV effort about an incompetent police force, Coppers End, in 1971. When illness forced Joan Sims to leave, due to the cast having been “picked to work as a team” the episodes were scrapped and recast, with Carlin replaced by the better-known Richard Wattis.

After playing a picky landlord on Man About The House in a 1974 episode, the Thames sitcom had him in a recurring role in its 1975 and 1976 runs, as a bow-tied barman called Percy Strapp, who objected to being called Jock.

In 1975, Carlin also starred in Carry On Laughing, an ITV attempt to echo the film series’ bawdy success, with Carlin part of the ensemble; his foot-stamping servants and campy disdain attempted to compensate for the absences of Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey. Carlin was retained for the last two, pitiful, films in the original series, Carry On England (1976) and Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), as minor authority figures.

He was personally fond of The First Churchills (BBC, 1969), making the most of some sardonic moments as the playwright and architect Sir John Vanburgh. Perhaps inevitably for a Scottish actor, his other TV appearances included an adaptation of Kidnapped (BBC, 1963), and episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook (BBC, 1963, 1965 and 1970) and Taggart (STV, 1985 and 1990). He also appeared in Poirot and the Darling Buds of May.

In later years, he lived at Thrupp in Gloucestershire, where he would learn lines out load while walking along the banks of the Stroudwater Canal, happily feeding ducks and swans along the way.