Actor known for Fawlty Towers and EastEnders

Born: May 12, 1945;

Died: December 16, 2019

NICKY Henson, who has died of cancer aged 74, often joked that they would write on his gravestone “Here lies Nicky Henson – he was in one episode of Fawlty Towers”.

Henson is readily remembered as the hotel guest who repeatedly clashes with Basil after arousing his suspicions that he has a woman in his room – he does, his elderly mum. But Henson also had starring roles in theatre, films and television during a career that spanned more than half a century.

It is true, however, that nothing made as much impact as that guest appearance on Fawlty in 1979, not even 36 episodes of EastEnders, in which he was Honey Mitchell’s father Jack Edwards, or his appearance as an old “friend” of Carson the butler, causing trouble on Downton Abbey in 2010 and again in 2013.

He was born Nicholas Victor Leslie Henson in 1945, a few days after VE Day, hence the middle name Victor. His father was the music hall star Leslie Henson. His mother was Harriet “Billie” Dell, an actress and dancer.

The family lived in a big 15th century farmhouse in Middlesex, but Henson saw little of his father, who was away on tour much of the time. Henson was sent to Charterhouse public school after his father met a former pupil who plied him with drinks on a cross-channel ferry.

Henson’s father died when he was 12, Henson left school at 16, did a stage management course at RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and was cast as Mordred in the original London West End production of the musical Camelot when he was 19. He formed a song-writing partnership with Paul Ferris, one of the other Camelot cast members. They recorded a single and wrote a few songs for Cliff Richard.

Henson had significant supporting roles in the films Witchfinder General (1968) and Mosquito Squadron (1969) and appeared at the 1969 Edinburgh Festival in Kevin Laffan’s Zoo, Zoo Wildershin Zoo, a controversial play about drop-outs, co-starring Lynn Redgrave and directed by Frank Dunlop, who recruited Henson as a founding member of the Young Vic company in 1970.

His personal relationships brought him as much publicity as his acting. He had married Una Stubbs in 1969 and they had two sons, but they divorced six years later, with Stubbs citing Avengers actress Linda Thorson in proceedings. Henson was also involved with Susan Hampshire around that time and they lived together for several years.

He attracted attention as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with which he visited the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, in 1974, and he starred in The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976), a belated, unofficial sequel to the 1963 Oscar-winner with Albert Finney, and No 1 of the Secret Service (1977), a belated Bond spoof.

“I was filming tatty B-movies all day, trying to break into pictures, and doing Shakespeare in the evenings…” he said. “I wish I’d known at the time I wasn’t going to be the next Robert Redford… I’d have worked harder at the marriage.” He married for a second time in 1986 to ballerina Marguerite Porter.

Henson was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002, but determinedly carried on working as best he could in television and movies, though stage work proved too much for him in later years.

He is survived by his second wife, their son Keaton and two sons Christian and Joe from his first marriage. All three are professional composers.