Born: December 20, 1966;

Died: April 5, 2021.

PAUL Ritter, who has died from a brain tumour aged 54, was a quietly brilliant character actor who had the ability to inhabit each new role to the point of being unrecognisable.

He became an increasingly familiar face as the eccentric and often shirtless patriarch Martin Goodman in the six series of Robert Popper’s sitcom, Friday Night Dinner (2011-2020). Martin’s many off-kilter tics included greeting his grown-up sons as “bambinos” and smearing tomato ketchup on his bare chest.

He was odd in a different way as shabby forensics genius Randolph Miller in all 20 episodes of Paul Abbott’s deadpan Manchester-set police drama, No Offence (2015-2018). He could be scary too, as he was while playing Anatoly Dyatlov, the bullying engineer at the heart of the real-life nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl (2019).

Ritter had come to prominence as Guy Haines in the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008), and as Harry Potter’s would-be biographer, Eldred Worple, in the sixth film in the Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009).

On stage, he was nominated for an Olivier Award for his role as Otis Gardiner in the Royal National Theatre’s production of Helen Edmundson’s Coram Boy (2005-2006); he was later nominated for a Tony Award for playing Reg in the Broadway transfer of the Old Vic’s revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests trilogy (2008-2009). He appeared in the production alongside Stephen Mangan, one of his Cambridge student peers.

Again at the Royal National, he was Christopher Boone’s father in Simon Stephens’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (2012). On the West End, he undertook the role of John Major, one of a stream of British prime ministers depicted during their weekly meetings with the Queen (Helen Mirren) in Peter Morgan’s The Audience.

Ritter was born Simon Paul Adams in Gravesend, Kent, the youngest of five children, and the only boy, to Ken Adams, a toolmaker, and Joan Adams (née Mooney), a school secretary. While the Adams were in no way a theatrical family, his mother had been at school with Bernard Cribbins, while his father had been to the same school as Eric Sykes, whom Ritter would go on to play in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This (2014), the Simon Nye-scripted TV film about the British comedian.

Ritter took an A Level in Theatre Studies at Gravesend Grammar School before going on to St John’s College, Cambridge. Other friends and peers beside Mangan included playwright Jez Butterworth and TV writer Sarah Phelps.

He spent a year in Hamburg as part of his studies, returning after graduating to work with the German National Theatre. It was after returning to the UK that he acquired the surname Ritter for Equity membership purposes after discovering there was already a Simon Adams on their books. Taking on this new professional identity was an early sign of his chameleon-like tendencies.

Stage work came quickly, and he was acclaimed for his three roles in Snoo Wilson’s play, Darwin’s Flood (1994) at The Bush Theatre, London. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and Peter Hall’s Old Vic company before spending two years with the National, where roles included Karl Marx in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia trilogy (2002).

On TV, he showed his versatility from the off, playing two different roles in The Bill (1992, 1996), making a stream of one-off appearances before landing his first regular role as gangster Scott Sweeney opposite Robson Green and Mark Benton in City Lights (2007). He appeared in five episodes of Land Girls (2011), and was Pistol in Henry IV, Part II and Henry V as part BBC Two’s version of Shakespeare’s history cycle, The Hollow Crown (2012).

He later portrayed another oddball forensic expert, Billy Cartwright, in the crime series Vera (2011-2013). In Toby Whithouse’s Cold War spy thriller mini series, The Game (2014), he was an ambitious civil servant Bobby Waterhouse, serving under Brian Cox’s ‘Daddy’. He also played Jimmy Perry, co-creator of one of the country‘s most enduring sitcoms, in We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story (2015).

On film, he took the role of Chiffinch alongside Johnny Depp and Samantha Morton in Laurence Dunmore’s film of Stephen Jeffreys’ play, The Libertine (2004). Later, he was a grizzled, stoner record-shop manager in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Patrick Marber-scripted short, Love You More (2008). He worked with Taylor-Johnson again in her film about John Lennon’s early years, Nowhere Boy (2009).

He appeared in several episodes of the reboot of Cold Feet (2017-2020), and portrayed Jeremy Hutchinson QC in The Trial of Christine Keeler (2020). The same year, he played the butler, Turton, in Belgravia (2020), Julian Fellowes’ TV adaptation of his novel of the same name.

Ritter was last seen on stage in 2016 alongside Rufus Sewell and Tim Key in a revival of Christopher Hampton’s translation of Yasmina Reza’s globally successful comedy, Art. He will appear posthumously in a war film, Operation Mincemeat. He will also be seen in You Look Nice: The True Story of Friday Night Dinner, a forthcoming tenth-anniversary retrospective of the programme, which will now also serve as a tribute to Ritter’s mercurial talent.

He is survived by his second wife, Polly Radcliffe, and their two sons, Frank and Noah.