Trader Faulkner

Born: September 7, 1927;

Died: April 14, 2021.

ON and off stage, Trader Faulkner, who has died aged 93, conveyed an element of panache. Actor, flamenco dancer, translator, broadcaster, stage director and journalist, when he was acting his unblinking eyes could blaze intensely.

Never slow to share recollections of those he knew and acted with, including John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and his own mentor, Peter Finch, he made his mark.

Born and raised in Australia, and making his career in Britain, Faulkner became an authority on aspects of Spain. Overlooking Olivier’s admonishment that “British actors don’t dance, baby”, he learned flamenco because he believed that “how an actor moves is as important as his voice in establishing a character”.

This led to a frequently revived one-man show on the poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca, which earned him an Order of Merit from King Juan Carlos.

From being drawn in the sand by Picasso on a French beach, to chatting to a party guest who turned out to be Christine Keeler, Faulkner’s life was always colourful. As were the berets he sported in later life, having abandoned “a ridiculous hairpiece that made me look like a poor man’s Melvyn Bragg”, after a gust of wind sent it off his head and into the air “like some furry animal freed from its cage.”

He was born to British parents in the Sydney suburb of Manly. His father, John Faulkner, had acted in Australian silent films in the 1920s, but resorted to distilling whisky. His mother Sheila, a former ballerina, told of dancing alongside Nijinsky and being in Anna Pavlova’s troupe.

Their son’s real name was Ronald. At primary school, obsessed with playing marbles, he helped himself to his father’s “gut-rot” and exchanged it for marbles in the playground. When he found out, he recalled, Faulkner senior “growled…’I seem to have spawned a right little trader!’” The name stuck.”

He often recounted how, after successfully auditioning to replace Richard Burton in Gielgud’s Broadway production of The Lady’s Not For Burning (Royale Theatre, 1950-51), the actor-director exclaimed “Ronald! What a dreary name!”, but was more enthusiastic about ‘Trader’. (Australian reviews, however, show that Faulkner had already used the nickname professionally.)

After leaving school, he joined Peter Finch’s theatre school, and would publish Peter Finch: A Biography in 1979. He also began acting on radio, which remained a favoured medium, with stints in the BBC Drama Repertory Company in the 1960s and 1970s, and Radio 4 features on Spanish life in the 1980s and early 90s.

At the Independent Theatre in Sydney in 1949, Faulkner played Dr Caius in The Merry Wives Of Windsor. Tyrone Guthrie, visiting Australia, saw a performance and urged him to pursue his career in Britain. He arrived in London the following year.

While living with his mother on the Stella Maris, a houseboat moored in Chelsea, Faulkner did an Oxford Playhouse season in 1954, with ‘Margaret’ Smith and ‘Ronald Barker’ – Maggie Smith and Ronnie Barker, as they were then billed. At Stratford-upon-Avon in 1955, he was Sebastian, for £25 a week, to Vivien Leigh’s Viola in Twelfth Night, with her husband Olivier as Malvolio, again directed by Gielgud.

Faulkner insisted that Leigh’s Lady Macbeth was the best he’d ever seen, and it was followed by The Merry Wives Of Windsor. A BBC “televised excerpt” from the latter still exists. Although a house-guest of the couple at Notley Abbey, Olivier did not work with Faulkner again; it transpired that they were romantic rivals for Dorothy Tutin, who lived on a neighbouring houseboat. Faulkner summarised him as “a ruthless, brilliant and spectacular actor, but finally incapable of projecting genuine emotion”.

Faulkner’s film debut was as a traveller who complicates John Mills’s alibi in Mr Denning Drives North (1951). For the Whisky Galore! director Alexander Mackendrick, Faulkner was one of Anthony Quinn’s pirate crew in A High Wind In Jamaica (1965).

One of their child captives was played by the 15-year-old Martin Amis, “who only looked about 10”, and for a dance sequence choreographed by Faulkner, “wouldn’t move his legs … he was being terribly Etonish about the whole thing.”

There was an unwelcome coda when Amis conferred the actor’s name on a murder suspect in his novel, Night Train (1997). Faulkner’s reaction was that he “was ready to deck the little nerd”.

He made his flamenco dancing debut at the Royal Court Theatre Club in 1957, and played several characters, including the evilly laughing Prince John, in Richard the Lionheart (1961-63), imitative of other, earlier ITV swashbucklers, right down to its theme song.

Faulkner’s 1970 return to Stratford, for a Royal Shakespeare Company season, saw the first staging of his Lorca project, for which he persuaded fellow RSC players Ben Kingsley, as the doomed poet, and Helen Mirren, as the embodiment of Death, to take part.

After a Radio 3 adaptation in 1976, he toured with it a decade later, before opening at the Lyric, Hammersmith. Later expanded in musical personnel, and subtitled An Evocation, he revived it almost yearly until 1994, at venues including the Purcell Room and the Donmar Warehouse.

Another, autobiographical solo show, Losing My Marbles (Jermyn Street Theatre, 1999), displayed his ability to still perform a double back-flip and land on his feet.

For The Guardian and The Independent in the 1990s, he wrote reviews and features on Spain. After a stroke ended his performing career he published an autobiography, Inside Trader, in 2012.

His marriage to Ann, a fashion model nicknamed Bobo, lasted from 1963 to 1973. Their daughter, Sasha, survives him, with three grandchildren.