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Richard Wattis
Wattis circa 1955
Born(1912-02-25)25 February 1912
Died1 February 1975(1975-02-01) (aged 62)
Kensington, London, England
Years active1938–1975

Richard Wattis (25 February 1912 – 1 February 1975) was an English actor, co-starring in many popular British comedies of the 1950s and 1960s.[1]

Early life

Richard Cameron Wattis was born on 25 February 1912 in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, the elder of two sons born to Cameron Tom Wattis and Margaret Janet, née Preston. He attended King Edward's School and Bromsgrove School, after which he worked for the electrical engineering firm William Sanders & Co (Wednesbury) Ltd. His uncle, William Preston (1874–1941), was the managing director and was the Conservative MP for Walsall from 1924 to 1929.


After leaving the family business, Wattis became an actor. His debut was with Croydon Repertory Theatre, and he made many stage appearances in the West End in London. His first appearance in a film was A Yank at Oxford (1938).

War service interrupted his career as an actor. He served as a second lieutenant in the Small Arms Section of Special Operations Executive at Station VI during the Second World War (James Bond author Ian Fleming worked in the same section).[2]

Wattis is best known for his appearances, wearing his thick-rimmed round spectacles, in British comedies of the 1950s and 1960s, often as a "Man from the Ministry" or similar character. Such appearances included the St Trinian's films (The Belles of St. Trinian's, Blue Murder at St Trinian's, and The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery) as Manton Bassett, a civil servant who was the Deputy Director of Schools in the Ministry of Education, where he was often seen frowning and expressing indignation at the outrageous behaviour of other characters. To American audiences, Wattis is probably best known for his performance as the British civil servant Northbrook in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). He broke from this typecasting in his later films, such as his starring role in Games That Lovers Play.

Wattis's other films included Hobson's Choice, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Carry On Spying,[3] The Colditz Story, Dentist on the Job, Very Important Person, The Happiest Days of Your Life, and The Longest Day.Operation Crossbow as Sir Charles Sims. He also appeared on television, including a long-running role in Sykes and as a storyteller on the BBC children's programme Jackanory, narrating in 14 episodes between 1971 and 1972. Other television credits include appearances in Danger Man, The Prisoner, The Goodies, Hancock's Half Hour, and Father, Dear Father.[3] From 1957 to 1958, he appeared as Peter Jamison in three episodes of the American sitcom Dick and the Duchess.

Personal life and death

On 1 February 1975, Wattis suffered a heart attack while dining at Berwick's Restaurant in Walton Street, London.[citation needed] He was taken to hospital, but was dead on arrival. He was 62 years old. A memorial service was held for him at St Paul's, Covent Garden, the "Actor's Church", and a plaque near his grave.[4]

In 1999, twenty-four years after Wattis’ death, writer Dan Rebellato claimed Wattis was gay in an era when this was a taboo subject and male homosexual acts were criminal offences in the UK.[5]

In fiction

Wattis was played by Richard Clifford in the 2011 film My Week with Marilyn, which depicts the making of the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl.[6]

Selected filmography


  1. ^ "Richard Wattis | BFI". Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  2. ^ "Secret war role of popular and talented member of drama society". Harrogate Advertiser. 9 July 2007. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. ISBN 978-1-84854-195-5.
  4. ^ "Obituaries". Television Heaven. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  5. ^ Rebellato, Dan (1999). 1956 and All That: The Making of Modern British Drama. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415189385.
  6. ^ "My Week with Marilyn - BFI Filmography".