Anything Goes Actor Denis Quilley Dies in LondonDate: 6 October 2003
Multi award-winning stage veteran Denis Quilley died yesterday (5 October 2003) at his home in Hampstead, north London.
The actor, who was 75, was last seen on stage earlier this year playing millionaire Eli Whitney in Trevor Nunn's Olivier Award-winning revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes at the National Theatre. With his health deteriorating, doctors advised Quilley not to accompany the show in its transfer to the West End, where it opens at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane tomorrow night (7 October). He duly withdrew from the production in July, but had hoped to rejoin the cast later in the run.
Quilley was a regular at the National Theatre which, in a 20 Questions interview with Whatsonstage.com in 2001, he described as his "second home". "It's the one place where you are always doing good material with excellent company, the best colleagues around - and that's all I want out of life."
Under the artistic directorship of Laurence Olivier, Quilley was part of the company in the NT's early days at the Old Vic. Amongst his other roles, he played Olivier's son in Long Day's Journey into Night.
In 1976, Quilley appeared in the National's first season on the South Bank, playing opposite Albert Finney in Hamlet. As part of the theatre's 25th anniversary season in 2001, he did Hamlet again, this time with Simon Russell Beale playing the prince. That same year, he co-starred with Russell Beale again in Charlotte Jones' Hamlet-inspired Humble Boy, which allowed him to be coupled with Diana Rigg for a career sixth and which later transferred to the West End, with Felicity Kendal replacing Rigg.
Quilley's other NT credits included The Front Page, Macbeth, The School for Scandal, Tamburlaine the Great, The White Devil, Sweeney Todd, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Troilus and Cressida, Candide and Money.
The actor's career, spanning nearly six decades, began in 1945 when, at the age of 17, he took a day off school to audition for Barry Jackson at the Birmingham Rep, where he was hired as an understudy and assistant stage manager. His big break came, after three years in the army, when he understudied and eventually took over from Richard Burton in a production of Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning, which co-starred John Gielgud, who also directed.
Quilley's many other stage credits included Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Black Arrow, Point of Departure, A Girl Called Jo, Irma La Douce, High Spirits, Privates on Parade (for which he won the SWET Award for Comedy Performance of the Year), A Patriot for Me, Deathtrap, The Boys from Syracuse, Sweeney Todd (SWET Award for Best Performance in a Musical), Fatal Attraction, La Cage aux Folles, Antony and Cleopatra, Venus Observed, She Stoops to Conquer, My Fair Lady, King Lear, Waste and Waiting for Godot.
On screen, Quilley was seen in Clayhanger, Murder of a Moderate Man, Number 10, The Interrogation of John, After the War, Sherlock Holmes, Shell Seekers, Masada, Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun, Mr Johnson and Privates on Parade.
Denis Quilley was born in Islington, north London on Boxing Day, 1927. In August 2001, when he was appearing concurrently in Hamlet and Humble Boy, he ended his 20 Questions interview in high spirits. Then aged 73, Quilley marvelled that: "I'm as busy as ever. The further I get past retirement age, the harder I seem to work. It reminds me of that Robin Bailey quote: 'I like being busy; I hope to be busy as long as I can stand up and remember the jokes.'"
- by Terri Paddock