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Cockney Character Actor James Booth Dies, Age 77

By • West End
British character actor James Booth (pictured) - who starred in myriad productions at the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at Stratford East in the 1960s and 1970s - has died at the age of 77.

Booth was born in Croydon on 19 December 1927. He quit Southend Grammar School at the age of 17 to join the army and achieved the rank of captain. He had a keen interest in amateur dramatics, and while working for a mining company at the age of 24, he gained at place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where he trained for two years alongside Albert Finney, Peter O'Toole, Alan Bates and Richard Harris.

After graduating from RADA, Booth appeared in eight Shakespeare plays at the Old Vic in the lowly role of sword carrier, before joining Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at east London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East. His major break came in 1959 when he was cast in the lead role of Tosher in Lionel Bart and Frank Norman’s cockney musical Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, which played at Stratford before enjoying a successful West End run.

Booth joined the RSC's 1962 ensemble, playing Edmund in King Lear, before taking part in another musical, Twang!, as Robin Hood. Other roles included Face in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, Osip in Gogol's The Government Inspector, Archie Rice in John Osborne’s The Entertainer and Chief Supt Craddock in Ken Hill's Gentlemen Prefer Anything, the last of his shows at Stratford East.

In 1975 Booth returned to the RSC and starred in the Measure for Measure and David Rudkin’s Afore Night Come. He then travelled to the US, where he played James Joyce in the RSC’s Broadway production of the Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.

Booth’s film credits included Sparrers Can’t Sing, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, French Dressing, Zulu, Robbery and The Bliss of Mrs Blossom. On television, he appeared in Minder, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Bergerac and Twin Peaks. He also wrote the screenplays for American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, Avenging Force, Stormin’ Home and Pray for Death.

In 1960 Booth married Paula Delaney, and the couple had four children. James Booth died on 11 August 2005.

- by Caroline Ansdell


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