Classically trained Ryall became a familiar face as character actor
Versatile entertainer played Churchill, but also featured in Harry Potter film
David Ryall, who has died aged 79, trained as a classical stage actor but became a familiar face to a wider public through a range of character roles on television.
These included that of Sir Bruce Bullerby in Andrew Davies’ political drama House of Cards (1993 and 1995) and the dementia-stricken Grandad in the BBC sitcom Outnumbered (1997). He played Winston Churchill in two television dramas and again in the film Two Men Went to War (2002).
Ryall made another notable appearance in Dennis Potter’s musical television drama The Singing Detective (1986), playing a cardiac patient in the hospital ward where Michael Gambon, as Philip E. Marlow, suffering from a debilitating skin disease, hallucinated about his past life.
In 1990, Ryall was cast as the forensic scientist Frank Skuse in Who Bombed Birmingham?, a controversial drama documentary, which subsequently led to the release of the so-called Birmingham Six.
On stage, one of Ryall’s most memorable roles was as the storyteller and multiple other characters in Tantalus (2000), a 10-hour marathon about the Trojan Wars, a portrayal hailed by one critic after its American premiere in Denver as “a marvel of foxy charm.”
In the 1990s, Ryall had enjoyed a successful spell with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as Feste in Peter Hall’s production of Twelfth Night in 1994, and as a benign, twinkling God clad in a fawn mackintosh in The Mysteries (1995).
As Polonius in an American tour of Hamlet (1996), Ryall was congratulated by one critic for portraying the toadying courtier as a dishevelled bureaucrat in a bad suit, “brought to life with a virtuoso assortment of fidgets and shuffles.”
Ryall’s film appearances included The Elephant Man (1980) and Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990). In Wilt (also 1990), adapted from Tom Sharpe’s comic novel, his characterization of the Rev. St. John Froude, who turns out to be a deranged sex murderer, was highly praised. He appeared as Elphias Doge in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. His other television roles included parts in Inspector Morse and Holby City. Most recently he was the unseen narrator and centenarian Bert Middleton in the BBC’s The Village (2013).
David John Ryall was born on Jan. 5, 1935, at Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex. In 1962, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, thereafter working with repertory companies in Bristol, Salisbury, Leicester and Birmingham before joining Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company at the Old Vic. He appeared in several landmark productions, among them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun.
In 1984 he starred in a one-man show at the National, performing stories and poems by Edward Bond in A Leap in the Light. A solo Ryall took to the stage again in a one-man show about the 18th-century comic actor Colley Cibber in Apology for the Life of an Actor at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1999.
“When Mr Ryall, elaborately dressed in a ribbon-bedecked wig, flirts with us as Sir Foppington Flutter (one of Cibber’s triumphs), the evening becomes magic,” reported The Birmingham Post, “and you hold your breath with pleasure hoping the moment will last.”
Later the same year he was favourably reviewed as the flummoxed judge trying charges of obscenity against the American comedian Lenny Bruce in Peter Hall’s production of Lenny.
David Ryall’s first marriage, in 1964, was to Gillian Eddison, with whom he had a son and a daughter. A year after his divorce in 1984, he married, Cathy Buchwald, with whom he had another daughter.