Ac­ci­den­tal ac­tor be­came a star


em­i­grat­ing to New Zealand, when Lav­ing­ton went to the Hutt Reper­tory Theatre to see Bus­man’s Hol­i­day.

‘‘I men­tioned to my wife that the act­ing was rather or­di­nary, and she chal­lenged me to get into it. On the back of the pro­gramme was an ap­pli­ca­tion form to join the reper­tory and soon I started get­ting in­volved be­hind the scenes,’’ he re­called in 2015.

Up till then, his only stage ex­pe­ri­ence had been rugby sin­ga­longs and see­ing the odd pan­tomime.

That year he made his act­ing de­but, af­ter Dav­ina White­house cast him aptly as a po­lice­man in Toad of Toad Hall. Two years later, Richard Cam­pion sin­gled Lav­ing­ton out for spe­cial praise for his role as an Ital­ian im­mi­grant in Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge, and the NZ Drama Coun­cil named him ac­tor of the year.

In 1958 he joined The New Zealand Play­ers, the only pro­fes­sional com­pany at the time, and won ac­claim for a num­ber of his roles with the troupe.

They were im­pe­cu­nious days, and Lav­ing­ton later re­called sleep­ing un­der rail­way bridges and in pine woods on tour with fel­low thes­pian Charles Walker to save money while on the road.

The trav­el­ling troubadours would brew their tea over an open fire in the morn­ings and fill their pock­ets with sausage rolls and sand­wiches when­ever the lo­cal host so­ci­ety put on a func­tion af­ter a per­for­mance.

His stage reper­toire in­cluded myr­iad per­for­mances with the Hutt Reper­tory Theatre and The New Zealand Play­ers and 13 plays for Down­stage Theatre, in­clud­ing the de­but sea­sons of Robert Lord’s Well Hung and Bruce Ma­son’s Awa­tea.

TV and film soon came call­ing. Pa­cific Films boss John O’Shea cast him in Think about To­mor­row, as a gold­miner and

Alater in ad­ven­ture romp Rangi’s Catch.

He chan­nelled his in­ner po­lice­man in TV Kiwi drama Puke­manu and played a uni­ver­sity lec­turer in Buck House.

Un­like many of his fel­low ac­tors, Lav­ing­ton had never had any for­mal train­ing in the pro­fes­sion and, de­spite his suc­cess, he al­ways had a nag­ging fear that he’d be ‘‘found out’’.

Tread­ing the boards was an un­likely pro­fes­sion for aWelsh bobby, for that is how Lav­ing­ton started his ca­reer.

Grow­ing up Cardiff, he was the el­dest of five chil­dren. His mother was a bar­maid and his fa­ther a car­pen­ter and World War II sol­dier. He fol­lowed his grand­fa­ther into the po­lice as a cler­i­cal as­sis­tant af­ter leav­ing school.

But it was wartime and, be­cause of his time spent in the sea cadets, he was able to join the navy in the fi­nal stages of World War II, be­fore he turned 18. He spent two years at sea as a radar op­er­a­tor, based in Malta on the light cruiser HMS Orion, then mine-sweep­ing trawler HMS Val­lay and HMS Vi­rago, which in 1947 stopped Jewish im­mi­grants from en­ter­ing Pales­tine.

The New Zealan­ders he met dur­ing that time in the navy im­pressed him with ‘‘their free think­ing and lack of re­spect for au­thor­ity’’ and, af­ter a short spell as a po­lice­man back in Cardiff, Lav­ing­ton and his first wife, Olga, headed to Aotearoa on an as­sisted im­mi­gra­tion scheme, join­ing his brother-in­law in the Hutt Val­ley.

Not long af­ter com­ing to New Zealand, his first mar­riage failed. With his sec­ond wife, Diana, he had two chil­dren, David-Henry and Cerys, but that mar­riage also ended. In 1995 he met his third wife, Mar­i­lyn, who sur­vives him.

Lav­ing­ton worked for two years with the New Zealand Po­lice, ful­fill­ing his im­mi­gra­tion com­mit­ments, be­fore land­ing work as an en­vi­ron­men­tal health of­fi­cer, first in the 1960s and later again in the 1970s to aug­ment his bud­ding act­ing ca­reer.

In this ca­pac­ity he was in­volved with the plan­ning of nu­mer­ous food out­lets and all the early li­censed restau­rants, in­clud­ing the French restau­rant Le Nor­mandie in Cuba St.

He re­mem­bered a close call on the health and safety front one night at Le Nor­mandie. As their dessert was be­ing flamed at the ta­ble, a flame sud­denly shot out and ig­nited his wife’s hair­spray.

‘‘I grabbed the bot­tle of bub­bles from the ice bucket next to me and poured the wa­ter over her head to ex­tin­guish the fire,’’ he told The Welling­to­nian. You couldn’t script it bet­ter. Lav­ing­ton’s fi­nal stage role was in the 1983 Roger Hall hit Hot Wa­ter. On screen, he had a small part in 1991’s ac­claimed An An­gel at my Ta­ble, bor­row­ing di­rec­tor Jane Cam­pion’s glasses to play a psy­chol­o­gist.

In the end, he never was ‘‘found out’’. Like any ac­tor worth their salt, he had the power to make be­lieve.

Sources: Lav­ing­ton fam­ily, Sun­day Star-Times (Jane Bowron), The Welling­to­nian (Carey Cle­ments), NZ On Screen.

Ac­tor Harry Lav­ing­ton dur­ing his Close To Home days.

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