The Daily Telegraph
Clive Swift, star of Keeping Up Appearances, dies
Gifted actor who won fame on television as the downtrodden husband in Keeping Up Appearances
CLIVE SWIFT, the actor best know for his role in the BBC comedy Keeping Up Appearances, has died at the age of 82.
Swift played Richard Bucket, the henpecked husband of Hyacinth, in the show that mocked class obsessions. But his career spanned six decades with his last credited appearance in a 2017 episode of Midsomer Murders.
The actor’s family said he died at home yesterday after an illness.
Swift has appeared on television since the Sixties but rose to fame in the Roy Clarke comedy, appearing in all 44 episodes until the show ended in 1995. Shane Allen, BBC Comedy controller, said: “Clive was a highly regarded character actor. His role as Richard Bucket brought huge audiences.”
CLIVE SWIFT, the character actor, who has died aged 82, was a stylish, incisive and distinctive member of the original Royal Shakespeare Company in its heyday before becoming a familiar supporting figure on television, notably as the henpecked husband of Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95).
Written by Roy Clarke, it starred Patricia Routledge as the matronly lower-middle class snob Hyacinth Bucket (“It’s pronounced Bouquet!”), a serial social climber trailing her husband Richard in her wake. Swift’s air of exasperated resignation was a perfect counterpoint to his screen wife’s preposterous airs and graces, and earned him widespread acclaim.
“The first thing I decided was if Richard was a really meek and submissive person, in a way there was no conflict,” Swift explained, “because he’d be just a bit of fluff for Hyacinth. So the first thing I had to do, as far as the writer allowed me, was to fight back – to protest. I know I used to lose 98 per cent of the time and there was no conflict really, but I had to put up a show or otherwise it’s simply not interesting.”
In a wide range of television work over decades, Swift’s diction and bearing attested to his years of service as one of the RSC’S nucleus of actors under long-term contract. On stage he was a compelling actor with a fine voice and a relish for the language, with a flair for projecting secondary characters without upsetting the balance of a production. He also became one of the company’s – and the country’s – most accomplished speakers of verse.
But it was the small screen that propelled Swift into the national consciousness. “I could walk the street unrecognised,” he reflected, “but all that changed with Keeping Up Appearances … That show is the only proper money I’ve earned, because it was a global success and it’s given me a good pension that I might never have had.”
Clive Walter Swift was born in Liverpool on February 9 1936; his parents, Lillie (née Greenman) and Abram, owned a furniture shop in Bootle. His older brother David also became an actor, later starring in the comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey; he died in 2016.
Clive was educated at Clifton and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he acted with the amateur dramatic society and the Marlowe Society, playing Falstaff in both parts of Henry IV. There he met Derek Jacobi, Ian Mckellen and the future writer Margaret Drabble, whom he subsequently married. He graduated in English, and his first professional acting job was at Nottingham Playhouse in the British premiere of JB Priestley’s portentous play Take The Fool Away in 1959. Swift was so excited he dried after the first line.
Joining the RSC, transformed from a seasonal troupe into Peter
Hall’s idea of a permanent company mixing
Shakespeare and contemporary writers,
Swift earned early plaudits from Kenneth Tynan in
William Gaskill’s 1962 revival of Cymbeline (with
Vanessa Redgrave as
Imogen). “Perhaps,” Tynan wrote, “the subtlest acting comes from Clive Swift as Cloten, who turns the queen’s loutish son into an epileptic young Blimp or pygmy Churchill.” During his time with the company, he understudied for Peter O’toole as he prepared for his starring role in Lawrence Of Arabia.
After touring for Prospect Productions as Caliban to Timothy West’s Prospero in The
Tempest (1966), Swift was back with the RSC in All’s Well That Ends Well (Aldwych), making of Parolles “a character of remarkable sympathy” in the words of Eric Shorter in The Daily Telegraph.
In The Young Churchill
(Duchess, 1969), Swift created “a fiery figure of Edwardian amazement: unashamedly ambitious, militarily determined, politically shrewd and literarily gifted … The spirit of young Churchill comes up strong,” Shorter wrote.
Returning from the US, where he had toured with an RSC revival of the anthology The Hollow Crown, Swift took over as chairman in Tom Stoppard’s satire Dirty Linen (Arts, 1976). Two years later, in the Royal Court revival of John Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence, he played Hudson, the all-too-conventional partner of Nicol Williamson’s frenzied solicitor-hero.
During the 1970s Swift began staging plays himself. For the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Lamda) he directed, in 1970, Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Wild Goose Chase and his own adaptation of Gorky’s The Lower Depths; in 1973 Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and in 1974 a triple bill at Rada. As well as numerous West End and provincial stage appearances, Swift played Benjamin Jowett during celebrations of the 750th anniversary of Balliol College, Oxford (Sheldonian, Oxford, 2013).
On television he was Det Insp Waugh in Waugh On Crime, six Thirty-minute Theatre productions in 1970. His other credits included South Riding and Clayhanger (both 1974); The Barchester Chronicles (1982) and The Pickwick Papers (1984), as well as roles in Doctor Who, Minder, Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders. His film credits included Catch Us If You Can (1965), Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) and A Passage to India (1984).
From 2007 he toured in his one-man song and music show, Richard Bucket Overflows! and later in Clive Swift Entertains.
He taught verse-speaking at both Lamda and Rada and hosted an interview series, Voices of Experience, at the Actors’ Centre in London (2012-13). One of the centre’s co-founders in 1978, he latterly became an adviser to its executive board. He was an honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University (1999) and the author of two books about the craft of acting. In 2009 he issued a CD of his own songs, From The Heart. He relaxed by watching Lancashire at cricket and football at Arsenal.
Clive Swift married Margaret Drabble in 1960 (dissolved 1975). They had two sons, Adam Swift, Professor of Political Theory at University College London, and the television garden designer Joe Swift. Their daughter, Rebecca, co-founder of the Literary Consultancy, died in 2017.