Peter Bowles: To The Manor Born actor dies aged 85

March 17, 2022

Peter Bowles, who is best-known for playing self-made businessman Richard DeVere in sitcom To The Manor Born, has died from cancer at the age of 85.

A statement to the PA news agency said: "The actor Peter Bowles has sadly passed away at the age of 85 from cancer.

"Starting his career at the Old Vic Theatre in 1956, he starred in 45 theatrical productions ending at the age of 81 in The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre.

"He worked consistently on stage and screen, becoming a household name on TV as the archetypal English gent in To The Manor Born, Only When I Laugh, The Bounder and Lytton's Diary, which he devised himself.

"He leaves his wife of over 60 years, Sue, and their three children Guy, Adam and Sasha."

To The Manor Born aired from 1979 to 1981, with Bowles and co-star Dame Penelope Keith reprising their roles in a 2007 special.

The son of a chauffeur and nanny, Bowles was born in London in 1936, growing up in Nottingham.

A talented actor, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

He began his stage career with the Old Vic Company, touring in North America, before working for the Bristol Old Vic.

His early TV career saw him cast as the villain - including in shows The Avengers and The Saint.

It wasn't until his 40s, that the moustachioed role of Richard DeVere in To The Manor Born made him a household name. At its height, the BBC sitcom commanded audiences of 20 million.

It was reported he had previously turned down a role in The Good Life - with many assuming he must have been considered for the role of Jerry Leadbetter (a part ultimately played by Paul Eddington), again alongside Dame Penelope.

Speaking about his success in sitcoms, he told the PA news agency in 2010: "If you have a great popular TV success, particularly in comedy, people don't think you can act on stage.

"People thought I was just a sitcom actor and the BBC told me I'd never work in drama again. I didn't realise there were two worlds. It was new to me. I found it very odd and frustrating."

Growing up, his father was a valet and chauffeur to one of the sons of the Earl of Sandwich, his mother a nanny employed by the heir of the Duke of Argyll in Scotland.

Bowles' upbringing was far from glamourous. During the Second World War his father worked as an engineer at Rolls-Royce and when Bowles was six the family moved to one of the poorest working-class districts of Nottingham. Their house had an outside toilet and no bath.

"We were in a Coronation Street environment, but everyone was extremely friendly and there were lots of kids. It was terrific," he said previously.

Prior to attending RADA, Bowles appeared in amateur plays in Nottingham, but quickly lost his northern accent on joining the prestigious acting school.

He studied with stars including Alan Bates, Peter O'Toole and Sian Phillips, and shared a flat with fellow student Albert Finney.

Bowles was reunited with Dame Penelope in a regional tour of Sheridan's The Rivals, directed by Sir Peter Hall, in 2010.

A truly multiplatform actor, Bowles also appeared in many films including 1970's Eyewitness, 1995's The Steal, 2005's Colour Me Kubrick, and 2008's The Bank Job.

He recently starred alongside Jenna Coleman in ITV series Victoria, playing the role of the Duke of Wellington.

His final screen credit was playing a vicar in 2021 movie Off The Rails, starring Jenny Seagrove.

Bowles leaves behind his wife, actress Susan Bennett, and their three children Guy, Adam and Sasha.

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