Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Death Notices: 2016: Lord Snowden and Gorden Kaye

Lord Snowden with Princess Margaret and family

Death Notices: 2016

This is an occasional piece where I look briefly on deaths of notable people this year, picked because of the very simple reason that I have heard of them!

Lord Snowdon - renowned photographer and Princess Margaret's former husband.

Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, GCVO, RDI (7 March 1930 – 13 January 2017), commonly known as Lord Snowdon, was a British photographer and film maker. He was married to Princess Margaret, younger daughter of King George VI and the sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

I always felt that Princess Margaret had a raw deal. Because Group Captain Peter Townsend was a divorcee, the Queen and the Church of England refused to countenance a marriage, despite the fact that they loved one another. She was a victim of the cultural prejudices of her time: no such barrier stopped Prince Charles marrying Camilla.

Why Lord Snowdon is in my list is because of his photographs of the Royal family. His position may have allowed him a special entree into Royal circles, but his photos had a distinctive style which captured the Royals rather like a photographic form of a painting, as would have been the case one hundred years earlier.. They are often posed and stylised, but rather iconic.

Lord Snowdon was certainly a notable photographer, but he was also notorious for his sexual peccadilloes. Their break-up lasted sixteen years, accompanied by drugs, alcohol and bizarre behaviour by both parties, such as Snowdon's leaving lists between the pages of books the princess read for her to find, of "things I hate about you"

Both Snowden’s marriages (he married again) ended in divorce, the second after he had fathered a child from yet another affair.

But in between his rather lurid and colourful sex life, he started an award scheme for disabled students, administered by the Snowdon Trust, which provides grants and scholarships for students with disabilities. He himself had a leg damaged by polio in his childhood. On his death, a spokesman for the Trust said that: "He helped change attitudes towards disability and campaigned tirelessly against discrimination,"

It is a life which shows in vivid contrasts, rather like the sharp counterpoint of light and dark in a black and white photograph, how no one is perfect, and yet everyone can still make a difference to thousands of lives. That legacy of the Snowdon Trust, emerging from his own experiences, will endure, along with his photographs, long after his personal life has been forgotten.

Gorden Kaye, best known for playing the cafe owner Rene in the comedy series 'Allo 'Allo.

Gordon Irving "Gorden" Kaye (7 April 1941 – 23 January 2017) was an English actor and singer, best known for playing René Artois in the British comedy series 'Allo 'Allo!

In 1982, David Croft sent Kaye the script for the pilot episode of 'Allo 'Allo! inviting him to play the central character of René Artois. He accepted and appeared in all 84 episodes (the main series ran from 1984, two years after the pilot, until 1992) and 1,200 performances of the stage version.

I remember watching the first episode with a mixture of surprise, shock and laughter. Although it lampooned all national stereotypes, including the British, it still amazes me that the BBC had the courage to show a film which made fun of the German Occupation of France.

It is also very much a comic spoof of the very serious drama, Secret Army, about a cafe owner (played by Bernard Hepton) in which German officers, the Gestapo, escaping British airmen, and of course the French resistance played a part.

“Allo Allo” lampooned that wonderfully, and the central character, and the only one to break the fourth wall, was Gordon Kaye’s René Artois, who would begin each episode with a sly aside to the viewer.

This is actually quite a rarity on television, although it does occur in “Up Pompeii” with Frankie Howerd’s Lurkio, and in “House of Cards” with Ian Richardson’s Francis Urquhart. In terms of history, Up Pompeii with its “prologue” delivered to the viewers is very much the comedic template for Rene’s asides at the start. Interestingly, just as Howerd changed his surname from the more commonplace Howard, Gorden changed his first name Gordon to Gorden.

Kaye played the part brilliantly, and in a show when most of the actors gave over the top performances, he was actually remarkably restrained: the anchor for the audience in a show that grew increasingly stagy, and the confidant of the viewer.

Kaye suffered serious head injuries in a car accident during the Burns' Day storm on 25 January 1990. Although he could not remember any details of the incident, he retained a scar on his forehead from a piece of wooden advertising boarding that had smashed through the car windscreen. Amazingly he recovered well and was back playing the part of Rene until the series ended two years later.

The series almost certainly went on too long, and to some extent he was typecast. TV work afterwards was patchy. But to be typecast is also to be immortalised, and as a period piece of comedy which takes a pot shot at every nationality in World War II, and sends up the genre of wartime drama, it is unlikely to be forgotten.

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