Mostly Credited As: Dinsdale Landen
Birth Name: Dinsdale James Landen
Date Of Birth: September 04, 1932 (Age 71)
Country Of Birth: United Kingdom
Birth Place: Margate, Kent, England
Date Of Death: December 29, 2003
Cause Of Death: Fakenham, Norfolk, England (pneumonia)
Dinsdale Landen was one of the most original, gifted and hilarious exponents of light comedy or farce in the post-war West End theatre.
Short and thick-set, with a round face and wide-eyes, and blessed with a charming voice and good manners to match, Landen had a line in nervous husbands, faltering suitors, idle academics and eccentric bumblers which was not only brilliantly observed but also executed with precision and a degree of panache.
In the delineation of affronted dignity, cringing goodwill or social embarrassment, Landen was almost unrivalled; and when, occasionally, he landed a sinister role, the change of tone in his acting exemplified his range.
If his exuberance in comedy was apt to spiral into the realms of absurdity or outrageously camp humour, he rarely lost an audience's sympathy because, however broad or simple a character's conception, he brought to it his own authority, intelligence and integrity.
Working often in the silly-ass tradition of English comedy, his lightness of touch served him well in most branches of drama from Shaw to Ben Travers, Chekhov to Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare to James Saunders, Michael Frayn to Joe Orton, extending smoothly and often to the television screen in such programmes as Mickey Dunne; The Spies; The Glittering Prizes; Devenish; Two Sundays; Pig in the Middle; Fathers and Families; Radio Pictures and What the Butler Saw.
Dinsdale James Landen was born at Margate, Kent, on September 4 1932 and went to Hove County Grammar School and the King's School, Rochester. Having studied for the stage at the Florence Moore Theatre Studios, Hove, he made his first professional appearance in 1946 at the Dolphin Theatre, Brighton, as Bimbo in Ian Hay's comedy, Housemaster.
From his salad days in seaside rep, Landen used to cherish the memory of a stint at Worthing as stage manager when the great Shakespearean Donald Wolfit was making a guest appearance and Landen was cast as a walk-on. Awed by the occasion, he awaited instructions as the first night of Othello approached; none came until the dress rehearsal. A part was found for him as Othello's page.
He did not know the play well, but Wolfit said: "Just follow me about." Blacked up, Landen attended Othello on all occasions, but during one of them he felt, for the first time all evening, ill at ease. It was then, as he stood behind Wolfit, that he learned why. In the loudest stage whisper he could remember to have heard came Wolfit's enraged voice: "Not in Desdemona's bedroom, you c***!"
By 1955 Landen was judged fit to accompany an Australian tour of the Old Vic Company. Two seasons later he made his West End debut as Archie Gooch in Rodney Ackland's thriller, A Dead Secret (Piccadilly 1957).
Small parts in London followed, among them that of "Patrick Dennis as a man" in the musical comedy Auntie Mame (Adelphi 1958), starring the great comedienne Beatrice Lillie. Landen made enough of an impression for a critic (two seasons' later, at Peter Hall's first season as artistic director at Stratford-upon-Avon) to suggest that Landen's "apprenticeship in clowning" to Bea Lillie had served him well. As "wide young Gobbo" to Peter O'Toole's Shylock, a "clearly etched" Fabian in Twelfth Night and Biondello in The Taming of the Shrew, Landen was seen "to develop along lunatic lines of his own". Back in London in 1964, he had leading parts - Henry V among them - at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park.
After Malcolm Quantrill's three-hander, Honeymoon (Hampstead 1967), he toured with Prospect Productions as Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and as Bluntschli in Shaw's Arms and the Man.
The longest run of his career came in the part of the slothful colleague of Alec McCowen's philologist-hero in Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist (Royal Court and May Fair 1970). Two seasons later he took over as the dashing but rootless Victorian adventurer Dazzle in the RSC's West End revival of Dion Boucicault's London Assurance (New, now Albery).
After Snoo Wilson's The Pleasure Principle (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs 1973), he gave what one critic rated as "quite possibly the comic performance of the year" as a verbally constipated leader writer in Michael Frayn's newspaper library comedy, Alphabetical Order (Hampstead and May Fair Theatre, 1975), "the kind of man who comes through doors murmuring 'on the other hand' ".
Joining the National Theatre Company for the Ralph Lynn part in Plunder (Lyttelton), Landen set the house on a roar as the inept jewellery burglar D'Arcy; and two seasons later in the title role of Shaw's The Philanderer he again brought the house down as the suitor of two women who found himself in flight up a ladder and with no choice, as he gazed fearfully down, but to face a slow, humiliating, descent.
In James Saunders's more intellectual conversation piece, Bodies (Hampstead 1978, Ambassadors 1979), he again commanded the stage, this time as an alcoholic, pipe-smoking husband whose final mockery of the couple who had fallen under the influence of American psychiatry formed the disquisitory theme.
"Dinsdale Landen plays Mervyn so vividly, deploying all his forces more and more dangerously as the emotions become less and less under control," wrote one critic, "that what might otherwise seem a long and wordy exchange of dialectic acquires a flashing interest."
Back with the National in 1981, he came into his broader, farcical element as Zangler, the prosperous middle-aged master grocer in Tom Stoppard's adaptation from Nestroy of On The Razzle (Lyttelton). Landen pitched "his performance as a vaudeville turn somewhere halfway from Groucho to Chico Marx", said a critic of his camped-up acting.
After a more sombre appearance as Astrov in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, (Lyttelton), Landen returned to the West End in Dennis Potter's Sufficient Carbohydrate (Albery 1983), before taking over from Leonard Rossiter as Inspector Truscot, scrutinising the stage for a corpse's glass eye, in a revival of Joe Orton's Loot (Lyric 1984).
In a vehicle for his long-suffering type of humour, Landen played a frustrated dealer in gift-shop junk, groaning, barking, sighing and whimpering his way through Selling the Sizzle (Hampstead Theatre 1986); and in N J Crisp's triangular mystery, Dangerous Obsession (Apollo and Fortune 1987) he played, unusually, a psychotic-seeming figure of almost sinister power from a married woman's racy past.
Other, on the whole more satisfying, performances came in the late 1980s and the 1990s in revivals of Ben Travers's farce, Thark (Lyric, Hammersmith) and Twelfth Night (Playhouse, 1991). In 1998 Landen starred in David Hare's Racing Demon, appearing at the Chichester Festival Theatre before transferring to Toronto. His last television role was in the Catherine Cookson adaptation The Wingless Bird in 1997.
His film credits included The Valiant; Every Home Should Have One; Digby the Biggest Dog in the World; Mosquito Squadron and Morons from Outer Space.
In 1959 Dinsdale Landen married the actress Jennifer Daniel and enjoyed a long and happy marriage with her until his death following an attack of pneumonia on the 29th December, 2003. Up to that point he had been successfully treated for oral cancer which was diagnosed in the late 1990's.