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Obituary: Nicholas Selby, actor

Actor had roles in everything from Shakespeare to soap

Nicholas Selby, actor.

Born: 13 September, 1925, in London.

Died: 15 April, 2011, in London, aged 85.

Nicholas Selby was a gifted and versatile actor whose work in such acclaimed television dramas as Poldark, House of Cards and Our Friends in the North brought him much renown and respect within the acting profession. He was for many years a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and he became an associate artist of the company in recognition of his many years of service.

Selby's rugged looks and rich, gravelly voice made him ideal casting as a figure of authority, and he was often cast as MPs, officers and professors - particularly on television. He appeared in more than 100 dramas on both the BBC and ITV and invested them all with a cunning sense of individuality and wit.

Nicholas Selby attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London from 1948 after serving in the army during the Second World War. He did gain some theatrical experience while serving, as he appeared with ENSA, the entertainment organisation that put on live shows for the troops. After drama school, he worked in various repertory companies before making his West End debut in William Douglas-Home's Aunt Edwina.

Selby gained further experience with the English Stage Company at London's Royal Court Theatre where Tony Richardson was breaking the mould of British theatre with aggressive new plays by the likes of John Osborne. Selby was in the world premiere of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and John Arden's The Happy Haven. He caught the eye of the young Peter Hall who, in 1961, had taken over the running of the RSC. A list of Shakespeare plays with important directors such as Peter Brook, Trevor Nunn, Hall and Clifford Williams followed at Stratford. Selby performed Duke Solinus in the famous Williams' production of Comedy of Errors which transferred to London and then went on a European tour. Selby was also seen in Julius Caesar, with Tom Fleming in the lead in 1963, and in 1965 and 1966 was in Robert Bolt's quirky comedy for children The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew.

In the Seventies, Selby returned to the Royal Court for Osborne's West of Suez and continued in the role of Owen Lamb when the play transferred to the West End, with Ralph Richardson in the lead. He then returned to the RSC for Coriolanus and The Tempest, directed by Nicholas Hytner.

Selby joined Laurence Olivier in the demanding Tamburlaine the Great in 1976 and made several significant contributions to some of the epic productions of that era at the newly opened National Theatre. These included a retired captain in Maximilian Schell's memorable production of Tales from the Vienna Woods in 1977 and the Prefect of the Imperial Library in the original cast of Pater Schaffer's Amadeus.He had one memorable scene with Andrew Cruickshank, the Director of the Imperial Opera, which was nightly appreciated during the play's long run.

Selby was much seen on television and films. He added a commanding appearance to many costume dramas in both mediums and was, for example, a dominating presence as King Duncan in Polanski's 1971 film of Macbeth. He was in Hall's film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1968, along with Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren. In 1994, he was the Speaker in Hytner's award-winning film of The Madness of King George, with Nigel Hawthorne so memorably in the title role.

His television work varied, from three years in the BBC's first TV hospital soap (Emergency Ward 10) to Sir Walter Raleigh in Elizabeth R (with Glenda Jackson) and General Burnett in the fondly remembered mini-series Blott on the Landscape. Selby made a particularly strong impression as Lord Billsborough in the political drama House of Cards, with Ian Richardson delivering a wonderfully sly and duplicitous prime minister. Perhaps Selby is best remembered for his cunning Nicholas Warleggan in the BBC's fine 1977 series Poldark. Selby captured the essence of the head of a banking family in the 18th century with a subtle charm and added a certain devious nuance to the role.

Selby followed cricket all his life and was a keen student of architecture, having a special interest in old churches. He was married to Kathleen Rayner, who predeceased him.

 
 
 

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