Ben Aris

Ben Aris, actor

Born: 16 March, 1937 Died: 4 September, 2003, aged 66

WITH his military moustache and regimental bearing, it wasn’t surprising that Ben Aris was often cast as officers and gentlemen. But, in fact, the role that brought him most fame was the rather weak and woolly ballroom dancer in the BBC hit sitcom Hi-de-Hi! In fact, Aris had a distinguished career in musicals and plays, both in the west end and out of London.

Benjamin Patrick Aris trained at the end of the war at the Arts Educational School and found work as a juvenile both on stage and in the fast-expanding world of commercials. He was, for example, a member of the group that sang one of the most popular jingles of all time, We are the Ovaltineys, which was much heard in the late Fifties.

His first taste of live theatre came when, at 16, he joined the national tour of a cabaret company in Zip Goes a Million. After national service in the army, he was seen in a succession of musicals, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963) and Lionel Bart’s unsuccessful Twang! (1965).

He became associated with the avant-garde work being done at the Royal Court by the likes of John Osborne, and two of the Royal Court directors, Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson, cast Aris in many of their movies in the Sixties, often as an eccentric upper-class chap who was too clever by half or as an out-of-touch officer.

Typical of Aris’s work at this time was his role in Richardson’s Charge of the Light Brigade in which he played Captain Maxse, an outrageous dandy who led a spectacular charge at Balaclava straight at the Russian guns. Ken Russell in the Seventies often cast him in similar cameo roles, notably in Tommy, The Music Lovers and The Savage Messiah.

Then the BBC sent Aris a script written by David Croft and Jimmy Perry about a 1950s holiday camp. It was bawdy, near the edge and very funny. He was asked to take over the part of Julian Dalrymple-Sykes who, with his dancing partner, the snooty Yvonne (played by Dianne Holland), gave instruction to the campers and did some exhibition ballroom dancing. Hi-de-Hi! started in 1980 and ran for 57 episodes. Aris joined in 1982 and became a regular in 1985.

The success of Hi-de-Hi! allowed Aris to do more theatre work. He had already been a fine Rosencrantz in Nicol Williamson’s Hamlet (with Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia) in both London and New York, and in perhaps his most memorable west end appearance he played Geoffrey in Richard Harris’s delightful play Stepping Out.

He had various roles with the National Theatre, including as Desmond Curry in The Winslow Boy, and his last appearance on stage was in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van, opposite Maggie Smith. His TV work included Yes Minister, To The Manor Born and The Falklands Factor.