Born: 4 September, 1932, in Margate.
Died: 29 December, 2003, in Norfolk, aged 71.
FROM the 1970s, Dinsdale Landen seemed to corner the market in accident-prone suitors. He certainly had a way with farce that made him very special, but he was often seen to advantage in contemporary and classical plays. He certainly played the "daft Alec" with immense verve and style, but he brought a deft realism to many Shakespeare roles and gave fine performances in contemporary works by Joe Orton, Michael Frayn and Tom Stoppard.
He never allowed his bunglers to go too far (stuttering and stammering was a Landen forte), but he often stopped the show with gales of laughter from the audience. He was seen in many traditional dramas and series on television (Lovejoy, The Glittering Prizes etc).
Dinsdale James Landen attended the King’s School, Rochester and studied for the stage locally. He then did small parts with touring companies (particularly the Donald Wolfit Company) before making his West End debut in 1957 in Rodney Ackland’s thriller A Dead Secret, starring Paul Scofield.
Many other small parts followed (most notably as "Patrick Denis as a man" in Auntie Mame, which starred Beatrice Lillie), and then he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959. There he played important roles (Gobbo in Peter O’Toole’s Merchant of Venice) before doing several seasons at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. In 1970 Landen joined Alec McCowen in the long-running West End hit The Philanthropist by Christopher Hampton.
Many theatregoers first spotted Landen when he appeared in the west end in the RSC’s smash hit production of London Assurance. In a brilliant cast (including Donald Sinden and Judi Dench) Landen delivered a masterly performance as the ne’er-do-well son, appropriately named Dazzle. As Sinden boomed away with his oft-repeated "in a hamper", Landen got many laughs as the Lothario son who eyed every girl except the prim Miss Dench.
Landen had by then established himself as a major comic actor and Peter Hall asked him to join the National Theatre in 1976 for the company’s first major attempt at farce.
The Ben Travers classic Plunder was chosen, in which Landen played a silly-ass character called D’Arcy Tuck, who was the world’s worst burglar and a typical Hooray Henry.
Landen’s polished but wonderfully camp performance received raves from the critics ("somewhere between Groucho and Chico Marx"). He followed this at the National Theatre with the title role in Shaw’s The Philanderer.
His other appearance with the National Theatre was in Stoppard’s adaptation of On The Razzle, which opened at the Edinburgh Festival of 1981.
The cast was top drawer (Felicity Kendall, Michael Kitchen, Joan Hickson) and was a hit from the moment the curtain rose at the Lyceum. The heavily mustachioed Landen was in tremendous form - although the Festival Society was more than a touch miffed that when the play moved to London, the NT stated in its programme that the official first night took place in London rather than Edinburgh.
Landen was seen often on television: beginning his career as a joyous Pip in the BBC’s Great Expectations in 1959. He was then either cast as the suave do-gooder or a scheming burglar. Roles in Lovejoy, Dr Who, Mickey Dunne, Devenish, Glittering Prizes and Radio Pictures all followed. He played in the first series of the popular comedy Pig in the Middle. One of his final TV roles was in Catherine Cookson’s The Wingless Bird in 1997.
Landen continued to work on the stage and memorably recorded many spoken books for tape. His last stage performance was at the Chichester Festival in 1998 in David Hare’s Racing Demon. Soon after that, cancer of the mouth was diagnosed and he spent much of his time in his beloved Norfolk.
Landen was an actor of much quality who knew how to time a laugh to perfection, but there was subtlety and style that marked him out as a most accomplished comic actor. He had a wonderful ability to bring bungling butlers, panicky suitors and hen-pecked husbands alive with vigorous enthusiasm and commitment.
Landen married the actress Jennifer Daniel in 1959. She survives him.