Obituary: Charles Keating, actor

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Born: 22 October, 1941, in London. Died: 9 August, 2014, in Connecticut, aged 72

Charles Keating was best known to British television audiences through his fine portrayals of major characters in Brideshead Revisited and Edward and Mrs Simpson. In the former, he played Rex Mottram, Lady Julia Flyte’s admirer, cheating-husband in the 1981 Granada adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel. In the latter he was the complicit Edward Simpson, husband of Wallis, who was an influential character in the Abdication of 1936 of Edward V111. To both characters Keating brought a sensitive understanding of the integral roles they played in the overall drama.

Keating was to spend three years with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) playing important roles and latterly worked mostly in America where he became known for the devious villain Carl Hutchins in the long-running NBC soap Another World, for which he won a Daytime Emmy in 1996.

Charles Keating was born to Irish parents and attended Wandsworth Technical College. He emigrated with his parents to Canada and then to New York, where he worked as a hairdresser. But he was keen to make a career on stage and was cast in various repertory companies. In 1959, while touring with the Cleveland Play House he met and married the actress Mary Chobody.

Keating did his national service with the US Army and was much involved with their entertainment division. He was then taken on for two years from 1968 by the famous director Mary Chobody at his theatre in Minneapolis.

In 1971, Keating returned to Britain with Guthrie, who was pioneering new production methods at the newly opened Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. It was similar to the thrust stage that Guthrie had created at the Assembly Hall for the Edinburgh Festival as far back as 1948 (with the Thrie Estates). Keating was a memorable Thomas Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons at the Crucible.

From 1973–75 Keating was a member of the RSC in Stratford playing significant roles such as Oliver in As You Like It with David Suchet and Eileen Atkins, Edmund in King Lear directed by Buzz Goodbody, and Frank Wedekind’s rarely seen The Marquis of Keith with Ian McKellen and Ian Richardson. Keating then did two seasons at the Chichester Festival where his roles included Orsino in Twelfth Night and Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.

During these years Keating was often cast in popular television dramas and often seen in Crown Court. He was offered the important role of Ernest Simpson in Edward & Mrs Simpson (1978).

It was a delicate role to play. Ernest Simpson appeared throughout the courtship of the Prince of Wales and Wallis. Keating had to bring a credibility to the role and ensure he was a not a mere cypher. Keating subtly suggested that Ernest and Wallis preserved strong feelings for each other which, from subsequently published letters, has been proved to be the case. Keating hinted at “the forgotten” man, as Ernest was dubbed, with an uncanny accuracy.

Rex Mottram was no less difficult to realise. The character, an ambitious MP, was a cad and had bewitched Julia (Diana Quick) into marriage much against her mother’s firmly held Catholic beliefs. It turned out he had already been married so Mottram and the scene when they were married in a Protestant church is poignant: Keating playing it with all the charm of a double-dealing hoodlum.

His success in such television blockbusters led Keating to be offered more work in America and he was soon in such dramas as Hotel and Sex and the City. He became a regular in soaps and was acclaimed for the seductive manipulator Carl Hutchins in Another World.

Keating was also seen in such movies as The Thomas Crown Affair and Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo.

His preparations for the title role of Macbeth on Broadway led Keating to write to his friend Laurence Olivier for advice. “The dagger scene,” Keating asked the great man, “Where do you see the dagger?” Sir Laurence calmly replied: “Oh, dear boy. See the dagger wherever you want to.”

Keating was a great lover of poetry. He gave poetry readings at various festivals, and after his cancer diagnosis several years ago, he revived a show that featured poems, stories, folk songs and music hall pieces which he performed with his wife Mary, and sons Sean and Jamie.

It was clearly a happy and highly relevant experience for Keating and his family. “He knew it would be important to us to have time performing again,” Sean Keating has said. “And onstage, he was in his element. It was like being in the wake of ship.”

In addition to Mary, his wife of more than 50 years, and his two sons, Keating is survived by six grandchildren.