Obituary: Felix Dexter, comedian and actor

Felix Dexter. Picture: PA
Felix Dexter. Picture: PA
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Born: 26 July, 1961, in St Kitts. Died: 18 October, 2013, in London, aged 52

FELIX Dexter had an exceptional range as an actor. He gave remarkable performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the Edinburgh Fringe (and in London’s West End) alongside Christian Slater in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He added hugely to the enjoyment of such television classics as The Real McCoy, Absolutely Fabulous and The Fast Show. Dexter was more recently seen as Omar in the BBCTV comedy Citizen Khan.

Dexter also contributed as a writer to many shows and often returned to his stand-up roots. He was named Time Out comedian of the year.

He regularly visited the Edinburgh Fringe and in 2008 appeared in a lengthy interview with Janice Forsyth on BBC Radio Scotland about his life and career as both an actor and a comedian. Dexter also appeared on STV’s Five Thirty Show during the Festival relayed from “the tropical gardens”. The cameras first captured him off stage behind a palm tree. When he emerged on to the set, Dexter was in ebullient form with broad smile and clapping the audience enthusiastically. He then gave a gloriously effervescent and spontaneous interview.

In 2010, he did a show at the Pleasance on the Fringe in which he gently made fun of his first visit to Edinburgh in 1994. The 2010 show was called What a Bargain and he recalled living in a rather inadequate flat on Princes Street – “No lift. No microwave”. Anyway Dexter clearly got to know the city well (“the best is yet to come” he decided in 1994) and he soon forged a close relationship with Edinburgh audiences. In his interview on the Five Thirty Show, he praised the diversity of the Fringe and said how much he was enjoying, “picking up the Edinburgh vibes”.

Felix Dexter was born on St Kitts, but his family moved to the UK when he was seven. He attended school in south London and then studied the law, becoming a member of the Inns of Court. Dexter was set to enter the legal profession on qualifying, but decided to do some stand-up routines in pubs. His exuberant personality caught on with audiences and Dexter soon became established on the comedy circuit.

“The legal background,” he once admitted “is extremely useful in stand-up comedy. It enables me to stun hecklers into silence with shouts of ‘objection’.”

He got his big break in the Nineties TV hit sketch show The Real McCoy where he was one of the important pioneers of black comedy in Britain. From the start of his career, he closely studied two comedians – the late Richard Pryor and Billy Connolly. Dexter was always an astute observer of individuals, behaviour and mannerisms.

Dexter played an audience with a fine cunning. He was up-front and brash from those first appearances in The Real McCoy and remained refreshingly not politically correct but never resorted to smuttiness or causing offense. He teased an audience and involved them in the jokes with an infectious skill.

An early sketch – The Accountant – wowed the audience from the moment he walked into the studio. He delivered a hilarious lesson on how to chat up a lady and then said to everyone, “all you ladies are so mouth-watering.” His act was such a success that a studio manager had to come and escort him off as he had clearly over-run his time. He left to wild applause.

Dexter also worked in such TV shows as Down The Line, 15 Storeys High, Grumpy Old Men, Bellamy’s People, Have I Got News For You, The Fast Show and Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge. In Absolutely Fabulous, he was John Johnson the boyfriend of Saffy (played by Julia Sawalha) in the fifth series.

In the theatre, he was in Pericles and The Winter’s Tale at the RSC and at the National Theatre he played alongside Helen Mirren in an outstanding production of Mourning Becomes Electra.

At the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe production in the Assembly Rooms, he joined the Hollywood star Christian Slater in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Before it opened in Edinburgh, the show experienced the abrupt departure of the scheduled director and then it transpired that Dexter had given the star chicken pox. When it did finally open, it earned unanimous praise.

Dexter was often heard on the radio – notably the highly successful Radio 4 spoof phone-in show Down the Line and on Loose Ends where Ned Sherrin called Dexter “a real bonus for the programme”. He was a man without airs and graces and not only liked by audiences and by colleagues. Dexter’s bewitching personality and ability to engage in gleeful banter with his audience also earned him wide public acclaim and many friends.

The comedian and actor had suffered from myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer.