Obituary: John Boswall, actor

Toy shop-owner who had a career change in his 60s and became a successful actor

John Boswall, actor.

Born: 2 May, 1920, in London.

Died: 6 June, 2011, in South Woodchester, Gloucestershire, aged 91.

JOHN Boswall was in his 50s before he began acting professionally, but he went on to enjoy a distinguished career both on stage and in films, reaching a huge worldwide audience as Wyvern in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film.

Distinctive, somewhat Dickensian features lent themselves perfectly to the role of the pirate who had been so long on the ghost ship The Flying Dutchman in the sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest that he is covered in barnacles and has virtually merged with the woodwork of the ship itself.

Wyvern helped Orlando Bloom's character Will Turner in his efforts to get the key to the eponymous chest before blending back into the woodwork. The character has his own Lego figure and even fan fiction.

Boswall had made his mark on Hollywood in the 1990 comedy Three Men and a Little Lady. He was the state's number one enemy Goldstein in Nineteen Eighty-Four with Richard Burton and he appeared in The Onedin Line, The Wind in the Willows, Terry Pratchett's Hogfather and various theatre productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

An only child, he was born John Stuart in London in 1920. During the Second World War he served as an officer with the Jat Regiment in Burma and later he joined the sales team at the publishing company Macmillan.

He had always been interested in theatre and was a member of the Tower Theatre Company amateur group in London. It was there that he first met Sir Michael Gambon, who became a lifelong friend.

However, when Boswall left Macmillan it was not to pursue his ambitions as an actor, but to open a toy shop. It was only when this venture ran into difficulties in the late 1960s that he began to look towards acting as a possible source of income.

He changed his name to John Boswall to avoid confusion with another actor with the same name and managed to get work with the BBC and in repertory theatre in Derby.

During the second half of the 1970s he worked on a number of productions with the RSC and Bristol Old Vic companies. In 1974 he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in the RSC production of Dr Faustus. And he began to secure more significant roles on television, including King Leopold of Belgium in the ATV series Edward the Seventh, in which Timothy West played Edward.

Boswall continued to alternate theatre and television throughout the rest of his career. He was in the original London production of Mary O'Malley's play Once a Catholic and he was Polonius to Edward Fox's Hamlet. One of his biggest stage successes was in Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at the National Theatre in London in 1992 with Timothy Spall and Anita Dobson.On television he was Sir Charles Baskerville in a 1982 television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, with Tom Baker as Sherlock Holmes. He had a recurring role in the wartime drama Wish Me Luck and in 1990 he reached a huge nationwide audience as the mysterious Harry Osborne in EastEnders.

Harry turns up out of the blue and starts asking questions about the residents around Albert Square. It transpired that Harry was terminally ill and it was only after he died that it was revealed that he was a local man who was once engaged to Lou Beale's sister Doris, but had gone off to war and was then missing presumed dead. In the meantime Doris had married someone else.

After long and extensive travels around the world, Harry had come home one last time to see Walford and see the surviving members of the Beale family before he died. But Boswall's career was only getting going. He survived throat cancer that threatened both his life and his career in the mid-1990s and went on acting into his late eighties.

At the age of 70 he got his big Hollywood break when he played the eccentric butler in Three Men and a Little Lady, with Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg and Tom Selleck.

He had to turn down the chance to appear in Luc Besson's sci-fi thriller The Fifth Element, but would later work with him on Joan of Arc, though it proved an expensive misfire.

His last performance was as an authority on morris dancing in the spoof documentary Morris: A Life with Bells On in 2009. His other credits include Anglo Saxon Attitudes, Drop the Dead Donkey, Lovejoy and The Return of the Native.

Towards the end of his life he became active in the Quakers. He never married and had no children.

He lived with the actor Richard Latham and his wife for about 30 years, firstly in London and subsequently in Gloucstershire.