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Full tribute to RSC veteran and well-known actor Clifford Rose who has died aged 92



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RSC veteran and well-known actor Clifford Rose has died aged 92.

Earlier this year he had moved from his Stratford home to Denville Hall, the actors’ care home outside London. He died peacefully there on Saturday.

Born in 1929 in Herefordshire and one of three brothers, Clifford originally wanted to be a doctor but followed his brother, David, into an acting career. Clifford joined the RSC in 1960, and famously played Kessler in BBC TV series Secret Army before starring in its eponymously titled sequel.

Clifford and Celia
Clifford and Celia

He was a regular on prime-time television and also appeared in Fortunes of War, Doctor Who, Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders, and much more.

Most recently he appeared in Hollywood blockbuster The Pirates of the Caribbean and hugely popular Netflix series The Crown.

The Comedy of Errors, 1963, with Clifford as Dromio of Ephesus, right
The Comedy of Errors, 1963, with Clifford as Dromio of Ephesus, right

Clifford lived for many years in Stratford and had two children, Duncan and Rosalind, with actor wife Celia Ryder, who died in 2012.

He was working until quite recently and was a familiar face around Stratford, rarely missing a production at the RSC, and he gave a reading at the Kempe Society in January 2020, when the Herald interviewed him.

Clifford’s son Duncan Rosslair, spoke to the Herald about his beloved dad’s passing and described him as “slipping away in the middle of the night” at Denville Hall. “It was peaceful which was a mercy as he had been uncomfortable in his last few days.”

Recalling what Clifford was like as a father, Duncan said: “I have fond memories of the early days of his career. In the late-70s and the 80s he was a jobbing actor and doing lots of television, he was great fun. I used to read his lines with him. As a sulky teenager I wasn’t always that keen but we would have fun and make jokes.

Kessler (50776794)
Kessler (50776794)

“He was very level-headed, carefree and great fun to be around. A great joker, he had a good sense of humour.”

Describing him as an “actor’s actor”, Duncan said: “He liked to laugh but he took acting very seriously. He wasn’t interested in writing or directing, he just loved acting. Amazingly he kept that interest right up to the end – he was interested in the arts and other people and what they were doing.”

Duncan attributed Clifford’s youthfulness to his career: “He was enthusiastic about acting, it kept him motivated and young.

“A lifelong fan of acting he was interested in new ideas, and he never lost that.”

Since Clifford had gone to live at Denville, Duncan says it has been amazing to see all the letters of support shared with his father. “It has been humbling seeing how admired and respected he was – and it meant a lot to him too. My sister read the letters of support to him during visits at the home.”

Ghostly father to Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, RSC, 1992
Ghostly father to Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, RSC, 1992

During his stay at Denville, well-wishers, including famous friends Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh, lent their spiritual and financial support. “It’s been phenomenal,” said Duncan.

Clifford had a long association with the RSC, and went to see most of the shows up until Covid put a stop to productions.

Paying tribute, Erica Whyman, acting artistic director, said: “Clifford made a very significant contribution to the RSC over many years, having joined the Company in 1960 . He had come to the attention of John Barton who together with Sir Peter Hall invited Clifford to Stratford for their very first season.

RSC, circa 1961
RSC, circa 1961

“He went on to play many roles from Priam in Troilus and Cressida, to, much later, the Ghost to Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, and he enjoyed a long collaboration with Peter Brook (Marat/Sade, US).

“He fondly remembered working with Peggy Ashcroft, Diana Rigg, Paul Schofield, Ian Holm and many more. He called them ‘great days’. Clifford retained a connection with the company through his later success on television and continued to see and support productions right up to the start of the pandemic. He will be sorely missed.”

The Crucible, RSC, 2006
The Crucible, RSC, 2006

When the Herald spoke to him last January, Clifford attributed his fascination with theatre with a school trip to the then Memorial Theatre in Stratford.

He said: “The show that impressed me most was Doctor Faustus with Robert Harris, who was a wonderful actor, and Paul Scofield playing Mephistopheles. I thought, that’s it, that’s what I want to do. It was sort of an epiphany.”

Asked what his favourite role has been, Clifford said: “I have to put Kessler near the top because that went on for a very long time – three years of Secret Army [1977-79] and then the Kessler spin-off, so about five years not doing anything else really. It was probably one of my favourite parts. It got an enormous amount of recognition and people did stop me in the street.”

Clifford Rose photographed in January 2020 by the Herald
Clifford Rose photographed in January 2020 by the Herald

Describing how his parents met while touring with an actors’ group called the Penguin Players, Duncan says they enjoyed a long and happy marriage. “She was the wind beneath his wings,” he said. “My dad’s illnesses began after she died. It was clear he was bereft without her.

“They were chalk and cheese really: he was from a reasonably privileged life in Herefordshire, whereas she was from a big lively family in the East End.

“They were a great team, and the best parents.”

Clifford leaves behind children Duncan and Rosalind, grandson Charlie, and a brother, Rob.



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