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The Times (10/Aug/1977) - Obituary: Edward Chapman

(c) The Times (10/Aug/1977)


A character actor of stage and screen

Mr Edward Chapman, the actor, died yesterday at the age of 75. Especially redoubtable in the kind of character parts exemplified by Jess Oakroyd, the Bruddersford joiner, in "The Good Companions" – his most durable success - Edward Chapman was a staunch Yorkshireman, seldom off the London stage during the late 1920s and the 1930s. Physically commanding, he had a sharp comic instinct and an invaluable gift of timing to accompany it.

Born in Harrogate in 1901, and originally a bank clerk, he went on the stage when 22. After going into the London production of "The Farmer's Wife" during its second year, he became one of Barry Jackson's discoveries at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. In two and a half years there he had such parts as Mossop in "Hobson's Choice", a play he would get to know well; the dubiously endearing Uncle Dick in "Yellow Sands", a character that remained among his favourites; and the philanderer in "Dear Brutus", an occasion when the young Peggy Ashcroft came up in her first professional part as Margaret.

Chapman was in Barry Jackson's London season at the Court in 1927. After work elsewhere (in Frank Vosper's "The Combined Maze", for example) he returned to the Court (1928) as Grumio in a farcial racket of a modern -dress "The Taming of the Shrew". At His Majesty's (1931) he dominated the stage version of "The Good Companions" as Jess Oakroyd, thrusting the world of the concert party; he was, lovably, the minor prophet in Bridie's "Jonah and the Whale" (1932), and among much other casting her appeared in the Globe revival of "Candida" (1937), and then for five months at the Old Vic (1938-39), in a run of Shakespeare (Bottom and Sly), Goldsmith (Hardcastle in "She Stoops to Conquer"), and Ibsen (an elderly observer Peter in "An Enemy of the People").

He spent most of the war with the RAF. Later, he never recovered his position in the London theatre; his main parts were in "Breach of Marriage" (1949) and Kroll in a Rosmersholm revival (1950). In the early 1960s he was a guest player with the Harrogate repertory company; he played Hobson ("Hobson's Choice") at Windsor, and toured in the part towards the end of the decade. Richly and momentarily, he was back in Birmingham (1966), as Brecht's Galileo at the Repertory.

From 1929 Chapman had a steady career in films to which, again, he brought in Northern sturdiness in roles such as Yorkshire aldermen, amiable villains and smaller parts. His films included "Rembrandt" (1937); "They Flew Alone" (1942); "The Square Peg" (1958); "School for Scandal" (1960); and "Oscar Wilde" (1960) in which he played The Marquess of Queensberry.

His relative decline in the theatre was happily compensated for by a resurgence, in television. He became a household name for his Joe Champion, in "Champion House", a serial about a family textile firm, and he played Callan in "The Onedin Line". Chapman was twice married, first to Constance Willis Spark, and then to Prudence Nesbitt.