RIP Lionel Jefferies – Farewell Grandfather Potts
Posted by LiveFor on February 22, 2010
You will no doubt remember the fine Lionel Jeffries as I do from First Men in the Moon or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In the latter he played Dick Van Dyke’s father despite being six months younger than him. He also directed and starred in The Railway Children and The Water Babies amongst others. Sadly he passed away at the age of 83 on 19th February.
The Telegraph had more on the story:
Lionel Charles Jeffries was born in London on June 10 1926; both his parents were social workers with the Salvation Army.
He was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Wimborne, Dorset. In 1945 he was commissioned into the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, serving first in Burma (where he worked for the Rangoon radio station) and later as a captain in the Royal West African Frontier Force.
After leaving the Army, Jeffries went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he was, he said, “the only bald student”. He had lost all his hair by the age of 19, later remarking: “Of course I was upset. Tried a toupee once, but it looked like a dead moth on a boiled egg.”
Despite this disadvantage, he won Rada’s Kendal Award in 1947, then spent two years in rep at Lichfield.
Jeffries quickly won his first West End engagement, as Major ATM Broke-Smith in Dorothy and Campbell Christie’s Carrington VC (1953), with Alec Clunes in the title role. The following season saw him on the London stage as The Father in Peter Hall’s production of Lorca’s Blood Wedding and The Doctor in Jean Giraudoux’s The Enchanted, both at the Arts Theatre.
Jeffries was soon attracted to the cinema, starting his film career in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1949). But he made his first real impression as one of the prisoners-of-war in Guy Hamilton’s The Colditz Story (1954). Jeffries later recalled: “I went to the cast meeting with holes in my shoes, but I was given the third lead to Eric Portman and John Mills.”
Offers of work poured in, and in one year alone he acted in nine different films. In 1955 he was a great success in Windfall, and there followed a plethora of successful cameo roles in which he proved capable of summoning up both dry comedy and menace. Among them were an inquisitive reporter in the Quatermass Xperiment (1955); Gelignite Joe, a diamond robber whose schoolgirl niece contrived for him to impersonate a new headmistress in Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957); and a sailor charged with trying to prevent the ship’s captain from knowing about all the livestock being carried on board in Up the Creek (1958).
Other parts included Major Proudfoot in Law and Disorder (1958); an army adjutant trying to impose regulations on Anthony Newley’s conscripted pop singer in Idol on Parade (1959); and a prison officer attempting to discipline Peter Sellers and Bernard Cribbins in Two-Way Stretch (1960).
Jeffries continued in this vein for another two decades, samples being The Hellions (1961); The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963); First Men in the Moon (1964); You Must be Joking! (1965); Rocket to the Moon (1967); Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), in which he played Grandpa Potts; and The Prisoner of Zenda (1978). In all he appeared in 70 films between 1949 and 1988.
His television credits included the title role in Father Charlie, about an eccentric priest assigned as spiritual adviser to a convent; the sitcom Tom, Dick and Harriet; and the series All for Love, Shillingbury Tales, and (opposite Peggy Ashcroft) Cream in my Coffee.
Lionel Jeffries married, in 1951, Eileen Mary Walsh, who survives him with their son and two daughters.