Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1120575970

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: LANG; Robert-6/11/2004-UK
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 16:06:10 +0100

Robert Lang
(Filed: 17/11/2004)
The Daily Telegraph & the

Robert Lang, the character actor who has died aged 70, was a leading man in
Laurence Olivier's original National Theatre Company at the Old Vic and one
of the best trained and most skilful supporting players of his day; although
he never attained the popular recognition he deserved for his television
roles, he made numerous appearances on the small screen, applying his
considerable experience, authority and integrity to every role, however

An accomplished exponent of the classics, Lang came to prominence as one of
Olivier's group of contract players in the 1960s.

They had been hand-picked by Olivier who regarded Lang - along with Frank
Finlay, Lynn Redgrave, Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi - as an actor
destined "to be renowned". Indeed, Lang brought a noble bearing, resonant
voice, sharp timing and an eye for comic detail to all his acting in a
career that spanned more than four decades.

He had a penchant for military roles and his gallery of old soldiers,
rankers or brass hats often won affection. These amusing disciplinarians
ranged on television from Captain Broadbent in The Darling Buds of May to
General Halcut-Hackett in The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, and in the theatre
from Sgt-Major Tommy Lodge in the Keith Waterhouse-Willis Hall comedy,
Celebration (1959), to Captain Brazen in Farquhar's Recruiting Officer and
General Havelock, the title-part, in Charles Wood's play about the
colonising of India at the time of the Indian Mutiny.

Other characters to prosper under Lang's jaunty authority included the
Bishop of Beauvais in a National Theatre revival of Shaw's Saint Joan
(1963) - to which Lang brought what one critic called "quiet grandeur,
cogency and gravity" - and Martin Ruiz, the ageing chorus-figure and
commentator in Peter Shaffer's Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964).

But perhaps Lang's finest hour came when he took over from Olivier in The
Merchant of Venice (1970). As one of the favoured group in Olivier's company
judged worthy of a three-year contract, he often shared the Old Vic stage
with Olivier, who liked to run the National Theatre as a traditional

"There were less than a dozen of us on that (contract) basis," Lang later
recalled. "It might have been only a third of commercial rates but you had
continuity. A lot of good actors outside, who were trying to get in, must
have been very annoyed. For those who were inside, it was glorious."

Robert Lang was born at Bristol on September 24 1934 and educated at
Fairfield Grammar School and St Simon's Church School. Before training for
the stage at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, he worked as a

At 22 he made his first professional stage appearance at the Theatre Royal,
Bristol, playing the Doctor to Eric Porter's King Lear. During two seasons
with the Bristol Old Vic, Lang transferred to the West End in 1957 as Uncle
Ernest in Oh! My Papa.

Having played Polonius in the first of the Caryl Brahms-Ned Sherrin satires,
No Bed for Bacon (1959) at Bristol, Lang moved to Nottingham Playhouse,
where parts included the title roles in Richard III and Chekhov's Platonov.

He then played Othello at Canterbury, before stints with London's two
leading subsidised troupes - the English Stage Company and the Royal
Shakespeare Company.

When Olivier, as artistic director at Chichester Festival, was forming a
company for its inaugural season in 1962, he cast Lang in both of the
opening Jacobean dramas. Since the first two Chichester seasons were
regarded as dry-runs for the National Theatre Company-to-be, Olivier invited
him back to Chichester in 1963 as the Bishop of Beauvais to Joan Plowright's
Saint Joan and as Police Sergeant Lumber in John Arden's Workhouse Donkey.

When the National Theatre proper opened later that year at the Old Vic with
Peter O'Toole's Hamlet, Lang was First Player. He went on to tour as Sir
Toby Belch in the New Shakespeare Company's revival of Twelfth Night, and
joined its board of directors.

Encouraged by a chance to direct Henry Fielding's Covent Garden Tragedy as
part of a triple bill for the National Theatre in 1969, Lang then directed
at the Cambridge Theatre Company.

Among Lang's productions there were The School for Scandal (1974) and The
Importance of Being Earnest (1975). That year, he became the company's
artistic director.

His other television credits include King Lear; Vanity Fair; A Dance to the
Music of Time; Our Mutual Friend and the recent remake of The Forsyte Saga.
On the big screen he appeared in Othello; Shout At The Devil and Four
Weddings and a Funeral.

His last film, which will be released next year, was Mrs Palfrey At The
Claremont, starring Joan Plowright. The film's director, Dan Ireland,
described Lang's performance as "astonishing and beautiful".

Robert Lang, who died on November 6, is survived by his wife, the actress
Ann Bell, and by their son and daughter.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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