Bryan Matheson (34-36)
Bryan Matheson (34-36) who died on September 21, 2017, aged 97 was an actor, playwright and theatre manager who spent the final 27 years of his life in Denville Hall, the home for retired actors in Northwood, London. Someone who worked with many of the leading performers and directors of his era, he referred to his fellow thespians as providers of “the champagne of life” although a good win at Kempton Park races might also have pleased him. With a natural shyness, he tended to keep people at arm’s length, perhaps due to the rejection he suffered at times in his career and to the loss of his family during the Second World War. He never married. A relative by marriage, Colonel Tim Hall, gave the Tribute at his cremation. In part, he said:
“His education at the Nautical College, Pangbourne cannot have been easy in those days but he looked back without complaint, appreciating the self-reliance it brought and some friendships that lasted. Any dreams he had of following his father into the Merchant Navy were scuppered by poor eyesight. Instead, he took to the boards aged 16, appearing for the first time as a professional as a pirate in Robinson Crusoe at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith at £4 a week. Later he trained at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and then began a hugely varied career in the world of entertainment which was a testament to his versatility, his nerve, his self-belief in himself as an actor and his easy charm.”
Rejected for service in the RNVR in World War 11 on medical grounds, he joined ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) and in 1941 travelled to the Middle East with “the first straight play company to be sent there, playing to great acclaim in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, often in the open desert.” After the war, he found the going tough and for a time worked on the management and publicity side of the theatre in Bristol. In the 1970s he returned to full-time acting and began a long stint in lesser roles in film and in television series including Poirot, Tales of the Unexpected, Brookside, Casualty, Midsommer Murders and finally, aged 88, in After You’ve Gone. He also wrote several unpublished plays together with many published feature articles for journals and magazines and short stories for BBC Radio 4 as well as the occasional voice over and advertisement.
“For myself,” ended Col. Hall, “I recall a gentle, dignified and most courageous person, not easily given to complaint – a man of humour with a gently chuckling laugh, of easy charm, a prodigious if occasionally wicked raconteur and conversationalist, a generous supporter of a wide variety of charities, and a proud, determined man keen to get the most out of life regardless of the physical challenges…above all, modest about his achievements.”
Lionel Stephens adds: “I knew Bryan for at least 30 years. He had an enduring charm and a strange affection for the College which is remarkable because in those early days it was certainly a tough school. Once, he invited Pat and myself to see him in a play at Basingstoke, in a very minor part in the role of a butler. I was unable to make contact with him for a year or two in Denville Hall and wrote asking if he was still alive. The result was a phone call from Bryan, apparently holding my letter in his hand. It was the last time we were to talk.”