Guest Actor Biography
Page 39 of 127

   

Ronald Fraser

Sir Horace Winslip, The Gravediggers

by Pete Stampede

In fine form here as Sir Horace, Ronald Fraser was a junior member of the trail-blazing, hard-drinking group of British actors who came to prominence in the late 50's and early 60's—the Burtons, Harrises and O'Toole's, all of whom he acted with at some stage. Unlike them, he was more suited to character roles than leads—after all, he once described himself as "a decaying old thing resembling a porcupine". Ronnie—as he was known to everyone in show business, if never billed as such on screen—Fraser was required casting in British war films, starting with The Long and the Short and the Tall (1960). He extended slightly into Hollywood, in Robert Aldrich's The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). Again for Aldrich, he was excellent as a nasty Scottish platoon member in Too Late the Hero (1969) with Michael Caine, a film I know off by heart and have seen more times than is really healthy. In 1970, Fraser starred in a well-remembered but never repeated ATV series, The Misfit, as a relic of British Imperialism coming face to face with Swinging London: Patrick "Mother" Newell played his more conventional brother. The same year, he played an inept Conservative Prime Minister alongside Peter Cook and John Cleese in their self-penned The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer; he actually drank in the same pub as Cook (the Flask, in Hampstead).

But later that decade, his films became fewer and less flattering. Truly, his nadir (and maybe that of British films in general) was the abysmal "sex comedy" Come Play With Me (1977); he was one of several well-known comedy actors who signed on for this rubbish thinking it was going to be an ordinary comedy, and later complained to the press about the near-porn result. And The Wild Geese (1978), politically incorrectly filmed in South Africa, didn't do him, or any of its ageing cast any favours; their heavy drinking on set was no secret. As one obituary of Fraser put it, though he was never exactly under-employed, he was certainly often under-used, producers often casting him to give an instant impression of a character, possibly his real-life one. Certainly, his appearance as a drunken passenger in Brideshead Revisited (1982) felt uncomfortably close to real life. In the mid-80's, apparently sobered up, Fraser did The Practice, a routine early evening soap. He was effective as a corrupt MP in Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven (1978); oddly cast as an Italian bandit in Danger Man, "The Brothers" (1960), he was more at home as a Cockney villain in both The Sweeny, "Selected Targets" (1977) and Minder, "Not a Sorry Lorry, Morrie" (1988). A good late role, if again playing on his usual image, was a naughty judge in the 1996 adaptation of Moll Flanders, with an almost unrecognisable Diana Rigg as Moll's mother. At least, after Fraser died of internal haemorrhaging in 1997, his peers remembered him: the pallbearers at his funeral were Sean Connery, Peter O'Toole, Simon Ward (star of Young Winston) and Chris Evans (disc-jockey and egotistical loon).

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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