Norman Rossington A fine actor who, uniquely, played with the Beatles and Elvis - An Obituary.
By Dennis Barker Saturday May 22, 1999 Norman Rossington, who has died aged 70 of cancer, was a raw-boned character actor who found his place in the late 1950s era of early commercial television comedy and Carry On films, became established in the early 1960s age of the new wave and the Beatles, and went on to prove himself a long-stayer with more than 40 screen appearances.He enjoyed several lengthy stage runs, and recently beat his own record of 540 consecutive performances as Nathan Detroit in Guys And Dolls at the National Theatre with his last West End appearance as Maurice, Beauty's father in Beauty And The Beast.
Rossington first appeared on screen in a weak 1956 adaptation of Three Men In A Boat. Two years later, he featured in the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant. That part was an early example of small-screen crossover, since he was by then established as Private Cupcake in commercial television's The Army Game - the comedy series that was ITV's first comedy smash in the era of two channel television.
Three more Carry On films were to follow, but more significantly, in 1960 Rossington played the pragmatic, phlegmatic friend to Albert Finney's working-class rebel in a core film of the English new wave, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. Rossington was becoming part of that repertory company which sustains the British screen. He was not a star, and cheerfully knew it, but he was a reliable player in anything from broad, popular comedy to more thoughtful and radical fare.
In 1962, he appeared both in the D-Day epic The Longest Day and in David Lean's classic Lawrence Of Arabia. Two years after that, he struggled through an ill-conceived role as the Beatles' road manager in Dick Lester's A Hard Day's Night. His other films that decade included Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965), The Wrong Box (1966) and, in 1968, Tony Richardson's The Charge Of The Light Brigade, playing Sergeant Major Corbett, about which he was anecdotally enthusiastic. Indeed, it spurred him to join the Crimea War Research Society.
He also featured in Tobruk (1967), with Rock Hudson and, in an era when English accents provided credibility on the cheap, in Double Trouble, with Elvis Presley. Thus was he the only actor to appear on screen with the Beatles and the King. He was asked to stay in Hollywood, he said, but Los Angeles was not for him.
Rossington was born in Liverpool, the son of a publican, and left school at 14. He worked as a messenger and office boy at Liverpool docks before becoming an apprentice carpenter, while studying French and building at night school, which got him his school certificate. He trained to be a draughtsman, and then studied industrial design.
Just about the only thing he didn't think of becoming was an actor. It wasn't until he was 19 that he went with a friend, Kenneth Cope - he of the 1960s BBC television satirical programme That Was The Week That Was and Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) - to a church social. Rossington took part in a sketch, for what he saw as a lark. He was invited to join a local drama group.
He recalled taking to it like a duck to water. He trained at Bristol Old Vic theatre School, and appeared at the theatre Royal, Bristol, home of the Bristol Old Vic, which he joined in productions varying from classics to Salad Days, his first musical. In 1954, he was appearing as Snout in A Midsumer Night's Dream on an Old Vic American tour, which also took in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
The West End came later. Rossington played in Christopher Fry's Tiger At The Gates at the Apollo theatre. He was Starkey in Peter Pan, and appeared in Brecht On Brecht, with Lotte Lenya, at the Royal Court.
In 1963 Rossington joined Laurence Olivier's company in Chichester, the embryo of the National theatre. Apart from the National, he also worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, played Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Micawber in David Copperfield, Tony Weller in Pickwick, and Charlie Davenport in the 1992 production of Annie Get Your Gun in the West End. From the 1970s onwards, there were fewer film roles, but plenty of television, including productions ranging from Robert Graves's I Claudius, in 1976, to Sharpe's Regiment in 1996.
Rossington attributed his staying power to scouse soup - 'cheap and nutritious', he observed, 'and, growing up in Liverpool, we ate plenty of it." Early in his life Norman Rossington was married to an actress for three years and then divorced. Earlier this year, he married an old friend, Cindy Barnes. ?
Norman Rossington, actor, born December 24, 1928, died May 21, 1999
(Norman Rossington appeared in three Carry Ons. Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse and Carry On Regardless, and was an essential element in the very early Carry Ons.)