Bill Fraser (1908 - 1987)

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Birthplace: Perth, Perth and Kinross, Scotland, United Kingdom
Death: Died
Managed by: Michael Rhodes
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About Bill Fraser

<The Times, September 7, 1987>

<BILL FRASER>

<Exact and generous professional>

Bill Fraser, actor, who died on September 5, at the age of 79, had so vast a television public for his long-sustained performance of Sergeant Major Snudge ("Ave no fear, Snudge is 'ere") to the Bootsie of Alfie Bass, that his work in the theatre could have been undervalued.

Basically a comedian, he had when needed, a quiet, emotional quality that he used with effect in such a part as the impoverished Telyegin in Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya."

A big man, loosely built, with eyes expressively watchful, angry or hurt, he had a redoubtable vocal authority - "a voice that sounds as if it has been funnelled through vintage port", as it was once described. He could fit it to Shavian precision or to the slurring (never exaggerated) of the drunken Yorkshire photographer in Priestley's "When we are Married", a man like a gently toppling bear.

It took him some time to be fully recognized, though among his colleagues he was always accepted as an exact and generous professional, entirely assured in a range of parts to which, physically, he was assigned from the first.

In middle age he became familiar at the Chichester Festival, and at Stratford he was perfectly cast in the jovial skirmishing of Sir Toby in "Twelfth Night". But once had made his major television success - first in "The Army Game" and, later, in "Bootsie and Snudge" - it was hard to speak of him without reverting to the much-loved partnership with Alfie Bass (who died only a few weeks ago) as the malingering Bootsie.

Fraser was a Scot, born at Perth on June 5, 1908, and intended originally for a commercial career as a bank clerk. He finally persuaded his parents to let him go on stage.

"They were convinced I would go to hell. Instead, I went to London." So poverty-stricken were his early days that he spent nights sleeping on the Embankment.

An early chore, he later recalled, was to learn English. He compiled his own Scottish-English "dictionary" and he spent hours reciting "While I was on the balcony eating salmon I saw a mass of people of the grass."

He came to the stage in his early twenties and had experience in repertory and on a Far Eastern tour. It was in 1933, only two years after going into the theatre, that he formed his own repertory company at the Connaught, Worthing, and this he ran with much success until the beginning of the war. Among his recruits there (in 1936) was Peter Cushing, who has written gratefully of Fraser's compassionate response to a newcomer.

When he left Worthing, Fraser appeared in London in two versions (at the Comedy and Apollo) of the review, "New Faces."

He served from 1941 as a signals officer in the RAF. At Eindhoven he decided to put on a Christmas show and called for volunteers. Among those who came forward were Eric Sykes ('I can do drunk men very well") and Denis Nordern.

Fraser did not reach the stage again until a revue at the Playhouse in 1946. For some time afterwards he was in supporting parts in the West End and elsewhere, and from 1956 to 1958 he directed a summer show at coastal resorts. PARA Still, by now "The Army Game", which would go to "Bootsie and Snudge", was glorifying Fraser and Bass. It would be 1963 before Fraser arrived at the Mermaid as Bullinger in Brecht's "Schweyk in the Second World War".

During the mid-1960s he had his earliest Chichester Festival seasons when he played (with Alastair Sim) in "The Clandestine Marriage", with John Clements as the Porter in "Macbeth"; and Pishchik in "The Cherry Orchard", there showing his restrained emotional power in the scene when the old neighbour realizes that the family is going for the last time.

In the following year (1967) he was people as different but as credibly created as Phillpott's Devon farmer in "The Farmer's Wife", and Shaw's Boss Mangan in "Heartbreak House", which he acted later in the West End. By now it was obvious that Fraser would appear with the Royal Shakespeare Company which he did at Stratford in 1969 as Sir Toby with the National (at the Old Vic) where his part in 1970-71 included Sir George in Shaw's early "Mrs Warren's Profession" and Croaker in Goldsmith's seldom revived "The Good Natured Man". In 1973, he was that Shavian dictionary of quotations, Tarleton, in "Misalliance" at the Mermaid; at Chichester (1975) the tannery owner Morten Kiil in Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People"; and there, in 1976, Maugham's irritable veteran, Lord Porteous, in "The Circle", afterwards at the Haymarket. So forward to Sir William Gower, remembering Kean, in "Trelawny of the Wells" at the Old Vic; sad Pishchik in "Uncle Vanya" (Haymarket, 1982); and the wandering photographer in Pristley's "When we are Married" (Whitehall, 1986). Meantime, his televisino appearances included Judge Bullimore in "Rumpole of the Bailey", "The Comedians", and a BBC serial "Flesh and Blood". He was also a splendid Mr Micawber in the BBC's serialization of "David Copperfield."

His films included "A Home of your Own", "The Eye of the Needle" and "Wagner", as well as several "Carry On" productions. Fraser cared deeply about the theatre, and an abiding dream was to see a theatre established to play Shaw's works in repertory all the year round. He contributed a (humorous) chapter to a guide to prospective shop owners, "Minding my own Business" (1960), based on his own experience running a sweet shop in Ilford. He married in 1981, the actress Pamela Cundell, a longtime friend. She survives him together with their stepdaughter.

END

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Bill Fraser's Timeline

1908
June 5, 1908
Perth, Perth and Kinross, Scotland, United Kingdom
1987
September 5, 1987
Age 79