<The Times, September 7, 1987>
<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
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
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
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
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