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Obituary: Geoffrey Palmer, actor whose distinctive face and voice made him a much-loved star




Passed away on November 5, 2020.

GEOFFREY Palmer, who died at the age of 93, was a ubiquitous and instantly recognizable device on the small screen. His executioner dog features exemplified Eeyore’s intonations, which emerged in a voice of disappointed authority. With a delivery that was both unofficial and charmingly sad, Palmer’s slow sense of tragicomic timing lent itself perfectly to a seemingly endless vein of emotionally stunted little Britons that he played over his 60-year career.

This was the case in the series of sitcom roles that first gave him a national profile in the 1970s. It started with Jimmy, the ex-army reactionary grappling with

a “cock-up on the restoration front” in The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (1976-1979) by David Nobbs. Palmer then played a potential Jimmy-like vigilante in the center of the Fairly Secret Army scripted by Nobbs (1984-1986).

In Butterflies (1978–1983), Carla Lane’s poignant tale of a woman’s attempt to find life beyond her mind-numbing marriage saw Palmer play Ben, Ria’s brooding and moody husband painfully dissatisfied with Wendy. Craig.

While Palmer’s characters did their introspection largely on the fringes, they seemed to embody

a sort of constipated suburban collective boredom. This mellowed out for Bob Larbey’s sweet comedy As Time Goes By (1992-2000), in which Palmer played Lionel, a military man who meets his former lover Jean, played by Judi Dench, after their separation 38 years over. early.

Throughout it all, Palmer has become the low-key face and voice of the middle, middle-aged and middle class of England. This led to other opportunities, with Palmer’s mellow tones putting the phrase “Vorsprung durch Technik” – this translates from German as “progress through technology” – into popular parlance through a TV advertising for Audi cars. Audi has given Palmer a new car every year for his efforts.

Palmer was also co-opted to bring some seriousness to an oral adaptation of Nietzsche’s The Birth Of Tragedy which introduced one of the 12-inch mixes from Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s fourth single, Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1985). Whether

By accident or by design, Palmer uttered the last word like Pleasuredrome. The error added another dimension to Palmer’s unruffled but inherently alarmed sound performance. This made him a natural offscreen narrator for Grumpy Old Men (2003-2006), his commentary on the inconveniences of modern life for the unreconstructed male sounding like a dinosaur’s last fight.

Geoffrey Dyson Palmer was born in London to Frederick, a Chartered Surveyor, and Norah. He attended Highgate School from 1939 to 1945, before doing two years of national service as a corporal instructor in small arms and field training with the Royal Marines. He first took up the respectable profession of accountant, before a girlfriend led him astray in amateur theater.

His professional career began at the new writing empire of the 1950s, the Q Theater in Kew, then in Croydon and several years in representation before joining the Wilson Barrett touring company in Scotland.

On television, he was a regular in The Army Game (1959-1960), played various police officers in Bootsie And Snudge (1960-1963), and was seen in four different roles in The Avengers (1961-1965). There were guest seats in many other shows as professors, superintendents, and other high-ranking officials.

Palmer’s appearance at the Royal Court in John Osborne’s West Of Suez (1971) led to a small role in Lindsay Anderson’s big screen on the Brechtian epic, O Lucky Man! (1973). He appeared in Christopher Hampton’s play Savages the same year and, in 1974, in Laurence Olivier’s production at the National Theater in Eden End by JB Priestley.

Guest roles on television included an episode of Fawlty Towers, in which Palmer played an increasingly enraged doctor trying to eat breakfast in the face of the chaos caused by a corpse. Palmer then worked with star and co-creator of the program, John Cleese, in Clockwise (1986) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

Other films include The Honorary Consul (1983), A Zed & Two Noughts by Peter Greenaway (1985), The Madness of King George (1994), Mrs Brown (1997) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

Palmer received an OBE in 2004, and his later years saw him perform a military-type roll call titled toffs. He was Lord Scarman in an episode of Ashes To Ashes (2008) and Sir John Crowder in Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley (2008). He played a vice-admiral in a 2009 episode of Poirot directed by his son Charles, was Lord Chief Justice in The Hollow Crown, and gave voice to Sir Buster Sparks, whose grandsons are trying to sell his stack of campaign in The Last Sparks Of Sundown (2014).

He played the chief geographer at Paddington that same year, and will be seen posthumously as the future Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher in An Unquiet Life, a study of the relationship between writer Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. The couple lived in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, where Palmer and his family have also settled.

Lately, Palmer has become involved in a campaign against the crossing of the HS2 railway line near his home in Buckinghamshire. As with every other role he has played, Palmer has taken part in this piece of community activism with a calm but overpowering gravity.

He is survived by his wife Sally and his two children, Charles and Harriet.

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