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[Deathwatch] Ian Carmichael, Comic British Actor, 89




February 10, 2010

Ian Carmichael, Comic British Actor, Dies at 89

Ian Carmichael, a debonair actor who made a specialty of playing the well-meaning buffoon in British films of the 1950s and who went on to star on television as Bertie Wooster, P. G. Wodehouse’s oblivious twit, and Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy Sayers’s aristocratic detective, died Friday at his home in Grosmont, in northern England. He was 89.

His family confirmed his death, The Associated Press said.

Mr. Carmichael’s career lasted more than 60 years, and he was appearing on the British television series “The Royal” as late as last year. He was probably most familiar to American audiences as Wimsey, appearing in the role in several BBC series that were shown on American television in the 1970s. He said he was more like the trim, urbane and clever Wimsey than many of the clueless men he had played as a film comedian 20 years earlier.

“There is quite a lot of me in Wimsey,” he told The New York Times in 1976.

Nonetheless, it was as a lovable goofball that he became, for a time, a British movie star. After appearing in small or supporting roles in several dramatic films (including “Betrayed,” with Clark Gable and Lana Turner), Mr. Carmichael had roles in a number of lighthearted satires playing some version of a bumbling naïf.

The films, produced and directed by the brothers Ray and John Boulting, included “Private’s Progress,” a send-up of life in the British Army set during World War II, and “Brothers in Law,” a broad tweak of lawyers, both also starring Richard Attenborough and Terry-Thomas; “I’m All Right Jack,” a lampoon of labor unions and management, with Attenborough, Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers; and “Lucky Jim,” an adaptation of Kingsley Amis’s spoof of academe, with Terry-Thomas and Hugh Griffith.

Mr. Carmichael also starred in the astringent comedy “School for Scoundrels,” with Terry-Thomas and Alastair Sim, about a sweetheart of a guy who takes lessons to become more cutthroat, directed by Robert Hamer (“Kind Hearts and Coronets”).

In 1965, Mr. Carmichael appeared on Broadway in “Boeing-Boeing,” a sex farce that had a successful revival in 2008 but whose original production lasted a mere 23 performances.

“So I went over there and, I’m delighted to say, the play flopped,” he said in a 2002 interview with the British Film Institute. “I hated New York. I loathed it.”

When the closing notice was posted, he took a job that he had initially resisted — as Bertie Wooster on the television series “The World of Wooster,” which ran for two years. He never returned to Broadway.

Ian Gillett Carmichael was born in Hull, England, on June 18, 1920. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared onstage for the first time at 19. He served in the British Army during World War II and returned to the theater in a long-forgotten play called “She Wanted a Cream Front Door.” He also appeared in musical comedy revues. Eventually he played Simon in the marital comedy “Simon and Laura,” which was made into a film, which in turn brought him to the attention of the Boulting brothers.

Mr. Carmichael’s first wife, Pym McLean, died in 1983. They had two daughters, Lee and Sally, who survive him, The Telegraph of London reported, adding that he is also survived by his wife, Kate Fenton, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.