Actor Peter Bowles, famous for starring in the BBC comedy series To the Manor Born, has died at the age of 85

Actor Peter Bowles, famous for starring opposite Penelope Keith in BBC comedy series To the Manor Born, has died at the age of 85, his agent has confirmed.

He also appeared in films such as The Bank Job, Eyewitness and the Steal as well as TV shows including Victoria, Magnolia Street and Only When I Laugh.

The actor’s agent said Bowles had “sadly passed away from cancer”.

“He leaves his wife of over 60 years, Sue, and their three children Guy, Adam and Sasha.”

The statement continued: “Starting his career at the Old Vic Theatre in 1956, he starred in 45 theatrical productions ending at the age of 81 in The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre.

Bowles starred opposite actress Penelope Keith in To The Manor Born

“He worked consistently on stage and screen, becoming a household name on TV as the archetypal English gent in To The Manor Born, Only When I Laugh, The Bounder and Lytton’s Diary, which he devised himself.”

Columnist and presenter Piers Morgan said Bowles was a “wonderful actor who exuded roguish British charm…. sad news”.

Bowles was best known for his role as Richard DeVere in To The Manor Born which aired from 1979 to 1981, starring as the self-made businessman alongside Dame Penelope Keith, with the pair reprising their roles in a 2007 special.

The show regularly attracted TV audiences of 20 million and became what Bowles was best known for.

Acting scholarship

He told the Daily Mail in 2018 he became something of an overnight success in his 40s after starring in the comedy, having not even been invited to the show’s press launch.

The paper said that the day after it screened he was “tooted at in the street by fans driving past and, later, given a standing ovation when he walked on stage in the West End”.

“It did not go down well with the rest of the cast!” he added.

He told the Mail he was “trained to be a leading Shakespearean actor. The voice! The presence! The size! But I never had a lead.” In about 2013 he was offered King Lear, but he explained it came too late: “I turned it down – I was too old!’

Born in London in 1936, he grew up in Nottingham and won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada).

He cut his teeth on stage with the Old Vic Company before embarking on a successful TV career.

Speaking about his success in sitcoms, he told the PA news agency in 2010: “If you have a great popular TV success, particularly in comedy, people don’t think you can act on stage.

“People thought I was just a sitcom actor and the BBC told me I’d never work in drama again. I didn’t realise there were two worlds. It was new to me. I found it very odd and frustrating.”

Bowles starred in a Christmas special of To The Manor born in 2007 to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary

During the Second World War his father worked as an engineer at Rolls-Royce and when Bowles was six the family moved to one of the poorest working-class districts of Nottingham. Their house had an outside toilet and no bath.

“We were in a Coronation Street environment but everyone was extremely friendly and there were lots of kids. It was terrific,” he said previously.

After appearing in amateur plays in Nottingham, when he won his Rada scholarship, he lost his Midlands accent.

He was reunited with Dame Penelope in a regional tour of Sheridan’s The Rivals, directed by Sir Peter Hall, in 2010.

In 2016, he starred in BBC Two series Murder, which delved into the psyches of everyone involved in a murder case through testimony delivered straight to camera by each character.

He recently played the role of the Duke of Wellington alongside Jenna Coleman in the popular ITV series Victoria.

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