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Clifford Rose

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2021-11-11 Times.jpg


Veteran actor and founding member of the RSC who made his name playing the ruthless Gestapo officer in Secret Army

When Clifford Rose played the Gestapo officer Ludwig Kessler in the 1970s BBC television drama Secret Army, he was so convincing that a German woman wrote to him saying he resembled her husband who had been killed in the war and that she would like to invite him to tea.

He didn't take up the invitation but his portrayal was so potent that when Secret Army ended after three series, the BBC asked him to reprise the role in Kessler, a six-part 1981 drama that transported the story to the modern day, in which the former Sturmbann-führer (assault unit leader, a rank equivalent to major) had changed his name and become a rich industrialist trying to escape detection of his past as a war criminal.

With his stern, rimless glasses and clipped tones, Kessler became Rose's defining role in a career that spanned seven decades. "At first Kessler was a one-dimensional Nazi villain but as the series went on they gave me a mistress, which was the making of the character and allowed me to present another side of him," he recalled.

When he was invited to meet Secret Army's producer Gerard Glaister, who planned the drama as a follow-up to his successful Colditz series, he was offered the role on the spot. "There was no question I was going to get the part and I left with the scripts for the first 12 episodes," he recalled. He spent the following weeks preparing for the role by researching Nazi history at the Imperial War Museum.

"It was about five years not doing anything else. It was utterly time-consuming but it got an enormous amount of recognition and people stopped me in the street," he said in 2020.

Stratford-upon-Avon was not only where he lived for much of his life, but was his spiritual home, too. A founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, over the course of his career he appeared in all but two of the Bard's 37 plays, the exceptions being King John and Henry VIII.

He cited as his personal favourite The Merchant of Venice, in which he played Antonio in a 2004 RSC production, but he rated playing the ghost of Hamlet's father not far behind in Adrian Noble's 1992 modern-dress production with Kenneth Branagh as the prince.

It was, he suggested, his years of experience as a Shakespearean actor that gave him such authority as Kessler and he went on to be seen regularly on television in a variety of other shows, including Doctor Who, Fortunes of War, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, Alan Bleasdale's 1991 drama series GBH and War and Remembrance, in which he signed on again with the SS to play Hans Kammler, who directed the construction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

His wife, the actress Celia Ryder, predeceased him in 2012 after a 55-year marriage and he is survived by their two children, Duncan Roslair, a retired hypnotherapist, and Rosalind Cooke, a medical secretary. Both were named after Shakespearean characters in the plays in which he was appearing at the time of their birth.

John Clifford Rose was born in 1929 in the Herefordshire village of Hamnish Clifford, the eldest of two sons to Ethel (née Pratt) and Percival Rose. His parents had a smallholding and his father was also a lay preacher.

He won a scholarship as a boarder to King's Worcester, whose school tie he wore when playing the gynaecologist to Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher in the 2011 biopic, The Iron Lady. He decided the tie that the wardrobe department had supplied was "too garish" and substituted his own.

He hoped to become a surgeon and on leaving school in 1948 applied five times to medical school. He reported that he "couldn't get in because they had a quota system whereby you had to have either been in the army or have done your National Service, which 1 didn't want to do".

However, he had also starred in school plays and after playing Macbeth' in his final year, his headmaster had written in his school report: "If you ever want to become a professional actor I think you have the makings of it and I would back you."

Unable to get into medical school, he read English at King's College London. By the time he graduated, his younger brother, David. was training at Rada and his parents suggested he should also "have a go" at the theatre.

He made his London stage debut in 1953 with John Barton's Elizabethan Theatre Company. Seven years later Barton co-founded the RSC with Peter Hall, and Rose was one of the first actors engaged by the new company.

He went on to work with Donald Sinden, Paul Scofield, Vanessa Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft, who took him under her wing. "I adored her and she often invited me to her dressing room after a show for a drink," he recalled.

When he appeared in On Stranger Tides, the fourth of the Pirates of the Caribbean films in 2011, he found a new audience who had never seen him with the RSC or as Kessler. He continued working almost to the end of his long life, most notably playing the Dean of Windsor in The Crown.

Clifford Rose, actor, was born on October 24, 1929. He died on November 6, 2021, aged 92

Caption: Clifford Rose as Ludwig Kessler

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