Denton a village in South Norfolk, England

Malcolm Anderson Reid, September 24th, 1935 - 22nd December, 2019.

Malcolm was born in the village of Necton, near to Swaffham, Norfolk in a bedroom of the Three Tuns Inn, no longer standing, situated near the present A47 main road. His father , a Scot, Alexander Crabbe Reid, and his mother, a Norfolk “dumpling”, Ethel Maud (nee Bunning), were lodging at the inn. They were more permanently residing in the neighbouring village of Holme Hale.

Malcolm’s second name, Anderson, had connections with his father’s lineage, and his clan tartan was that of Robertson.

Being brought up in the Norfolk countryside gave Malcolm an enduring love and respect for Nature, birds in particular, and often followed closely in his father’s footsteps as they carefully explored the countryside.

After only a few of Malcolm’s early years in Norfolk the family had to move around the country during the second world war to a variety of locations as his father pursued his job of Clerk of Works for the Air Ministry, organising bands of men to work upon, and repair, airfields and their buildings. This inevitably led to Malcolm’s education being irregular as he attended a variety of schools far apart from each other.

In more peaceful times, after the war, the family took up residence in the village of Naphill, near to High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, situated on the Chiltern Hills and only one village away was the huge RAF establishment known as Bomber Command. This siting of where they were to live was probably governed by Alex’s continuing work for the Air Ministry, quite often having to visit some of the American air bases nearby and, in particular, the USAF base at High Wycombe.

The village of Naphill is built on the edge of a Common, rich in woodland and glades, with a busy life of flora and fauna. The Common stretches over the top of the hill and is a short walk from the village of West Wycombe, home to the notorious Dashwood family of the Hell-Fire Club during the 18th Century. Dashwood House had a small part to play in Malcolm’s later career.

After completing his schooling in High Wycombe, Malcolm, reaching the age of 18, had to do his National Service and was placed in the RAF for two years. Approached at first with dread, Malcolm soon found the whole experience liberating. The companionship of lads his own age helped his persona to blossom, and, because his surname reminded everybody of a popular radio comedian of that time, he soon was dubbed with the nickname “Al”.

In October 1956, along with a bunch of fellow students, he attended the first day of a three-year course in Speech and Drama at the Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, Kent intent on forging a career as an actor. Also, there on that day was the compiler of this record, and the two of them began a long association of friendship.

After graduation, three years later, Malcolm took up his first job as a member of the Caryl Jenner Children’s Theatre Company, which toured original children’s stories throughout the UK. His debut part was as an Eastern God statue, requiring him to maintain a pose of stillness, like a Buddha, for the first 20 minutes of the action, until the god was given the gift of movement. A tough 20 minutes without laughing at the antics of his fellow actors and with much of his body covered with green make-up.

In the very early 1960s Malcolm became a member of the prestigious Old Vic Company in London at Waterloo. This also gave rise for him to take the opportunity to travel far and wide when the Old Vic Co., in 1961, toured their productions to major capitals and cities of Europe, and later to the USA. Not only was Malcolm absorbing foreign cultures, but he was also able to absorb the acting talents of his fellow company members, people like Judi Dench and Alec McCowan. This kind of experience proved valuable when, in following years, he worked at a selection of Repertory Theatres in places like Manchester, Liverpool, Harrogate, performing major roles and working alongside young actors such as Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins.

It was while he was working at the Playhouse, Liverpool that he fell in love with and married fellow actor Helena de Crespo. After their wedding ceremony they were both performing again that evening on stage, but they were soon to spend their honeymoon in Scotland, the home of Malcolm’s ancestors.

Home for the married couple became a flat in Westcliffe on Sea where Malcolm joined the company of players at the repertory theatre, playing leading roles including that of the male lead in the musical “Irma La Douce”, quite an achievement for someone who could not read music and whose only experience with any musical instrument had been the ability to click castanets !

Sadly, after a period of two to three years the marriage suffered a blow when Helena made the decision to leave her husband, but despite suffering much distress, Malcolm maintained his resilience and kept his artistic life going by doing some work in London’s West End. He was fortunate to join Sir Ralph Richardson’s company, playing supporting roles with the great man in a season of plays at the very fine Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Sir Ralph made a special friend of Malcolm when he discovered that he had an interest in birds, and would sometimes bring his own pet parrot, Jose, into the theatre and then invite Malcolm to “come to my dressing room; Jose would like to have a word with you”.

Ever having kept in touch with his friend Malcolm since leaving drama school, in 1968 I, the compiler of this record, asked him if he would like to share the residence of a flat in Fulham, quite close to the Thames at Putney. So, began in earnest an enduring relationship for both, which lasted until Malcolm’s death late in 2019.

Fifty years before his death Malcolm auditioned for, and joined, the National Theatre Company when it was being led by Sir Laurence (later Lord) Olivier, continuing with them for several years until Peter Hall took over the reins. The NTC during Olivier’s regime made its home at the Old Vic Theatre with which Malcolm had been very familiar in his past. During this time with the company, he played alongside some of our great and popular actors: Lord Olivier, Joan Plowright, Denis Quilley, Anthony Hopkins, John Moffat, Edward Woodward, Ronald Pickup, Jeremy Brett, Diana Rigg, and the specially revered Paul Scofield. Also, he travelled with the company when they took the production of the comedy “The Front Page” to Australia, and relished the playing of his character, Bensinger, as they toured three state capitals, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide.

In the years following the end of the Olivier/National Theatre era Malcolm worked in a widening variety of entertainment fields, not only in Theatre such as at the University Theatre in Southampton, where he played Jacques in “As You Like It” (the cast also included the young Samantha Bond), but at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry where he played Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”, but he also broke into the acting field of radio when he joined the BBC Drama Repertory Company and performed in many plays. Then a BBC Television opportunity opened up and he was engaged to play Mr Mantalini in a serialised version of Nicholas Nickleby. He was partnered with Patricia Routledge as Mrs Mantolini and the title part was performed by the youthful Nigel Havers. This production was issued later as a DVD and joined another DVD success in Malcolm’s repertory which had been issued a few years earlier, the National Theatre’s production of “The Merchant …” with Laurence Olivier as Shylock and his wife, Joan Plowright, as Portia. Malcolm played Lorenzo who elopes with the Jew’s daughter Jessica. The production had been directed by Jonathan Miller, and it was during the filming of the scenes at Belmont that recording took place at the aforesaid Dashwood House, a perfect setting for the “Moonlight scene” where Lorenzo delivers his most beautiful lines; the same Shakespearean lines which Ralph Vaughan-Williams used to compose “Serenade to Music”.

It is at this point that I should mention two other recordings in which Malcolm took part in the early 1970s, both probably now rare to find. Two LPs. One was as a little old man who buys a cow from Jack for a bag of magic beans in “Jack and the Beanstalk” where he sings the song “Magic”, and the other where he sings a song called “Application” in the recording of the National Theatre musical “Tyger”.

Whenever finance and time made it possible Malcolm and I took opportunities to holiday in a variety of countries, concentrating on viewing wildlife. This took us to Peru, to Kenya, to the United States, Australia (including Tasmania), and Rwanda. The last-named destination was primarily to view birds but included two visits to wild groups of Mountain Gorillas.

Malcolm’s parents died during the late 70s, two years apart, and he took upon himself the care for them during their illnesses, and then organised on his own the celebratory meals for each of them after their funerals. Such was the depth of his sense of devotion, duty, and love.

Following the sales of his London home and his parents’ old home, Malcolm moved with me to the village of Denton, into Home Farm, a 17th Century building with an early 20th Century extension. This building had earlier been known as Hill Farm and Upper Farm. The long task of renovation of the house began in 1983 and continues today, even one year after Malcolm’s death, as the writer of these words can verify.

Having been born in Norfolk, it was a particular pleasure for Malcolm to be re-united with that county and he valued living in a rural setting where his appreciation of Nature could be indulged. Work was often offered to him at the Ipswich Wolsey Theatre, then run by Anthony (Dick) Tuckey, an employer who had used his talents before at other theatres.

At first Malcolm wished to live a life of privacy within Denton, but gradually as connections grew with individuals in the local populace so friendships grew, and, at his funeral ceremony in January 2020 at the Beccles Crematorium, friends, from both the village and from many far-flung parts of the country, crowded together in such numbers that the overflow could be described as “they were standing in the aisles !”

Malcolm Anderson Reid, born – Necton, 24th September 1935; died – Denton, 22nd December 2019 following a long battle with cancer, and liver disease. His ashes have been scattered in places that are personal, and that matter.

A life well lived, and a life well loved.

Brian Hewlett.

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