21 April 2015 | Peter Howell (1919-2015)

The actor Peter Howell is well remembered as Dr Peter Harrison in 107 episodes of the UK soap Emergency Ward 10 (1957 onwards.) He used to get letters from fans asking for advice on professional healthcare, which of course he wasn't qualified to give.  Later he was Saruman in the BBC radio version of Lord of the Rings (1981 with Ian Holm as Frodo Baggins and Michael Hordern as Gandalf) and was very supportive when I was much later recruited to Middle-earth.

In 1964 I had shared a dressing-room with him, during my first play in London, A Scent of Flowers: and after just a few months he entrusted me to be godfather to his new daughter Tamara. We had bonded over politics. Peter was a staunch Labour party supporter, the sort of dedicated party member who diligently attends constituency meetings, organises committees and  stirs up sluggish voters at Election time. He couldn't do that this year, as he lay frail in his bed at Denville Hall. where many a distinguished actor ends his days. He died there in his sleep last night.

His life was dedicated to making the world a fairer place: fairer in both senses. He was appalled at social injustice and he loved the beauty of the arts. So he supported our union Equity at every turn and typically, almost single-handedly, he raised the funds to build a Thamesside theatre near his home in west London, Watermans Arts Centre. So he has a worthy memorial.

Ian McKellen, London, 21 April 2015

Ian McKellen and Peter Howell, Wimbledon 23 October 1964, before matinee of 'A Scent of Flowers.'

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