Daily Telegraph Obituary
on aged 76, was a character actor best known for his role as straight man to the television comics Benny Hill and Charlie
He had only to "feed" their clowning to raise laughter, but he did so
with immaculate, farcical solemnity. Few actors knew how to keep so straight a face in front of such sustained absurdity.
McGee made a brilliant foil.
From 1965 McGee forged a memorable partnership with Drake
in the television series The Worker, in which he played the hapless Employment Exchange official Mr Pugh; one job failure
after another would cause him, quivering with rage, to haul Drake over the counter by his lapels.
McGee began his 20-year association with Benny Hill, often serving as the announcer on Hill's television show, delivering
the introduction: "Yes! It's The Benny Hill Show!"
On the small screen, though,
his art came necessarily in snippets, whereas in the theatre it found a wider, deeper and more imaginative scope. It still
had, in farce, the same hilarious gravity; but the opportunity for characterisation and the exploitation of timing and teamwork
flourished on stage.
With his large, round eyes, uncompromising gaze, thrusting chin and
bushy eyebrows, McGee used his clown's face shrewdly. If not dead straight (in exasperated response to an acknowledged
clown) it could undergo a sequence of remarkable contortions to suit character or situation.
farce, comedy, melodrama or pantomime, McGee was a most disciplined actor. A straight stare could be as commanding as a long
face; a fixed grin as funny as a glare. Like all essentially comic actors, he could switch moods powerfully from frivolity
His gift for never showing in his looks or voice the least sign of anticipating
laughter made him one of the funniest actors on the British stage. Unlike most of the clowns with whom he worked on television,
he never let it be felt for a moment that he was contributing to the fun.
And, unlike many
exponents of farce, McGee also knew how to exploint the comic value of stillness - though in the theatre it was usually the
curl of a lip, the gleam of an eye, the flick of an eyebrow or the movement of a nostril which set the house roaring.
As one critic wrote of his performance as the waiter in the farce Out of Order: "The night belongs to
Henry McGee. With his white hair, pale face and completely dead-pan expression, he retains a wonderful, genial smile as the
mania increases and the world collapses around him. He only has to raise an eyebrow to raise a laugh."
McGee relished the rigours of stage farce, especially long tours with different audiences nightly and different
kinds of stage. He also enjoyed the technique. He once faced three first nights in three plays with two companies within two
weeks and three days at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne.
Recounting the ordeal
on a postcard to a friend with characteristic precision, McGee - then in his late sixties - added: "I don't think
I did that in my salad days, let alone my cheese and biscuits time."
The only child
of a Rolls-Royce engineer, Henry McGee was born at South Kensington on May 14 1929 and educated at Stonyhurst. He had hoped
to become a doctor, but his father died when Henry was 17 and his mother could not afford to put him through medical school.
Having enjoyed acting at school, and taking pride in his mother's links with the stage - her ancestry
could be traced back to the early 18th century as far as Kitty Clive - young Henry decided to train for the stage.
First, however, came National Service, in the Navy, as a wireless operator working six floors below the Admiralty
in Whitehall. He never saw a ship or the sea during his two years.
With a government grant
to attend the Italia Conti Stage Academy, McGee trained for two years, which included, in 1953, a West End spear-carrying
stint at the old St James's Theatre for the visiting Comédie-Française. After a Shakespearean season for
Robert Atkins at the Open-Air Theatre, Regent's Park, McGee went to Northampton rep for three years. He then spent the
next two years in Australia with the JC Williamson theatrical organisation in For Better, For Worse before returning to England
in the 1960s.
He soon found work in television, playing a policeman in Softly, Softly and
numerous villains and detectives. He then took the serious lead in DH Lawrence's Jimmy and the Desperate Women. Having
started in The Worker, his talent for farce was seen again in the 1968 award-winning series of Feydeau farces, Paris 1900.
McGee earned a living from television, appearing in No Hiding Place; The Avengers; The Saint; and The Liars.
He was memorable as an unreliable friend in Let There Be Love, with Paul Eddington and Nanette Newman, and as a sniffy neighbour
in No, That's Me Over Here, with Ronnie Corbett.
In one of the earliest post-war revivals
of Ben Travers's Aldwych farces, McGee's "amusing dimness in the Ralph Lynn role" won critical favour in
Plunder (Leatherhead, 1965). "With a face like Bob Hope's and a chin to match, Mr McGee's eager novice in midnight
burglary is worth travelling to Leatherhead to see," The Daily Telegraph assured readers.
years later McGee began his longest television partnership of all - with Benny Hill, which lasted, on and off, until Hill's
death in 1992.
Among other television comics whom McGee "fed" were Frankie Howerd,
Tommy Cooper, Reg Varney, Eric Sykes, Terry Scott, Dick Emery, Jimmy Tarbuck, Ted Rogers, Max Wall and Lance Percival. Other
series included Up the Workers, Rising Damp, The Goodies, The Late Mr H, and A Penny for Your Dreams.
in the West End, McGee had leading parts in Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot's Uproar in the House (Whitehall) and in
Joyce Rayburn's The Man Most Likely To… (Duke of York's). By the 1990s he was acting for, and with, Ray Cooney,
and became one of that farceur's most reliable leading men.
Later stage credits included
Run for Your Wife (Whitehall and Duchess Theatres); It Runs in the Family and Funny Money (both Playhouse); The Odd Couple
(Haymarket); Molière's School for Wives (Piccadilly); and several tours.
credits included The Italian Job, Holiday on the Buses, Carry on Emmanuelle, The Biggest Dog in the World and The Pink Panther.
A teetotaller, Henry McGee enjoyed gliding and collecting old engravings