Wexford actor helped bring Theatre Royal back to life

Donald Sinden, George Baker and Tim West at the Theatre Royal's reopening after restoration in 2007
Donald Sinden, George Baker and Tim West at the Theatre Royal's reopening after restoration in 2007
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THE late actor George Baker had a key role in the Theatre Royal’s rebirth.

Mr Baker, who died on October 7, gained recent fame as television’s Chief Inspector Wexford. But from 1965 he acted with and managed the Candida Plays touring company based at the Bury St Edmunds Regency theatre, which had just reopened after 40 years as Greene King’s barrel store.

The Bury Free Press of August 1, 1969, recorded: “The troupe has been working in conjunction with the theatre for the past four years, and after £20,000 Arts Council grant has grown under the leadership of Mr Baker.”

The article also said they were starting their first season with Gigi on September 1 and had opened a £5,000 theatre workshop of which he said: “It’s almost more important than the stage, in some respects.”

He said an aim of Candida Plays was to get a new generation of people into theatres. He ran the company for six years, taking some of their productions to the West End.

In 1969 he told The Times he intended to work with 22 schools in the Bury area to produce drama programmes to fit with the educational syllabus.

Mr Baker, who died aged 80, rose to fame in films in the 1950s including playing pilot Flight Lieutenant David Maltby in The Dam Busters in 1953, having been spotted in his London stage debut play called Aren’t We All?

He later appeared in some Bond films, though never in the role Ian Fleming wanted him for, as James Bond. On stage he played many Shakespearean roles from the late 1950s onwards at London’s Old Vic and with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He played Ruth Rendell’s Chief Inspector from 1987 to 2000. His third wife Louie Ramsay, who died earlier this year, played Wexford’s wife, Dora.