For many of us in Iden, it is hard to believe that Geoffrey, who died on October 16 aged 100 is no longer with us.
Using his stage name, Geoffrey Chater, he was a celebrated character actor, seen in over 160 film and television roles spanning a career which started in repertory after he left the army in 1946, having served in Burma and India during the war. The discipline of performing in the evening and rehearsing the next play on the following afternoon provided the perfect grounding for developing his acting skills.
He went on to work alongside some of the country’s leading Shakespearean actors at the Old Vic in the 1950s and at various leading theatres thereafter, alongside such legends as Ingrid Bergman and Michael Redgrave, earning many outstanding reviews.
In 1950 he started a long television career which finished in 2005 with Midsomer Murders as the beekeeping monk, Brother Robert. Besides serious roles, he played in some of the most memorable comedy shows including Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and brilliantly in One Foot in the Grave, representing establishment characters such as army generals, bank managers and vicars, all of which entirely suited his persona.
His long film career was also very impressive and he took great pride that he had worked with some of the finest directors and had roles in three of what are believed to be amongst the greatest British movies of all time- Gandhi, Barry Lyndon and famously If, where he was the very weird school chaplain (a film co-written by the late Rye resident John Howlett.)
One of Geoffrey’s greatest joys was the part of Mr Algernon Wyse in the 1985 television production of Mapp and Lucia, in which he pottered around genially wearing a monocle, plus fours and floppy bow tie alongside Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan vying for social supremacy. As this was very conveniently filmed in Rye it enabled him to entertain his co-stars at his home during breaks in filming.
It was in 1966 that Geoffrey and his family moved to Iden where they would live for the next 55 years. He loved being part of the village and community, attended many events and was known to being a down-to-earth character who preferred to shrimp in the sea on Camber Sands rather than partying on the celebrity circuit.
He married Jenny in 1949 and they celebrated their 70th anniversary in style with their village friends, sons, Simon and Piers and daughter Annabelle and grandchildren. Up until his death, Geoffrey was the president of the Iden Bowls Club, attending their annual dinners and also reading at their occasional concerts and other village fund raising events. He was a regular worshipper at Iden church and was reading the morning lesson at services right up until the lockdowns began with the undiminished voice that was so much his trademark.
A cricket enthusiast, Geoffrey was a long-time member of the MCC where he often would play in their celebrity matches with the likes of Denis Compton and other cricketing greats. He once joked that as he was getting older, Lords had moved him to the aged members’ row in the stands and that as each one died, he was getting perilously far too close to the edge!
He was able to give a splendid luncheon for his Iden friends at Lords on his 90th birthday when the scoreboard greeted his guests with his age and the words “not out”
It was a great sadness for us not to have seen Geoffrey since the lockdowns and to celebrate with him his 100th birthday last March. His legacy will not only be his contribution to so many popular appearances on stage and screen but also to the memories many of us have of the large part he and Jenny played in village life. He was a great family man, loved living in Iden and was always courteous, convivial and generous with his time.
Many of us will miss him but have the compensation of still seeing him in the rich legacy of his old films and numerous television programmes whenever they are repeated.
Image Credits: Heidi Foster .