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RIP Joss Ackland

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  • RIP Joss Ackland

    Whenever I watch old Mr Kipling adverts from the 1980s on YouTube, I always notice the exceeding good voice which sounds very much like a warm, rich and slightly plummy feel-at-home sort of voice; just like rolling toffee in one's mouth and swallowing the delicious, sweet favour. The voice in question belonged to the late North Kensington, London-born actor Joss Ackland (born Sydney Edmond Jocelyn Ackland) who has died at the age of 95. Although as he was born on the rarest day of the calendar, the 29th of February in 1928, and thus was unique in that way, he only had one birthday every four years, then perhaps one should perhaps divide his age by four? He almost gave Gary Watson and Michael Jayston a run for their money with voiceovers in adverts in the 1970s and 1980s. By a bit of a coincidence, I have been watching old an episode of Call My Bluff in which Ackland was the male guest on Frank Muir's team; in fact, his voice was featured on the 1978 edition of Muir's TV Heaven series in the classic adverts part, seen on Channel 4 in 1992, and was narrating Badedas bath shampoo, which afforded us an Edwardian setting of a woman having a bath and a horse-drawn carriage passing outside. Of course, regarding Call My Bluff, we didn't have Google back in the mid 1970s when Ackland was a guest, and so one could not cheat in order to find the correct definition of the obscure word. He did have the correct definition to at least one of them.

    Ackland made his professional debut on stage just after the Second World War at the tender age of 17 and spent nearly seven decades in acting and performing. Always the gentleman with the gentleman's voice, and someone who feels as if they will always be around in a timeless sense. He took over from Dad's Army actor John le Mesurier as the voice of Fred the Flour Grader (a true example of Britishness - the bowler-hatted Fred was to everyone what Common Market Great Britain actually stood for back in the late 1970s) for the Homepride Flour adverts for a few years before he handed the self-raising baton onto Richard Briers. In addition to voicing Mr Kipling in the famous TV adverts, Ackland was rather fond of other people named Kipling as well; knowingly in 1963 he had appeared as William Stevens in The Indian Tales of Rudyard Kipling, no a doubt exceedingly good part. His acting career consists of multiple characters in Z Cars (guest part Mr Shields in 1964 and Detective Inspector Todd more prominently, not surprisingly for a police officer character in 1967 and 1968). He also made cameo appearances in The Avengers; The Persuaders! (exclamation mark optional); The Sweeney (Alan Ember ate my hamster back in 1978); and Tales of the Unexpected where he played a Stinker of a bloke, Jack Cutler (as Stinker was the episode's title) - eight years later, the now "pensioned-off silver knight in favour of some triangles", aka the 1988 makeover version of Anglia TV, had invited him back to the "tale with a twist" drama series because someone was needed to appear as Colonel George Peregrine, and Ackland was available, he took the part. He appeared in Dangerous Davies - the Last Detective in 1981, working with Bernard Cribbins, an actor who we sadly lost last year, and just like Ackland, it almost felt as they were about to live forever as far as I was concerned.

    We would be here all day and night if we also listed the famous names he had worked with over the decades. He had the Gentle Touch as Ivor Stocker in its first series in 1980; he also appeared as the Chronicles of Narnia author CS Lewis in the 1985 film Shadowlands. The real Lewis died on the same day as John F Kennedy's assassination had taken place in 1963 (just four days shy of its 60th anniversary as I am writing this), and Ackland's acting career also has links to Kennedy by virtue of playing Aristotle Onassis in A Woman Named Jackie in 1991. He was no stranger for playing real-life people, no matter how famous they were; he was the voice of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare: the Animates Tales, and was Winston Churchill in Above and Beyond. He even worked with Sir Alec Guinness in Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy. Ackland's filmography was impressive: he appeared in dozens of films such as Great Expectations in 1974; the voice of the Black Rabbit in Watership Down in 1978; Arjen "Aryan" Rudd in Lethal Weapon 2; an uncredited part in Miracle in 34th Street, and other appearances. He had appeared in over 130 films and TV series. On the stage he had his main foray into musical theatre: he worked with Elaine Paige in Evita; and performed in Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's A Little Night Music with Jean Simmons and Hermione Gingold. Just a small selection of the Ackland portfolio of TV, film and stage parts. And he hung up his "acting" as recently as 2014.

    Ackland was a family man; he was married to Rosemary Kirkcaldy for 51 years until her death in 2002; probably one of the longest marriages for a famous actor in the spotlight, so to speak, and no doubt, one of the happiest. Although his acting work had taken him to most parts of the world, Ackland was quoted as saying that they were hardly ever apart as a couple. He had seven children, 32 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Kirkcaldy was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and eventually died in 2002. They survived a house fire when they were living in Barnes in 1963; Rosemary Kirkcaldy saved her five children but she had hurt her back when jumping from a bedroom window, she was told that she would miscarry and never walk again; after giving birth again, she was a patient at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for over 18 months and she had eventually walked again. Their eldest son Paul died of a heroin overdose in 1982 aged just 29.

    Joss Ackland was three months and ten days short of reaching his 96th birthday (or his 24th if you count the number of times that his birthday, 29trh February, has appeared on the calendar since his year of birth). He was the most famous Leap Year Day person that I can think of, and was the first person that one could think off when one actually thinks of anyone famous having their birthday on that date. Another one gone - another versatile actor has gone.
    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
    I'm having so much fun
    My lucky number's one
    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

  • #2
    He's in a Pet Shop Boys music video, which he apparently agreed to be in because his grandchildren loved their songs.

    "Ooh. I love the radio!"