Obituary: Ron Moody

Ron Moody Image copyright Getty Images

Ron Moody was best known for playing Fagin in Lionel Bart's musical Oliver!

Although he often played the villain, his career as a noted character actor saw him appear in a variety of roles.

He originally planned to be an economist and did not take up acting seriously until his late 20s.

His biggest regret was turning down an opportunity to play one of the incarnations of The Doctor in Doctor Who.

Shylock

He was born Ronald Moodnick in Tottenham, north London, on 8 January 1924, the son of Jewish immigrants,

When he was five his father followed the example of many other eastern European Jews and anglicised the family name,

The young Moody attended local schools where he showed himself to be adept in English and history.

Image caption Moody with Patrick MacNee in a 1964 BBC play Captain Carvallo

"I loved to study and if I hadn't become an actor, I'd have liked to have become a teacher."

He took part in drama at Hornsey County School, once playing Shylock in a production of The Merchant of Venice.

When he left school he got a job in an accounts office before volunteering for the RAF.

After serving four years as a radar mechanic, he went to the London School of Economics where he studied sociology and psychology

Unique interpretation

There he took part in student revues and the acting bug finally took hold.

Moody took to writing and acting while writing his thesis. The enjoyment he derived from these activities inspired him to become a professional actor.

After many years mastering the art of a stand-up comic, Moody's big break came in the 1960s when he was given the chance to play Fagin in Oliver!, the musical version of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist.

"Fate destined me to play Fagin. It was the part of a lifetime," he said.

Image caption He became identified with the role of Fagin

Already possessing something of a Dickensian manner, Moody made the character his own.

His unique interpretation of the "merry Jew" won him international acclaim. Although he did not follow the cast when the musical transferred to Broadway, he was the only original cast member to star in the film version which was released in 1968.

Off-stage problems

He recalled the days working on the film as "one of the happiest times of my life". He went on to receive an Oscar nomination for his role.

Despite his desire to make people laugh, Moody's co-stars often found him difficult to work with.

He tended to improvise on stage from night to night, irritating directors.

Image caption He appeared as Edwin Caldecott in EastEnders

The tussle between the method actor and the comic that created great chemistry on stage also led to problems behind the scenes with co-stars such as Georgia Brown.

His choice to remain in England even though Broadway wanted him to reprise the role of Fagin there limited his options.

But he believed it was the right decision. "I didn't want to go. I was very patriotic."

Throughout the 1960s, he appeared in a number of films, including playing opposite Margaret Rutherford in The Mouse on the Moon and in the Cliff Richard musical, Summer Holiday.

Romantic life

In 1969 he was offered the role as the third incarnation of The Doctor in the BBC series Doctor Who, where he would have replaced Patrick Troughton.

Moody turned it down, a decision he later bitterly regretted, and the part went to Jon Pertwee.

He later became a well-known face and voice on children's television, notably in Into the Labyrinth and The Animals from Farthing's Wood.

Image caption He was one of many character actors to make an appearance in Casualty

He finally made it to Broadway in 1984, where he reprised his role of Fagin in a revival of Oliver! His performance won him a Tony nomination.

Despite his obvious talent, Ron Moody resented how after Oliver! his career did not develop with the same success. He became typecast with roles similar to those of Fagin.

"You find that most of the successful people in films now are virtually giving the same performance with different clothes," he once said.

Moody let his romantic life take a back seat during his career, and remained a bachelor for more than 60 years. But in 1985, he met and married yoga instructor Therese Blackbourn and they became parents of six children.

Ron Moody played more contemporary roles in his later career, including Edwin Caldecott, an old nemesis of Jim Branning in EastEnders, Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and the title role in Sherlock Holmes - the Musical.

With an extensive repertoire, Moody will be remembered as a great British character actor. However, it is his portrayal of Fagin that will remain his lasting claim to fame.