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Paul Ritter - An Obituary

Paul Ritter – Actor

Born December 20, 1966; died April 5, 2021 


 Paul Ritter, who has died from a brain tumour aged 54, was a quietly brilliant character actor, who had the ability to inhabit each new role to the point of being unrecognisable. He became an increasingly familiar face as the eccentric and often shirtless patriarch Martin Goodman during the six series’ of Robert Popper’s  sit-com, Friday Night Dinner (2011-2020). Martin’s many off-kilter tics included greeting his grown up sons as “bambinos” and smearing tomato ketchup on his bare chest. 


He was odd in a different way as shabby forensics genius Randolph Miller in all twenty episodes of Paul Abbot’s deadpan Manchester-set police drama, No Offence (2015-2018). Ritter could be scary too, as he was playing Anatoly Dyatlov, the bullying engineer at the heart of the real life nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl (2019).


Previous to this, Ritter had come to prominence as Guy Hainesin James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008), and as Harry Potter’s would-be biographer Eldred Worple in the sixth film in the Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009).


On stage, Ritter was nominated for an Olivier Award for his role as Otis Gardiner in the Royal National Theatre’s production of Helen Edmundson’s play, Coram Boy (2005-2006). He was later nominated for a Tony Award for playing Reg in the Broadway transfer of the Old Vic’s revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests trilogy (2008-2009). Ritter appeared in the production alongside his student peer, Stephen Mangan.


Again at the Royal National Theatre, Ritter played Christopher Boone’s father in Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (2012). On the West End, Ritter played John Major, one of a stream of British prime ministers depicted during their weekly meetings with the Queen, played by Helen Mirren, in Peter Morgan’s play, The Audience. 


Ritter was born Simon Paul Adams in Gravesend, Kent, the youngest of five children, and the only boy, to Ken Adams, a toolmaker, and Joan Adams (nee Mooney), a school secretary. While the Adams’ were in no way a theatrical family, Ritter’s mother had been at school with Bernard Cribbins, while his father had been to the same school as Eric Sykes, who Ritter would go on to play in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This (2014), the Simon Nye scripted TV film about British comedian Tommy Cooper.


Ritter took an A Level in Theatre Studies at Gravesend Grammar School before going on to St John’s College, Cambridge. Other friends and peers beside Mangan included playwright Jez Butterworth and TV writer Sarah Phelps. After spending a year in Hamburg as part of his studies, he returned after graduating to work with the German National Theatre. It was after returning to the UK he acquired the surname Ritter for Equity membership purposes after discovering there was already a Simon Adams on their books. Taking on this new professional identity was an early sign of Ritter’s chameleon-like tendencies.


Stage work came quickly, and he was acclaimed for playing three roles in Snoo Wilson’s play, Darwin’s Flood (1994) at The Bush theatre, London. Ritter joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and Peter Hall’s Old Vic company before spending two years with the National, where roles included Karl Marx in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia trilogy (2002).


On television, Ritter showed his versatility from the off, playing two different roles in The Bill (1992, 1996), making a stream of one-off appearances before landing his first regular role as gangster Scott Sweeney opposite Robson Green and Mark Benton in City Lights (2007). Ritter appeared in five episodes of Land Girls (2011), and played Pistol in Henry IV, Part II and Henry V as part BBC Two’s version of Shakespeare’s history cycle, The Hollow Crown (2012).


He later played another oddball forensic expert, Billy Cartwright, in crime series, Vera (2011-2013). In Toby Whithouse’s Cold War spy thriller mini series, The Game (2014), he was ambitious civil servant Bobby Waterhouse, serving under Brian Cox’s ‘Daddy’. He also played Jimmy Perry, co-creator of one of the ‘s most enduring sit-coms, in we’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story (2015).


On film, he played Chiffinch alongside Johnny Depp and Samantha Morton in Laurence Dunmore’s film of Stephen Jeffreys’ play, The Libertine (2004). He later played a grizzled stoner record shop manager in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Patrick Marber scripted short, Love You More (2008). He worked with Taylor-Johnson again in her film about John Lennon’s early years, Nowhere Boy (2009).


He appeared in several episodes of the reboot of Cold Feet (2017-2020), and played Jeremy Hutchinson QC in The Trial of Christine Keeler (2020). The same year, he played the butler, Turton, in Belgravia (2020), Julian Fellowes’ TV adaptation of his novel of the same name. 


Ritter was last seen on stage in 2016 alongside Rufus Sewell and Tim Key in a revival of Christopher Hampton’s translation of Yasmina Reza’s globally successful comedy, Art, and will appear posthumously in war film, Operation Mincemeat. He will also be seen in You Look Nice: The True Story of Friday Night Dinner, a forthcoming tenth anniversary retrospective of the programme, which will now also serve as a tribute to Ritter’s mercurial talent.


He is survived by his second wife, Polly Radcliffe, and their two sons, Frank and Noah.

The Herald, April 15th 2021




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