Obituary: Herbert Lom
- 27 September 2012
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Herbert Lom was a familiar face on the big screen for more than 60 years, playing a variety of exotic characters, most notably Chief Inspector Dreyfus, long-suffering boss of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films.
He was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru, in Prague in 1917, of aristocratic parents.
He grew up in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and was educated at the city's university.
Lom began acting on stage and screen in what had by now become Czechoslovakia. He left his homeland for England at the start of World War II where he undertook additional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
His English language debut came in the 1940 feature, film Mein Kampf - My Crimes, with barely a hint of a Czech accent.
He was offered a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox and began securing leading roles including Napoleon Bonaparte in The Young Mr Pitt (1942) and the same character again in War and Peace in 1956.
In a rare starring role he played twin trapeze artists in Dual Alibi (1946).
By the 1950s Lom was considered a British counterpart to the screen idol Charles Boyer, whom he resembled.
He did not get the same number of starring roles as Boyer, though he developed a growing reputation as a character actor.
He played opposite Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers in Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1955), and opposite Robert Mitchum, Jack Lemmon and Rita Hayworth in Fire Down Below (1957).
Later he became a familiar face on British TV in the 1960s when he starred as Dr Roger Corder in the series The Human Jungle.
More notable cinema roles came as Captain Nemo in Mysterious Island in 1961, a pirate in Spartacus (1960) and Ben Yusuf in El Cid (1961).
In 1962 he was the Phantom in the Hammer Films production of The Phantom of the Opera.
Lom's exotic features and manic eyes made him ideally suited for horror movies and saw him play doctors, vampire hunters, witchfinders, murderers and all manner of obsessive characters.
One controversial film - Mark of the Devil, in which he starred - was acclaimed both as a work of genius and denounced for its inclusion of a litany of medieval torture techniques.
Sick bags were given out to members of the audience during the film's opening run.
When asked about his various roles in low-budget movies, he said he felt it was better to be miscast than not be cast at all.
It was Lom's depiction of various madmen that persuaded director Blake Edwards to give him his most famous role, as Inspector Clouseau's boss Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther movies.
Although he was not in the 1963 original, he appeared in all the subsequent Pink Panther movies up to Son of the Pink Panther in 1993.
Lom's manic depiction of the man frustrated and literally driven mad by Clouseau's incompetence, resulting in the familiar nervous twitch, became one of the highlights of the Panther movies.
"It was a godsend when I was offered the part", he once said. "But it did become a double-edged sword as people started to associate me with Dreyfus and I lost a number of dramatic parts as a result of it."
In 1983 Lom worked with director David Cronenberg in The Dead Zone opposite Christopher Walken in one of the more successful adaptations of a Stephen King novel.
Lom was married to Dina Schea in 1948 and divorced in 1971. In the meantime he had a long relationship with the celebrated potter, Brigitte Appleby, with whom he had a daughter, Josephine.
As well as acting, Lom wrote two novels Enter A Spy (1971) and Dr Guillotine (1993).
The actor once grumbled at directors who asked him to give it his best. "It's my job to give my best," he said. "I can't give anything else."