Victor Spinetti: Sir Paul McCartney tribute to Beatles film co-star

  • 19 June 2012
  • From the section Wales
Victor Spinetti
Spinetti achieved fame when he was caught up in the Beatlemania of the 1960s and went to have a creative collaboration with John Lennon

Sir Paul McCartney has joined a host of celebrities to pay tribute to the actor Victor Spinetti, who has died at the age of 82.

Born to an Italian-Welsh father and Welsh mother in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, Spinetti was a regular performer in London's West End as well as with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He appeared in more than 30 films, including three Beatles movies.

Sir Paul spoke about Spinetti's "wit and exuberant personality".

The former Beatle struck up a friendship with the Welshman during filming for the first Beatles film, A Hard Day's Night.

"Victor was a fine man, a great pal and a fantastic actor and someone I am proud to have known for many years," said Sir Paul.

"His irreverent wit and exuberant personality will remain in my memory forever.

"I will miss his loyal friendship, as will all the others who were lucky enough to know and love the wonderful Mr Spinetti."

Spinetti died at a hospice in Monmouth on Monday morning, said his agent Barry Burnett.

"He had cancer for a year, but he was very cheerful to the end," said Mr Burnett.

"I spoke to him on Friday and he was talking about his plans and everything."

News of his death prompted a stream of tributes from fans and members of the entertainment world on Twitter.

Barbara Windsor, a lifelong friend and co-star in Oh! What a Lovely War, had visited Spinetti last Thursday.

"We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man," she said.

"We just chatted and chatted and talked about old things. But he said, 'let's not talk about all that, let's talk about the future'."

Actor Rob Brydon tweeted: "So sad Victor Spinetti has died. The funniest story teller I've ever met and a lovely warm man. Proud to have been his friend. 'Eh, Vic...'"

Britt Ekland, actor, wrote: "Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius."

Welsh actor Sian Phillips told BBC Wales she was shocked and saddened, adding: "He was such a force of joy and vitality. When one saw him across a crowded room, one couldn't wait to get together with him and have a chat and a catch-up."

Teaching ambitions

Spinetti was born in the living quarters above the chip shop his family owned in Cwm, Ebbw Vale. He attended Monmouth School and initially had ambitions to be a teacher.

But after turning to acting he studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff.

Victor Spinetti as George and Elizabeth Proud as his wife
Victor Spinetti appeared in London's West End, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in more than 30 films, including the first three by the Beatles

His early stage career saw him make a number of memorable performances with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, whose production of Oh, What a Lovely War! transferred to the West End and Broadway.

It was his Tony-winning performance in Oh, What a Lovely War! that prompted the Beatles to ask him to appear in A Hard Day's Night (1964), the first of the group's five films.

Spinetti's collaboration with the Beatles saw him appear in their next two productions, Help! (1965) and the hour-long television film Magical Mystery Tour (1967).

'Great eccentric'

He also worked with John Lennon to turn the Beatle's book, In His Own Write, in to a play which he then directed at the National Theatre.

As well as the Beatles movies, Spinetti's film career included Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew and a version of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, both alongside Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Spinetti's television roles included voicing the arch villain character Texas Pete in the S4C animated series SuperTed.

He was also a noted raconteur whose creative output included poetry, an autobiography and his one-man show, A Very Private Diary.

A BBC documentary on his life and work saw contributions from Barbara Windsor and Rob Brydon praising a "great Welsh eccentric" and is due to be broadcast at 22:45 BST by BBC Wales on BBC One on 20 June.

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