Porridge star Sam Kelly, whose stage career saw him appear in an eclectic list of productions from the hugely popular musical Wicked to Mike Leigh’s drama Grief, has passed away at the age of 70.
Announced at the weekend by his agent Lynda Ronan, the Manchester-born actor had been suffering from a long illness that Ronan said the actor “bravely fought”.
While Kelly will be best known by many for his long-running appearances in a long list of legendary BBC sitcoms including Porridge and ‘Allo ‘Allo!, his beginnings on the stage led to him becoming a much-loved and respected theatre actor.
Trained at LAMDA, Kelly began his career working in repertory theatres across the country, forging a craft that would later see him grace many of the UK’s most prestigious stages and work with directors including Sir Peter Hall, Adrian Noble and Edward Hall.
From West End productions When We Are Married and The Female Of The Species to high profile new writing pieces at the Royal Court including 2011’s Remembrance Day, Kelly’s career included everything from pantomime at the Old Vic to musicals at the National Theatre.
A selection of his highest profile appearances came with his collaborations with Leigh, appearing in the acclaimed television drama Grown-Ups, films Topsy-Turvy and All Or Nothing, and the National Theatre’s 2011 production of Grief, in which his performance was described by The Stage as “extraordinary”.
Kelly, who also boasted television appearances in numerous series including Midsomer Murders, EastEnders, Black Books and Doctor Who across his six decade spanning career, was last seen on stage in Wicked. Reprising the role of the Wizard in November 2013 following a year-long stint in 2009, Kelly was forced to leave the show in January due to ill health.
Mirroring his agent’s words, “He does not leave any family but a host of friends who were his chosen family. His death is a great loss to them and the profession”, Twitter saw an outpouring of tributes from his fellow actors and theatre colleagues over the weekend.
His Black Books on screen son Bill Bailey said: “Very sad to hear about Sam Kelly. Brilliant comic actor, lovely bloke… Farewell sir”, while Paul Chahidi described it as a “great fortune” to have worked with the actor, explaining he was “an actor of brilliance; surpassed only by his modesty and kindness.”