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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 17:13 GMT
Michael Williams: End of the fine romance
Michael Williams was an accomplished stage and screen actor
To the British public, Michael Williams was perhaps best known as the husband of the Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench.

But on stage and screen he was an accomplished and respected artist whose repertoire ranged from Shakespeare to sit-com.

Michael Williams grew up in Liverpool, of Irish descent. Aside from a grandmother who was keen on clog-dancing, there was no theatrical tradition in his family.

It was at school that he discovered a talent for reading out loud in class. When, at 12, he was introduced to "the magic that is Shakespeare", he made up his mind to be an actor.

Amateur dramatics

But his father, who worked in insurance, had other ideas and persuaded him to follow in his footsteps.

He joined the Commercial Union, where he shared an office with another budding actor, Leonard Rossiter, while performing in several amateur dramatic groups outside work.

Michael Williams and Judi Dench
Michael Williams and Judi Dench on their wedding day
After two years in insurance, followed by two years in the RAF, he successfully auditioned for RADA.

In 1963 he was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company by Peter Hall. It was a golden age. He worked with Peter Brook, John Barton, Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands, Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren.

There was extensive touring including nine months on Broadway with a young actress named Glenda Jackson.

He first met Judi Dench after she had finished a relationship with, ironically, Leonard Rossiter.

But they knew each other for nine years before the chemistry gelled one night in the Dirty Duck pub in Stratford where she had been playing the lead in Twelfth Night.

Proposal

He followed her to Australia where she had gone on tour though she delayed accepting his subsequent marriage proposal until they were encountering a rainy night in Battersea. The wedding took place in 1971.

Their marriage was regarded as one of the most enduring and endearing of showbusiness couples.

Michael Williams' long career saw him out of work for less than 18 months though he never attained the heights of his wife.

He admitted to some jealousy. "I am old-fashioned enough to think I should be providing the bread," he once said.

Michael Williams and Judi Dench
A Fine Romance brought husband and wife together on screen
Unlike most other actors, he never harboured Hollywood aspirations, once turning down a seven-year contract with a major movie studio.

He devoted himself to the theatre with intermittent bouts of television.

Despite playing all the major Shakespearean roles bar King Lear with the RSC, it was the television sit-com A Fine Romance, with Judi Dench, that made him a household name.

Later, he impressed the critics with his tragi-comic performances in the television comedy series September Song with Russ Abbott and in Conjugal Rights with Gwen Taylor.

Catholic

Among the highlights of his stage career was his one-man show as the 17th century gossip John Aubrey in Brief Lives which toured the world and involved his being on stage for two hours each performance.

A devout Catholic, Michael Williams was a former President of the Roman Catholic Actors' Guild.

Finty Williams
Finty Williams followed her parents to become an actor
He was reportedly not amused when the couple's only child, daughter Finty (real name Tar Cressida), gave only two weeks notice that she was to become an unmarried mother. Finty followed in her parents' footsteps, becoming a respected actor.

It was Finty who, inadvertently, set fire to their grade II-listed 18th Century Hampstead home, completely destroying it.

Michael Williams and Judi Dench lived up to their Fine Romance image. She called him "my spoony old thing"; he sent her a single red rose every Friday.

See also:

15 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Actor Michael Williams dies
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