Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Monday, 4 January 2010

Bye bye to the real Rain Man

By Nick Serpell
BBC Obituary Unit

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported - people of the past month.

Arnold Stang
Arnold Stang had a wonderfully distinctive voice

Arnold Stang's squawky Brooklyn accent was first heard on American radio in the 1930s when he was just a boy. After working on children's shows he graduated to teenage roles before breaking into television in the early 1950s. He also appeared in a string of films including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Hercules in New York, a movie remarkable only for the first ever screen appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stang's voice was made for cartoons and he voiced a number of short animated films including some episodes of Popeye. His most famous role was as Top Cat, the leader of a gang of alley cats, the bane of Officer Dibble, who first appeared on US TV in 1961. When the BBC bought the show it was re-titled as Boss Cat, so the corporation was not seen to be endorsing a leading brand of cat food. However neither the script nor theme tune was altered so references to "TC" cropped up throughout each programme, much to the confusion of its young viewers.

Roy Disney
Roy Disney was instrumental in changes at the firm

The world of animation also lost Roy Disney , nephew of Walt, who became the last family member to be involved with the studio. He cut his Disney teeth on wildlife documentaries in the 1950s, winning Oscars for The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie. On Walt's death he joined the Disney board but became increasingly disenchanted with, what he saw as, the move away from Disney's tradition of high class animation. He briefly quit to form his own business but returned in 1984 to back a management coup that saw Michael Eisner hired to run the company. Roy Disney took charge of the animation division and quickly restored the company's reputation in this genre with The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. However an attempt to create a sequel to the classic Fantasia flopped and Roy found himself marginalised within the company. He quit the board and then led a shareholders revolt which saw Eisner toppled as chairman and Apple's Steve Jobs become Disney's largest shareholder following the merger with Pixar.

Kim Peek
Kim Peek demonstrated his amazing talents to millions

Kim Peek provided the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman's character, Raymond Babbitt, in the Oscar-winning film, The Rain Man. Like Hoffman's character, Peek was a savant, someone who has exceptional abilities in certain specific areas despite having a limited mental capacity. Peek was born with a brain abnormality but, despite this, had a photographic memory. He was reported to have been able to read and memorise books from the age of 20 months. He developed the capacity to read the left hand and right hand pages of a book at the same time and it was believed that he could recall passages from more than 12,000 books. Rain Man script writer Barry Morrow met Peek in 1984 and created the character of Raymond Babbitt although, unlike Peek, Babbitt suffered from autism while Peek is believed to have suffered from a genetic disorder. Dustin Hoffman met Peek on a number of occasions in order to study how best to play the role.

The character of the constantly frustrated Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond books was inspired, at least in part, by a real life female intelligence secretary. Dame Victoire Ridsdale, then just Paddy Bennett, found herself working alongside Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, in the Naval Intelligence department during World War II. She was, by all accounts, a formidable figure, although she was just one of a number of attractive women working in the department who could well have added something to the Miss Moneypenny character. While Miss Moneypenny, originally played by Lois Maxwell, became an essential part of the Bond films, she only made fleeting appearances in Fleming's novels. Paddy always insisted that she had never succumbed to Fleming's famously formidable charm but admitted to receiving gifts of lipstick and silk stockings which he brought back from clandestine trips abroad. "I always kept him at arm's length," she once declared.

The Exodus
The story of the Exodus was turned into book and film

In 1947 the ship, Exodus, captained by 23-year-old Yitzhak Ahronovitch arrived off British controlled Palestine with around 4,500 Jewish refugees on board, many of them Holocaust survivors. The passengers had no legal authority to enter Palestine and two British destroyers rammed the Exodus before she was forcibly boarded. In the ensuing violence three passengers died. The ship was towed into the port of Haifa and the passengers deported to Germany. The Polish born Captain Ahronovitch eventually moved to the US. In 1960 a film was made of the incident starring Paul Newman and based on a novel by Leon Uris. The character of Yitzhak Ahronovitch appeared in neither book nor film. The Exodus herself remained moored off Haifa and was eventually scrapped in 1963.

Yves Rocher
Yves Rocher stayed true to his Breton roots

Ecological beliefs, and a plant-based cream designed to soothe the effects of piles, were the basis of Yves Rocher's business empire. Rocher was green, long before environmental issues made the headlines, and, years before internet shopping, he pioneered the concept of selling his products directly to his customers in their homes. Born in Brittany, he was fascinated from an early age by the plants that grew in the local countryside and his haemorrhoid cream, based on an old Breton recipe, became an instant mail order success. He built his business in his home town of La Gacilly, helping to revive the economy of the area. His philosophy of combing good quality products with reasonable prices saw his mail order business flourish and, in 1968, he opened the first of what would be a worldwide chain of shops. Rocher maintained day to day control of the company, growing flowers and plants in his own organic fields. He remained true to his Breton roots, refusing to move away from his home town and avoiding the glamour that surrounds much of the conventional beauty business.

Sex reared its ugly head early in the life of Edwina who, as a duckling, found herself named Edward in a terrible case of mistaken gender identity. However the appearance of eggs swiftly brought about a change of name for the mallard whose death, at the age of 22, left her one of the longest lived of her species on record. Born the smallest in her brood she was rescued by a Hampshire couple after they witnessed her being attacked by her siblings. Attempts to return her to the wild failed miserably after Edwina decided that a comfortable duck house, with a supply of her favourite tea and toast, beat sitting around in cold ponds. The British Trust for Ornithology said that the oldest wild mallard they had recorded through their ringing programme was just over 20. Edwina, who died just after Christmas, has been interred in the family garden.

Among others who died in December were Dambusters actor and real life war hero, Richard Todd; musician Tim Hart, founder member of the folk rock band Steeleye Span; boxing manager Terry Lawless; footballer Albert Scanlon, Busby Babe who survived the Munich air crash of 1958 and Oscar winning actress, Jennifer Jones, star of The Song of Bernadette.

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