To The Manor Born star Peter Bowles dies from cancer aged 85

17 March 2022, 11:17 | Updated: 17 March 2022, 16:32

To The Manor Born star Peter Bowles, pictured alongside co-star Penelope Keith, has died.
To The Manor Born star Peter Bowles, pictured alongside co-star Penelope Keith, has died. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

To The Manor Born star Peter Bowles has died from cancer at the age of 85.

The legendary actor was best known for playing Richard DeVere in the hit BBC sitcom, starring as the self-made businessman alongside Dame Penelope Keith.

He leaves behind his wife of over 60 years, actress Susan Bennett, and their three children Guy, Adam and Sasha.

Throughout his career, he featured in many films including 1970's Eyewitness, 1995's The Steal, 2005's Colour Me Kubrick, and 2008's The Bank Job.

Penelope Keith, Peter Bowles. The Rivals Photocall, Theatre Royal, London.
Penelope Keith, Peter Bowles. The Rivals Photocall, Theatre Royal, London. Picture: Alamy

In a statement, his agent Gavin Barker said: "The actor Peter Bowles has sadly passed away at the age of 85 from cancer.

"Starting his career at the Old Vic Theatre in 1956, he starred in 45 theatrical productions ending at the age of 81 in The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre.

"He worked consistently on stage and screen, becoming a household name on TV as the archetypal English gent in To The Manor Born, Only When I Laugh, The Bounder and Lytton's Diary, which he devised himself.

"He leaves his wife of over 60 years, Sue, and their three children Guy, Adam and Sasha."

Born in London in 1936, he grew up in Nottingham and won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) before cutting his teeth on stage with the Old Vic Company.

He played villains in several TV series, including The Avengers and The Saint, but it was with a moustache in To The Manor Born, co-starring Dame Penelope and commanding audiences of 20 million, that he became most well known for.

His role as DeVere came in his 40s but his other TV credits include such shows as Only When I Laugh, Lytton's Diary, The Bounder and Perfect Scoundrels, with reports also saying he had previously turned down a role in The Good Life.

Growing up, his parents were servants of nobility - his father was a valet and chauffeur to one of the sons of the Earl of Sandwich, his mother a nanny employed by the heir of the Duke of Argyll in Scotland.

During the Second World War his father worked as an engineer at Rolls-Royce and when Bowles was six the family moved to one of the poorest working-class districts of Nottingham. Their house had an outside toilet and no bath.

"We were in a Coronation Street environment but everyone was extremely friendly and there were lots of kids. It was terrific," he said previously.

After appearing in amateur plays in Nottingham, when he won his Rada scholarship, he lost his northern accent and was thrown into a melting pot of talent with his peers including names like Alan Bates, Peter O'Toole and Sian Phillips, and he shared a flat with fellow student Albert Finney.

He was reunited with Dame Penelope in a regional tour of Sheridan's The Rivals, directed by Sir Peter Hall, in 2010.

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