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Vittorio Giorgio Andrea Spinetti (2 September 1929 – 18 June 2012) was a Welsh comedy actor, author, poet and raconteur. He appeared in dozens of films and stage plays throughout his 50-year career and is best remembered today for appearing in the three Beatles films in the 1960s, A Hard Day's NightHelp! and Magical Mystery Tour.Born in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, Wales, Spinetti was educated at Monmouth School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, of which he became a Fellow. After various menial jobs, Spinetti pursued a stage career and was closely associated with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. Among the productions were Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be and Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), which transferred to New York City and for which he won a Tony Award. Spinetti's film career developed simultaneously; his dozens of film appearances would include Zeffirelli's The Taming of the ShrewUnder Milk WoodThe Return of the Pink Pantherand Under the Cherry Moon.

During his later career, Spinetti acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in such roles as Lord Foppington in The Relapse and the Archbishop in Richard III, at Stratford-upon-Avon; and, in 1990, he appeared in The Krays. In 2008 he appeared in a one-man show, A Very Private Diary, which toured the UK as A Very Private Diary ... Revisited!, recounting his life story. Spinetti was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 and died of the disease in June 2012.

He was the older brother of session musician Henry Spinetti.

Early life

Spinetti was born in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, Wales, of Welsh and Italian heritage from a grandfather who was said to have walked fromItaly to Wales to work as a coal miner. His parents, Giuseppe and Lily (née Watson), owned the chip shop in Cwm, over which premises the family lived and where Spinetti was born. Spinetti was the eldest of six; his younger brother, Henry (born 1951), is a session drummer. Spinetti was educated at Monmouth School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, of which he became a Fellow. Early on he was a waiter and a factory worker. It was at the college that Spinetti met the actor Graham Curnow, who became his partner. The two shared a house and were openly non-monogamous.

Film career

Spinetti sprang to international prominence in three Beatles films in the 1960s, A Hard Day's NightHelp! and Magical Mystery Tour. He also appeared on one of the Beatles' Christmas recordings. The best explanation for this long-running collaboration and friendship might have been provided by George Harrison, who said, "You've got to be in all our films ... if you're not in them me Mum won't come and see them — because she fancies you." But Harrison would also say, "You've got a lovely karma, Vic." Paul McCartneydescribed Spinetti as "the man who makes clouds disappear". Spinetti would later make a small appearance in the promotional video for McCartney's song "London Town" from the 1978 album of the same name. His July 2010 performance of the song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", at The Festival Theatre, Malvern, would later be made available on "The Beatles Complete on Ukulele" podcast.

Spinetti appeared in more than 31 films, including The Gentle Terror (1961), Sparrows Can't Sing (1963), The Wild Affair (1963), Becket (1964), Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew (1967), The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), This, That and the Other (1969),Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), Under Milk Wood (1972), Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973), The Great McGonagall (1974), The Little Prince (1974), The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), Voyage of the Damned (1976), Emily (1976), Hardcore (1977), Casanova & Co. (1977), Under the Cherry Moon (1986) and The Krays (1990).

Spinetti's last on-screen appearance was in the DVD release of the independent film Beatles Stories by US musician Seth Swirsky, issued to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first recording sessions at Abbey Road.

Television

Between 1969 and 1970 Spinetti appeared on Thames Television, alongside Sid James, as one half of Two In Clover over two series. A sitcom about two office workers who jack it all in to become farmers, he starred in all but one of the 13 episodes. His absence in episode #3 of the second series was covered by fellow Welsh actor Richard Davies, playing Spinetti's character's brother.

In the 1970s Spinetti appeared in a series of television advertisements for McVities' (now United Biscuits) Jaffa Cakes, as "The Mad Jaffa Cake Eater", a turbaned, Middle-Eastern style character who rode a bicycle and surreptitiously stole and ate other people's Jaffa Cakes, prompting the catchphrase "There's Orangey!" He hosted Victor's Partyfor Granada. Later he voiced arch villain Texas Pete in the popular S4C animated TV series SuperTed (1982–85) and narrated several Fireman Sam audiobooks. In 1992, He voiced The King of the Rats in the British children's programme Tales Of The Tooth Fairies- The Stolen Present on BBC, produced by Welsh animation company Calon. In 1995 he appeared in an episode of Bottom with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as Audrey the Maitre d'. Spinetti also starred in Boobs in the Wood with Jim Davidson, filmed for DVD in 1999.

From 1999 to 2002 Victor played Max, the 'man of a thousand faces', in the popular Children's TV programme Harry and the Wrinklies, which also starred Nick Robinson (Goodnight Mister Tom) in the title role.

Death

Spinetti had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2011, after he collapsed onstage on Valentine's Day. He suffered a spinal fracture and discovered only by chance that he had a tumour. He was at first treated in London, but after being cared for by sister and brother-in-law, Gianina and David Hughes, moved to the Velindre Cancer Centre in Whitchurch, Cardiff for radiotherapy treatment. He died from the disease at Monnow Vale Community Hospital in Monmouth on the morning of 18 June 2012, his agent announced. Spinetti had been visited shortly before his death by Barbara Windsor, who had co-starred with him in the West End production of Oh! What a Lovely War. Windsor said: "We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man," adding "He was such a good actor because he took notice of people and used their characters. He portrayed them wonderfully, whatever he did."

Comedian Rob Brydon tweeted: "So sad Victor Spinetti has died. The funniest story teller I've ever met and a lovely warm man." Spinetti also received warm tributes from actor and singer Britt Ekland and from fellow Welsh actor Sian Phillips, who told BBC Wales that she was shocked and saddened. Phillips added: "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." Paul McCartney paid tribute to Spinetti on his website: "Victor was a fine man, a great pal and a fantastic actor and someone I am proud to have known for many years. 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." and pasted the tribute to his Facebook page. At a memorial service for Spinetti, attended by McCartney, The Beatles' song "In My Life" was sung by Michael Ball.

Preston FM scheduled a tribute broadcast, for 22 June, of a previously unaired in-depth interview with Spinetti, recorded when he visited Blackpool in July 2010, in Paul and Lucy Breeze's "Best Kept Secrets In Conversation".

Actors

  • SuperTed (1984-85) - Texas Pete
  • Oliver the Giant Kitten (1988) - Texas Pete
  • Oliver's Love (1988) - Additional voices
  • The Further Adventures of SuperTed (1989-) - Texas Pete
  • The Princess and the Goblin (1991) - Glump

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