The British actor who could be said to have embodied the ethos of Chappishness has died aged 89. Ian Carmichael always played the upper class twit, offering a bumbling but well-meaning conterpoint to the cads and bounders who shared the screen with him. One of his best-known roles was as Bertie Wooster in the 1960s BBC series, with Dennis Price as Jeeves. Although in his late 40s when he took the role of PG Wodehouse’s bumbling oaf (supposedly fresh out of university), Carmichael captured the spirit of Bertie in a way few actors have managed, including Hugh Laurie in the 1980s. Sadly the entire series save for a single episode was wiped for ever by the BBC.
Carmichael was particularly proud of his portrayal of Dorothy L Sayers’s aristocratic detective in the television series Lord Peter Wimsey (1972-1975), envying him his aristocratic insouciance, style and intellect. Carmichael’s real background was rather more humble: he was born in Hull on June 18, 1920; his father was an optician in a family firm of jewellers and silversmiths, and he attended preparatory school at Scarborough and Bromsgrove School, Worcestershire. Not academically inclined, he led the local dance band until the stage took his fancy and he enrolled at RADA.
In his films, Carmichael played a string of utterly Chappish roles, at first in a series of successful Boulting Brothers’ comedies, including Private’s Progress, I’m Alright Jack and Lucky Jim. But followers of this publication will always identify him with the quintessential Chap film School for Scoundrels, in which Carmichael played the downtrodden office worker who enrolls at the eponymous Academy to learn how the art of One-upmanship. He eventually triumphs over the caddish Raymond Delaunay (Terry-Thomas) to win the love of April (Janette Scott).
Carmichael was a member of the MCC and chairman of the Lords’ Taverners in 1970. He remained loyal to his wartime regimental comrades of the 22nd Dragoons, and always turned out for the Remembrance Day service at Helmsley.
The Chap raises a glass to this tweedy hero of the silver screen, who captured the spirit of the age and made it alright to be slightly ineffectual, as long as one was immaculately turned out and able to wear a monocle with conviction.