Derek Francis

Derek Francis 1923-1984

Born and lived at 69 Preston Drove, Brighton, England. School: Varndean Grammar for boys. Higher Ed: Brighton School of Art (now Brighton Uni). Wartime service in Grenadier Guards. Acted and designed sets and costumes in various rep. theatres, the last being the Oxford Playhouse where he and Ronnie Barker played character parts for more than two years. Married Penny (‘Ann Elsden’) Smith in 1954, moved to Barnes, London, where he was part of the illustrious Old Vic company under Michael Benthall’s direction for four years, culminating in the eponymous role of Tartuffe.

The rest of his life was spent continuously in television plays, a few films, and stage roles in work, for example, by Peter Barnes and Simon Gray. A high point was his last stage role as Shylock in a Young Vic production of Merchant of Venice (1982).

Alongside his acting career he enjoyed crafting everything from furniture to costumes and clothing for wife and children. In 1961 made his first puppet production (strictly as an amateur) and built a 30-seat garden theatre in Barnes.

After moving to a much larger house in Wimbledon in 1966 the live puppet performances ceased and Derek’s puppetry work concentrated on an ambitious production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol intended for the screen. About 40 of the puppets and some scenery and props remain.

Continuous television and stage engagements and the renovation of the Vineyard Hill, Wimbledon house led to overwork and a massive heart attack in March 1984 which killed him.

Derek’s filmography on IMDB

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