Updated: 20th April 2018

Peter Vaughan: from godfather Grouty to Game of Thrones

He was the big-framed character actor who rose to fame as Ronnie Barkers tormentor in Porridge. But Peter Vaughan had immense range and power and was still starring in Game of Thrones at the age of 92

Peter Vaughan was a star example of the sort of performer known as a character actor he rarely led a cast, but he attracted a devoted following from audiences, critics and producers.

Remarkably, three generations of TV viewers associate him with a different major role. Despite appearing in only a few episodes of Porridge (1974-77), Vaughan put his wide frame and deep tones to such comically menacing effect as Genial Harry Grout, the HM Slade Prison godfather, that he became a stand-out character. Two decades later, he touchingly portrayed an elderly North-East trade unionist in Peter Flannerys political epic Our Friends in the North (1996). And, almost 20 years on, he appeared, until last year, in the HBO fantasy mega-hit Game of Thrones, as Maester Aemon a veteran member of the Nights Watch. Playing a 100-year-old character, Vaughan joked about having to age up from his own mere nonagenarian experience.

Comically menacing Vaughan as Grouty in Porridge, with Ronnie Barker. Photograph: Ronald Grant

Able to achieve vivid characterisation, with impact disproportionate to screen-time, Vaughan inevitably became a Dickens specialist for the BBC. He was the social climber Boffin in 1988s Our Mutual Friend and (confirming a career-long talent for acting on either side of the thin blue line) impressively portrayed two Dickensian lawyers Jaggers in 1967s Great Expectations and Tulkinghorn in 1983s Bleak House plus the famous crook Bill Sikes in 1967s Oliver Twist.

Though born in Shropshire into a family with the unusual surname Ohm, later regularised to Vaughan he had a particularly facility with London voices, such as the title characters derisive prospective father-in-law in the revolutionary comedy Citizen Smith which, starting as Porridge ended, sealed Vaughans familiarity as a TV face.

Reliability can be a two-edged compliment implying consistency within limitations but Vaughans promise of reliable excellence earned him more than 200 screen appearances, mainly on TV, but also including short, sharp movie turns such as The Remains of the Day opposite Anthony Hopkins. Cameras liked his bright blue eyes.

Vaughan with Anthony Hopkins in the Remains of the Day. Photograph: Allstar/COLUMBIA

Vaughans character in Our Friends in the North, Felix Hutchinson, had Alzheimers, and the actors research into the condition led him to become a campaigner for charities supporting those with dementia. Doing so, he always acknowledged his own medical and professional fortune in being able to go on working into his 10th decade.

To have reached 93 and been acting in as huge a global hit as Game of Thrones at 92 is a life extremely well lived. But it is a measure of his enduring talent that, even after so long a career, casting directors will continue to feel his absence from their files.

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