Obituary: Christopher Beeny, actor

The actor Christopher Beeny, who has died at 78, was familiar not only as the footman Edward Barnes in the original version of Upstairs Downstairs, but also for his performances in two indelible Yorkshire comedies.

Christopher Beeny with Thora Hird in Yorkshire Television's In Loving Memory

From 1979 to 1986, he was one half of the accident-prone firm of pre-war family funeral directors in In Loving Memory, following which he became known as the incompetent debt collector Morton Beamish in Last of the Summer Wine.

Both shows also starred Dame Thora Hird, with whom Beeny had made his screen debut, at age 12, in a 1953 film called The Long Memory, which also counted Sir John Mills in its cast.

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By that time, Beeny was something of a showbusiness veteran, having danced with the Ballet Rambert since he was six.

He also appeared for a time in Emmerdale, but his soap experience had begun much earlier, when he landed the role of Lenny in the BBC’s first-ever TV serial, The Grove Family, named after the corporation’s studios in Lime Grove, London.

But it was Upstairs Downstairs that made him famous. He played a young and naive servant whose fun-loving and immature nature annoyed Mr Hudson the butler, but whose status grew with the passing years. Shellshocked during the First World War, Edward was eventually seen assuming the role of butler to a new generation of titled employer.

Beeny’s own profile grew with that of his character, and the success of the series led to co-starring roles in the ITV sitcom Miss Jones and Son with Paula Wilcox, and in the 1970s remake of The Rag Trade, with Peter Jones.

In Loving Memory followed soon afterwards. The series, set in a fictional West Riding town during the period when undertakers were migrating from horse-drawn hearses to mechanical contraptions, had been picked up by Yorkshire Television, 10 years after a pilot had been transmitted but then discarded by Thames.

It eventually ran for five series, with location scenes filmed around Yorkshire at Bramham and Luddenden.

Beeny also had an extensive stage career, appearing in Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, Boeing, Boeing and Run For Your Wife, among other productions.