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Peter Bowles, dapper English 'gent' and star of To The Manor Born, dies at 85

English Actor Peter Bowles attending the UK Premiere of The Invisible Woman at the Odeon Kensington in London in 2014
English Actor Peter Bowles attending the UK Premiere of The Invisible Woman at the Odeon Kensington in London in 2014   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Jez Fielder

Actor Peter Bowles, best known for his role as Richard de Vere in the BBC comedy To The Manor Born, has died aged 85, according to his agent. 

The sitcom aired from 1979 to 1981, but his role as a wealthy, self-made businessman alongside Dame Penelope Keith, stuck in the memory as if it had run for a decade.

Bowles and Keith teamed up again for the second series of 'Executive Stress' in the mid-1980s and finally in a To The Manor Born reprise in 2007. 

Bowles' suave manner and elegant style, coupled with his mellifluous, easy tone and upper-class accent, led him to success in many roles but particularly as a 'quintessential Englishman'. Indeed, the adjectives that abound when one thinks of Bowles are firmly in the 'cad' and 'bounder' circle of the character Venn diagram.

Jon Furniss Photography/AP
Bowles in 2014Jon Furniss Photography/AP

In his 2010 autobiography, 'Ask Me if I'm Happy', Bowles confronts his typecasting.

"A script had been hand-delivered. I'm almost certain by the playwright himself, Tom Stoppard. It was called Dirty Linen...There was a handwritten note from Mr Stoppard (now Sir Tom Stoppard) asking if I would play the part of Withenshaw, the north country Labour MP.

"North country? I almost always played posh parts or foreigners. Could Mr Stoppard have made a mistake?"

Notable TV appearances came most recently as the Duke of Wellington in 'Victoria' but Bowles had been a familiar face on screen for decades. He was lauded as Sir Justice Featherstone in Rumpole of the Bailey, and even featured in an episode of The Prisoner in 1967, playing, of course, a debonair man of mystery. 

But his longest roster of shows was on the stage. 

Bowles' theatre CV spans a lifetime and ranges from classics such as The Misanthrope, Hedda Gabler and Hay Fever, to Sleuth, Gangster No1 and the West End production of The Exorcist.

Bowles was born in London in 1936 but grew up in Nottingham, and began his career at London's Old Vic company in 1956, playing modest roles in various Shakespearean tragedies. 

He is survived by his wife, Susan, and their three children, Guy, Adam and Sasha.