Actors and comedians have paid tribute to one of the best loved of their profession, the actor, poet, and peerless raconteur Victor Spinetti, who has died of cancer in a hospice in Monmouth aged 82.
Spinetti appeared in the first Beatles film, A Hard Day's Night, and in all of their subsequent films because they liked him so much. Sir Paul McCartney once described him as "the man who makes clouds disappear", and he insisted George Harrison told him: "You've got to be in all our films … if you're not in them me Mum won't come and see them – because she fancies you."
Rob Brydon, the actor and television presenter, and fellow Welshman, said Spinetti's death was terribly sad news.
"One of the funniest raconteurs there's ever been, a lovely man who I was lucky to call a friend," he tweeted.
Barbara Windsor, on whose Radio 2 show Clubland Spinetti recently made one of his final show business appearances, visited him at his hospice a few days ago, where he entertained a stream of friends, cracked jokes and insisted on talking of the future.
"He had Jo Malone candles and sprays in the room – it had to be mandarin. I joked that it smelt like a tart's parlour. We laughed and laughed.
"We just chatted and chatted and talked about old things. But he said, 'let's not talk about all that, let's talk about the future'.
"What he was trying to say was that everything was happy in his room. I was happy to see him. He didn't look ill. He looked great. He was swearing a lot, like that would get rid of the illness, and we just laughed."
Another Welsh actor, Sian Phillips, told BBC Wales he was "a force of joy and vitality", adding: "When one saw him across a crowded room, one couldn't wait to get together with him and have a chat and a catch up."
The actor Britt Ekland tweeted: "Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius."
His agent, Barry Burnett, said: "He had cancer for a year, but he was very cheerful to the end. I spoke to him on Friday and he was talking about his plans and everything."
Spinetti was born in Cwm, in the Welsh valleys, above his family's chip shop, and claimed - though none of his autobiographical stories was entirely trustworthy - that his grandfather had walked from Italy to Wales to find work as a miner.
In a BBC documentary last year, he recalled a long career that included everything from acting with the RSC, appearing as a compulsive biscuit stealer in a long-running ad for Jaffa cakes and in Joan Littlewood's legendary production of Oh What A Lovely War, which won him a Tony Award, to directing a sex romp in Soho for Paul Raymond. Ian Dickens, the director of one of his last stage roles as a butler in Murdered to Death, said Spinetti could be as broad or as subtle as he wanted: "He's a legend".
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