Downton Abbey and EastEnders actor dies at 74

Actor Nicky Henson, who appeared in EastEnders, Downton Abbey and Fawlty Towers, has died following a “long disagreement” with cancer, his family have said.

The 74-year-old, who also had a host of stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, was diagnosed with the disease on Christmas Day 19 years ago.

In an interview last year, he said he felt he had been on “extra time” ever since and, when asked if he had any regrets, replied: “Not about my career. I’ve done pretty well for someone with no ambition.”

Nicky Henson and Marguerite Porter at Ronnie Corbett Memorial Service, Westminster Abbey, London, UK - 07 Jun 2017
Image: Henson said it was ‘love at first sight’ when he met his wife, Marguerite Porter

Henson was best known for playing Mr Johnson in the episode of Fawlty Towers titled The Psychiatrist, in which John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty becomes obsessed with catching his character breaking hotel policy by having a woman in his room.

He continued to work long after being diagnosed with cancer, playing Honey Edwards’ father Jack in EastEnders in 2006 and Charles Grigg in Downton Abbey, as well as making numerous appearances in The Bill.

He also appeared in more than 30 films, including Witchfinder General, Psychomania, Vera Drake, The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones, and Syriana.

Henson was also musical, recording his first single in 1961 and gaining a three-year contract writing songs for The Shadows and Cliff Richard.

His most recent acting credit, in a career spanning almost 60 years, was as Latham in the crime drama Tango One in 2018.

He was once married to EastEnders actress Una Stubbs, but later went on to marry his second wife of 33 years, former ballerina Marguerite Porter.

British actors Madeline Smith as 'Sophia' and Nicky Henson as 'Tom Jones' on a motorcycle on the set of British comedy film 'The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones', UK, 2nd April 1975
Image: With co-star Madeline Smith on the set of The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones in 1975

Speaking in an interview with the PA news agency last year, he spoke about his illness and his relationships.

“For the last 18 years, I’ve regarded myself as ‘being in extra time’, which I never expected to have, so I’m very thankful for it,” he said.

“I got my first cancer on Christmas day 18 years ago and didn’t think I was going to survive, after I was told I had a large tumour and would have to be operated on.

“To get rid of the first tumour, I had to have half my colon and a third of my stomach removed. I was fine, but a routine scan a few years later revealed I had another tumour. I was prescribed a drug, Gleevac, for six months, to reduce it to an operable size.

“During that time, I got my dream part as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night at the RSC, but the physical strain of the part and the side effects of the drug meant I had to give it up. I knew then I’d never act on stage again, which broke my heart.”

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Henson said he could not have coped without his “amazing” wife Marguerite, saying she had “probably saved my life at least five times over the last few years with her quick thinking and caring for me.

“It was love at first sight when I met her, but I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask her out. In the end a friend got us together.”

Henson said: “The only regrets are the upsets I’ve given people in my life, particularly ladies, when I was young. I’ve said sorry to Una. I was always very, very immature – in fact, I’ve only grown up recently.”

Henson leaves behind his wife, three sons and four grandchildren.