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A Shout From The Attic: Return To Zin - 1

Ronnie Bray recalls the help he received from a famous English actor.

If you ever need a helping hand,
look at the end of your arm - Bryan B. Gardner

During my time in Bournemouth or Southampton, probably the latter, trying, ineptly, to affect a reconciliation with Esmι, I met Bryan Gardner. We were introduced at the British Mission office at Balham, by President T Bowring Woodbury. My life was in tatters.

Bryan had connections. He told me that he could get me a job with a London laundry – his family business I thought – driving, picking up dry cleaning and laundry, and promoting the service. I remember his pleasant manner, and his willingness to help a man, a stranger, whose life was in fragments, and who needed help to begin again. I will always be grateful to him and kind to his memory. I was saddened to learn of his passing.

The Deseret News website carried his obituary:

Beloved British actor Bryan Gardner dies at 73

Sunday, January 3, 1999

Beloved British actor Bryan Gardner dies at 73 By Ivan M. Lincoln Deseret News theater editor. Salt Lake-area theatergoers probably remember Bryan Gardner best for such roles as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in numerous productions of "Annie," Col. Pickering in "My Fair Lady" and more than 60 other shows over the past quarter-century.

He took his role of FDR one step further, developing his own one-man show called "Happy Days Are Here Again."

Directors and fellow actors alike considered Gardner (properly pronounced Gah-dnuh) an absolute professional with a touch of wry, British wit.

Some things you may not have known about Gardner, who died Monday at home, at age 73, while recuperating from bypass surgery:

As a lad growing up in London, where his father was official physician to the then-reigning king and queen (Queen Elizabeth's mother), he would frequently play with young Elizabeth and Margaret in the palace gardens. According to former Grand Theatre artistic director Pat Davis, Gardner once said that Elizabeth was very prim and proper but Margaret "had a mouth like a sailor. He took a few of the words home — and got his mouth washed out with soap."

About 1950, Davis said, Gardner heard a couple of young American boys in Hyde Park talking about Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church. A short time later, he joined the church, then took his fiance to dinner and told her what he had done. She was furious and broke off their engagement.

When Davis asked Gardner what the girl was like, he said "She was a well-known singer, but I can't remember her name." The next day, he called Davis back and said, "Oh . . . it was Petula Clark . . . I must have put her out of my mind."

(Clark's loss was Katherine Kenner's gain. Wed in the London LDS Temple, they were married nearly 40 years and had five daughters.)

As a young actor in Britain, he fell into a circle of performers that included Lawrence Olivier. The latter used to present readings of plays and Gardner was frequently invited to come along.

Before moving to the United States, Gardner served in the Royal Air Force as a radio technician, was a television critic for the Daily Express and was a disc jockey on a late-night BBC program called "The Late Bryan Gardner."

Sally Dietlein, co-owner of Hale Centre Theatre, notes that "besides being a fine actor with implicit comedic timing, he was one of the finest gentlemen I know. He was adored by other actors and kind to a fault — the kind of man who is becoming increasingly rare."

Directors/actors John and Tamara Adams, who had worked with Gardner in several productions — on both sides of the footlights — agree. "This is a man I wanted in every show I ever did," said Tamara. "He was very professional, wonderful to get along with and an absolute dream." John, who both directed and acted with Gardner, including HCT's "My Fair Lady," said "He was brilliant as Col. Pickering — as good a Pickering as you could find anywhere, and I just had the opportunity to have him play my father in 'Sabrina Fair' (directed by Tamara)." "He was always a front-runner and on our short list (of prospective performers), and we were looking forward to having him in 'Blithe Spirit' in September 1999. He prided himself on being a gentleman in a world that doesn't care about them anymore. He was certainly a man of letters and he loved the King's English."

Adams noted that Gardner also went against the grain. "A lot of people gave him a bad time" when he heard the LDS missionaries in Hyde Park, joined the church, then packed up and moved to Utah. "He threw caution to the wind and when you get that kind of spirit on the stage, you really have something," said Adams. But he also had a gentle, mischievous side and wry wit. Tamara added that when he was performing in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at the Grand, "He was so exemplary in every way. He would be off in a corner reading the Ensign magazine. He kept himself for the audience — and boy, did they love him back."

Although he never performed for City Rep, owner Tom Parker was his home teacher in the Capitol Hill 2nd Ward. "Many people will remember him fondly," Parker noted. Toni Byrd, who directed him in the Grand Theatre's production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" (in which he was cast against type as the villainous Jonathan Brewster), said "He didn't think he could do it, but I was totally happy. He was marvelous. He was a lovely, loving man."

Norman E. Plate, who directed him in StageRight's mounting of "Harvey" nearly six years ago, said "He was a lot of fun to work with. He took direction very well and was very creative."

Pat Davis said Gardner had just been cast for a role in the Grand Theatre's upcoming production of the British comedy, "Something's Afoot," but was concerned that his surgery might be a problem. "He was a consummate actor, but he always said he would give up theater for his family — his family always came first."

***

Bryan B. Gardner and Calvin T. Broadhead compiled A Collection of Inspirational Verse for Latter-day Saints [Published in 1963].

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