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Obituary: Michael Henry – co-founder of Highcliffe Charity Players

TRIBUTES have been paid to a founding member of the Highcliffe Charity Players, Michael Henry, who has died at the age of 90.

Born to Marian and Gordon Henry in June 1932 in Putney, south-west London, the family moved during the Second World War to Netherbury, near Beaminster, in Dorset.

This, according to Michael’s son Guy, “sparked his constant love” for the county.

Michael Henry with one of his beloved dogs (62994891)
Michael Henry with one of his beloved dogs (62994891)

After leaving school Michael went to work as a mechanic at the Corner Garage in Highcliffe.

But he decided an actor was what he really wanted to be and he won a place at the Italia Conti Stage School in London alongside the likes of Anthony Newley and Millicent Martin.

His professional stage debut was postponed in the 1950s by two years of National Service during which he was a medical orderly in the RAF.

His first role was in the show Where the Rainbow Ends in which he appeared as Slimy Sloth.

Michael went on to get parts in theatre tours including working with the Barry O’Brien Repertory Company in Bournemouth.

Guy, an actor who has appeared in TV’s Holby City and on film in Harry Potter, told how one of his father’s fellow cast members was a “moody man in black” whose stage name was David Barron – but became better known as the playwright Harold Pinter.

Michael, Diz and Guy
Michael, Diz and Guy

Michael’s greatest success was to come after he answered an ad for the “straight man” to appear with comedians.

In 1957 he was starring with comedian Al Read during the summer season show at the South Pier theatre at Great Yarmouth.

On the North Pier was the Benny Hill Show which had among its dancers a very beautiful Diana Northey.

Nicknamed Dizzy or Diz, she met Michael at an after-show party. Afterwards they walked along the seafront and chatted until dawn.Just three days later, passing a jeweller’s on the main street of Great Yarmouth, Michael pointed out a ring and asked: “Shall we get that one?”

The couple married in Putney on 17th May 1958.

Michael continued his successful career on stage and TV with comedians who included Guy’s godfather, Charlie Drake. He also appeared with Arthur Haynes, the Ronnie Barker of his day.

By the mid-1960s the family had moved to New Milton and during a period when Diz was convalescing, Michael took time off from the theatre to look after her and a young Guy, taking a job with local estate agents Harris & Partners.

Michael was due to return to the stage in pantomime with Arthur Haynes in Blackpool, but the star died of a heart attack.

Guy Henry with cast (54638484)
Guy Henry with cast (54638484)

Michael was faced with the difficult decision of trying to find another comedian to work with or continue working locally in a secure job close to his family.

He decided on the latter but, missing the theatre, he helped found amateur dramatic society the Highcliffe Charity Players in the 1970s. Guy is now their president.

Michael went on to work in Ringwood at Ormiston, Knight and Payne and progressed to running the Lymington office of John D. Wood. When he retired Michael was working in property management.

He was devoted to dogs all his life and also enjoyed driving, golf and spending time on narrow boats.

Guy said his father will be remembered for his “generosity, loyalty to friends and colleagues, great intelligence, elegance and charisma, and a very naughty sense of humour”.

Michael died peacefully in Poole hospital on 26th February with Diz at his side. His funeral is to be held at St Mary’s Church, Witchampton, Dorset, on 21st March at 3pm. Donations to the Dorset Wildlife Trust or Woodgreen Pets Charity.

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