Wife touched by messages following death of Ian Carmichael

THE huge numbers of condolence cards, letters and emails which have been sent to the Grosmont home of veteran actor Ian Carmichael since his death are a testament to the high regard in which he was held by so many.

But the touching messages are not just from his countless friends and family but from his legions of fans, almost all of whom he had never met.

What they all have in common is they almost all describe him as the "perfect English gentleman."

His widow Kate Fenton (55) said they have been a great comfort to her since the 89-year-old peacefully passed away at home last Friday with his daughters, wife and their dogs by his side.

A private family cremation is being held in Scarborough on Wednesday followed by a thanksgiving service at St John The Evangelist Church in Sleights – the church where he married his first wife Pym and also where his two daughters, Lee and Sally were both christened.

Hundreds of people are expected to pay their respects at the service including stars of stage and screen, cast members of ITV's The Royal in which he has played hospital secretary, Mr Middleditch, for the past 10 years, and family and friends.

Mrs Fenton told the Whitby Gazette a tent will be erected at the side of the church to accommodate all the mourners who will celebrate Mr Carmichael's life – 60 years of which were spent starring in films, on television, radio and appearing on stage.

"He had the most enormous zest for life and capacity for enjoying life and people," said Mrs Fenton.

"He will be really missed. He was 89 and a half. It's a wonderful age and he had a wonderful life.

"There's the most empty hole at the moment," she added.

Mr Carmichael had been suffering from blood clots on his lungs and became poorly over Christmas and New Year.

On two different occasions during the heavy snow that hit the area he had fallen ill and ambulance crews battled through the blizzards, once escorted by coastguards to ensure the emergency vehicles could take him safely to Scarborough Hospital for treatment.

"We are so grateful for the medical care Ian had both at Whitby and Scarborough.

"He was well looked after. I've had letters from the nurses who looked after him."

Mr Carmichael was born in Hull in 1920.

He studied at Scarborough College from the age of seven and in his 1979 autobiography called Will The Real Ian Carmichael ... he talked of his memories at the public school and said he disliked it so much he had vowed he would never return to the town.

But despite his bad childhood memories of the prep school and what he called its "Dickensian" displine, he did go back there in 2006 as guest of honour for the school's production of West Side Story.

He went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and was on the stage by the time he was 19.

In 1949 he was called up for army service and was posted to Whitby where his love affair with the town and the North Yorkshire Moors began.

Mr Carmichael made his name in a series of films for the Boulting Brothers including Private's Progress, Brothers In Law and I'm Alright Jack.

During the 1960s and 1970s he was successful in television, particularly for his portrayal of comic twerp Bertie Wooster in the World of Wooster and shrewd detective Lord Peter Wimsey in several drama series based on the mystery novels by Dorothy L Sayers.

"He was enormous box office," said Mrs Fenton.

"He filled some of the biggest theatres in London.

"Once a woman sent him a letter to say she had laughed so much at one of his performances she had gone into labour afterwards."

She said her husband often said nothing compared more to the thrill of performing live on stage in front of an audience.

"When people asked what his favourite thing was he could never answer it," she said.

"He was particularly proud of getting several series of Lord Peter Wimsey on to TV.

"It took a long time to persuade the BBC to do it."

At the age of 57, Mr Carmichael decided he would return to his Yorkshire roots and semi retire and while looking for a suitable home rented a flat at The Met on West Cliff.

Together with his wife Pym, whom he met at Scarborough Spa, the couple bought a 200-year-old house in Grosmont but five years later she died from cancer.

Nine months after his wife died he met novelist Kate Fenton, who was working as a features producer for a BBC Radio 4 show and recruited Mr Carmichael.

"We met because I employed him," she said. "I had some short stories that needed reading. I was after a quintessentially English gentleman to read them.

"I was in London and my father, who was a musician, was playing during the summer season in Whitby.

"I thought Ian Carmichael would be perfect. They said he lived in North Yorkshire and doesn't like coming to London – he loves his Whitby. When they said Whitby I said I can see my dad on expenses and record it. The series was a big success."

The pair fell in love and married in the early 1990s.

Ten years ago Mr Carmichael joined the cast of ITV's The Royal as the hospital's secretary, Mr Middleditch, even taking part in filming as recently as last year – some of the episodes have still to be shown.

"It should be said that when they approached him it was called Whitby Royal," said Mrs Fenton.

"He said how marvellous, I can film at home, then they found Whitby didn't have the locations they were looking for and moved it to Scarborough and Bradford.

"They are lovely people. We made so many friends and they looked after him so well."

Two of the highlights of Mr Carmichael's career were being awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2003 and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Whitby Gazette's Pride of Whitby Awards in 2007 where he received a standing ovation.

"The Pride of Whitby awards meant quite a lot to him because it was local, because it was Whitby," said Mrs Fenton.

In the little spare time he had Mr Carmichael enjoyed gardening, walking in the countryside around the Whitby area and enjoyed a drink at their local, The Wheatsheaf in Egton.

He leaves behind Mrs Fenton, his two daughters, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.