Robert Fyfe, who died of kidney disease at the age of 90, was an actor who rose to prominence as Howard Sibshaw, the henpecked husband sneaking away from his wife, Pearl, to enjoy bike rides with the fickle marina, in the long- running of the BBC television series Last of the Summer Wine.
Their stays offered viewers panoramic views of the stunning Yorkshire countryside. The characters also brought another layer of humor to the longtime sitcom, created by Roy Clarke, alongside the antics of three childish old men led by Clegg, the retired linoleum salesman of Peter Sallis.
Like Howard, Fyfe would sneak away from Pearl (played by Juliette Kaplan) to join Marina (Jean Fergusson), the object of his infatuation. They sometimes wore disguises in the hopes of not being recognized, but Pearl was invariably one step ahead of their ploys.
Despite his shy nature, Howard didn’t hesitate to come forward – Fyfe described his character as “something of a lothario” – though his dates with Marina never went beyond holding the hand, the the occasional kiss and the gasps of “Oh, Howard” and “Ah, Marina”.
First seen onscreen tangoing in a field, Fyfe and Fergusson’s escapades have grown more and more burlesque. In one episode, the couple are in a rowboat when Howard sees a periscope of a glass bottom submarine ship built by Clegg, Compo (Bill Owen) and Seymour (Michael Aldridge), thinks he’s Pearl acts and begins to rock the boat – until he and Marina tip over into the canal.
“It’s funny what you do for television,” he told Richard Webber, author of Last of the Summer Wine: The Best Scenes, Jokes and One-Liners (2009). âIn real life, I don’t like heights – but, like Howard, I have climbed rooftops and been in a treehouse. I guess you focus so much on your lines and the action that you don’t have time to worry about such things.
Fyfe and Kaplan joined the cast of Last of the Summer Wine when they appeared in a stage version of Bournemouth in 1984, 11 years after the show began on television. Then, in 1985, Howard and the two women in his life were introduced to the television series – gradually at first, before becoming regulars, staying until the last episode in 2010.
Robert was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, to Mary (nÃ©e Irvine) and Douglas Fyfe, a watchmaker. Classical music and opera were his loves when he was a child, when he was delighted with the voices of Kathleen Ferrier and Isobel Baillie during his visits to the city. He also had a passion for acting which blossomed in Kirkcaldy High School in plays such as A Murder Has Been Arranged (1948) by Emlyn Williams, when a local newspaper critic commented on his role of murderer: âIt seemed to me to live the role, which I think is the sign of the true artist. He put the audience in suspense with his gestures and expressions.
Although he started a degree in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, Fyfe dropped it when he had the chance to train at the Northern Theater School in Esme Church, Bradford, where he studied. graduated in 1954. He then toured with his Northern Children’s Theater before moving on to repertory companies, including three years at the Castle Theater, Farnham (1957-60).
Fyfe made his West End debut as Dai in Laurence Dobie and Robert Sloman’s college play “Red Bricks” The Tinker at the Comedy Theater (1960-61). Later, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he played the horse trader in Doctor Faustus in Stratford-upon-Avon and on tour (1975).
On television, his 25 years in Last of the Summer Wine were preceded by almost as long little character roles. From his screen debut as a doctor, alongside Richard Hearne’s bowler-hat bungler, in the children’s comedy Mr Pastry’s Progress (1962), he has played dozens of unique character roles, including three different roles. in Dr Finlay’s case book (in 1962, 1967 and 1968), including that of the first patient of the Scottish drama GP.
He had two short stays at Coronation Street: as Sid, a heavy-handed pursuer of Dennis Tanner for money he had cheated in a casino (1966); and Malcolm Lagg, a retired passing patrol officer who trained Dennis to succeed him outside Bessie Street School, then successfully led a protest march to reinstate Dennis after his resignation when Steve McDonald falsely took it. accused of being mean to children.
Fame in The Last of the Summer Wine also led to Fyfe being cast as the grandfather of the character played by Edward Petherbridge – one of his contemporaries in drama school – in the suburban sitcom “Sex, Lies and scotch ‘No Strings, with Petherbridge and Jean Marsh reunited when their respective partners have an affair.
In 1957, Fyfe married Diana Rush, a stage designer, who died in August. He is survived by their three sons, Timothy, Nicholas and Dominic.