The comic actor Victor Spinetti had a rare distinction as the only non-Beatle to appear in the films A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour. He was once described by Paul McCartney as “the man who makes clouds disappear”.
He was born Victorio G A Spinetti on 2 September 1929 in the south Wales town of Cwm, Ebbw Vale. His grandfather was said to have walked from Italy to Wales to work as a coal miner.
Spinetti attended Monmouth School before studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. He worked as a waiter and factory worker before his acting career took off.
Spinetti rose to prominence after being cast as the television director in The Beatles’ first film A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Further roles followed as Professor Foot in Help! (1965) and as an army sergeant in Magical Mystery Tour (1967).
George Harrison once told Spinetti: “You’ve got to be in all our films. If you’re not in them me mum won’t come and see them – because she fancies you.”
Spinetti appeared in more than 30 films, including Zeffirelli’s The Taming Of The Shrew, The Return Of The Pink Panther, Under The Cherry Moon, The Krays, and Under Milk Wood with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He worked extensively in television and theatre as an actor and director, was a published poet, and in 2006 published a memoir, Victor Spinetti Up Front: His Strictly Confidential Autobiography.
The actor’s links with The Beatles were not confined to the three films, however. With John Lennon he co-wrote and directed the stage adaptation of Lennon’s first book In His Own Write, which had its premiere on 18 June 1968 at the Old Vic in London.
What was interesting about it to me was, the play was brought to me to act in, you see, and when I read it I began to feel, by reading the poems and the stories, the kind of things that happened to me as a kid, and the kind of things I heard, and thank god it corresponded with when John perceived the kind of things that influenced him.
And the most important line in it is really – the influences about us, the things that make us what we are, make you what you are now, or make us what we were, the things that we half heard, you know, as kids.
Spinetti appeared in the promotional video for the 1978 Wings song London Town. In July 2010 his performance of The Beatles’ ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ at the Festival Theatre in Malvern was recorded and later made available on The Beatles Complete on Ukulele podcast.
Spinetti was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2011 after he collapsed onstage on Valentine’s Day. He was treated in London, before being moved to Velindre Cancer Centre near Cardiff for further treatment. He died in a hospice in Monmouth on the morning of 18 June 2012.