Ronald Lacey

Ronald William Lacey (28 September 1935 – 15 May 1991) was an English-born actor of Welsh descent.[3] He made numerous television and film appearances over a 30-year period and is perhaps best remembered for his roles as Harris in Porridge, Gestapo agent Major Arnold Ernst Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Bishop of Bath and Wells in Blackadder II.[3]

Ronald Lacey
Ronald William Lacey

(1935-09-28)28 September 1935
Harrow, Middlesex, England
Died15 May 1991(1991-05-15) (aged 55)
London, England
EducationHarrow Weald Grammar School
Alma materLondon Academy of Music and Dramatic Art
Years active1959–1991
Spouse(s)Mela White (1962–1969)[1]
Joanna Baker (1973–1989)[2]
Children3, including Rebecca Lacey

Early life

Lacey was born and grew up in Harrow, Middlesex. He received his formal education at Harrow Weald Grammar School. After a brief stint of national service in the British Armed Forces, he enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to train as an actor.


He began his acting career in 1959 in a television play, The Secret Agent. His first notable performance was at the Royal Court Theatre in 1962's Chips with Everything. Lacey had an unusual 'pug' look, with beady eyes, an upturned nose, liver lips, an overbite, receding chin and no brows. He had a distinctive voice as well, and could scream at a very high pitch. This unique combination of features landed him repeatedly in bizarre roles on both stage and screen, often as seedy, creepy villains. Together with his Welsh background, it helped qualify him for the role of Dylan Thomas, which he played on BBC2 in what critic Clive James described as a "bravura performance".[4]

Lacey performed on British television throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with roles spanning from a part in Kenneth Clark's Civilisation television series, as the gravedigger, in a re-enactment of the gravedigger scene from Hamlet, with Ian Richardson as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Horatio, to a guest shot as the "Strange Young Man" in The Avengers episode "The Joker", and as Harris in the sitcom Porridge, with the latter finally landing him in the role for which his unusual physical characteristics could be repeatedly used to full advantage.[5] Disappointed with his acting career by the late 1970s, he began to consider starting a talent agency. Spielberg then cast him as the Nazi agent Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He followed this with a series of various villain roles for the next five to six years: Sahara with Brooke Shields, and 1985's Red Sonja with Arnold Schwarzenegger, in addition to 1982's Firefox with Clint Eastwood, in which he played a Russian scientist helping the West behind the Iron Curtain.

He then made two movies for Ice International Films: Assassinator starring alongside John Ryan and George Murcell, and Into the Darkness, starring with Donald Pleasence, John Ryan, and Brett Paul.

Lacey played a number of villainous roles and was known for his trademark smile, which would turn into a gleaming malicious leer. He also had a rather large mole on his left cheek, which he chose not to have removed, as well as a highly distinctive voice. In 1982's Trenchcoat, he used the mole as a beauty mark in his role as Princess Aida, a mysterious and sleazy drag queen on the island of Malta. His other drag role was in Invitation to the Wedding from 1985, in which he played a husband/wife couple.


Lacey was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer on 25 April 1991. He died less than one month later, on 15 May 1991, at the age of 55.

Personal life

Lacey was known for his generosity and warmth to fans who occasionally recognized him from his film roles, but he was equally known in the London theatre scene for his excessive drinking habits, and he was a heavy cigarette smoker. He was often noted among the local gossip tabloid pages.

He married twice, firstly to the actress Mela White in 1962 (she married him under the name Brompton as this was her second marriage), he became the father with her of two children, the actors Rebecca Lacey[6] and Jonathan Lacey. After a turbulent divorce, he married Joanna Baker in 1972, the marriage producing a son.





  1. "FreeBMD Entry Info".
  2. "FreeBMD District Info".
  3. "Ronald Lacey". The New York Times.
  4. Clive James (6 April 2017). Clive James On Television. Pan Macmillan. p. 236. ISBN 978-1-5098-3243-9.
  5. Kenneth Clark (1969). Civilisation (Television production). London, UK: BBC.
  6. Lynda Bellingham (28 October 2014). Lost and Found: My Story. Ebury Publishing. p. 256. ISBN 978-1-4464-0795-0.
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