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RIP Peter Vaughan.

December 7, 2016


Among other things, the late Peter Vaughan was one of the most successful things in one of Terry Gilliam’s most successful films.  Here he is opposite Jonathan Pryce in a Santa suit as the Deputy Minister for Information Retrieval.   He’s the most visible authority figure in the film yet he can speak seemingly only in sporting metaphors.  He can’t express himself in anything other than these strained, tired, and inadequate references to goalposts and wickets and exposes himself, rhetorically, as just another cog in a larger system.  His words are not his own.

Peter Vaughan died yesterday at 93.  When people die at the age of 93, there is little to be said in the way of shock and dismay and for once, 2016 might be let off the hook.  “Damn you 2016!” feels inappropriate in this context.

He was an early “Ed” in Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane in the 1960s which (of course) I did not see, though I can “see” him in the role.  Of  course I recall him as “Genial” Harry Grout in Porridge and as the girlfriend’s Dad in Citizen Smith, a very traditional sitcom about Trotskyism in South London.  Someone you’d be summoned to meet.  Someone who played host.  Someone whose affability was the velvet glove on a metallic fist of indeterminable size and strength.

All my filmic and televisual life, he kept showing up, often playing some troubled daddies.   He was Anthony Hopkins’ dad in Remains of the Day, a dad promoted and then demoted by his expressionless son.   He was a dad succumbing to Alzheimer’s  in Our Friends in the North.  I was very moved by Our Friends in the North and by Vaughan in particular as a bitter, stubborn old man slowly defeated by the steady removal of the chunks that make for consecutive thought.

Most recently, of course, he played just about the only person to die of natural causes in Game of Thrones.  As Maester Aemon Targaryen, Vaughan’s prophetic blind old doctor/scholar/person who knows stuff had the strange effect off making life in Castle Black seem colder and warmer at one and the same time.  Without him, Samwell Tarly would not have survived.  Of royal blood, yet devoted to privation and celibacy,  Aemon Targaryen, relic from another age provided this awkward military community with a rare sense of itself.  He’s someone who has surrendered a palpable version of power for a more elusive version of authenticity.   Few scenes in Game of Thrones are as moving as Aemon’s death, in which he is pleasantly infantilised at the last, a transformation which is anything but humiliating.

And so as the year limps to a close, we carry on without Peter Vaughan, who I’ll always think of as the supreme exponent of fragile authority, perilous patriarchy – the ultimate damaged daddy.




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