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Wednesday, January 12, 2011


(Photograph courtesy of:

Actor Kenneth “Ken” Baker died towards the end of last year in the UK. He will be remembered fondly by theatre and film audiences as well as radio listeners for his many roles during his stay in South Africa. He was well-known for his work with the South African Film and Theatre Union, fighting hard for racial equality. Before he left South Africa, he was content in the knowledge that all races were able to attend theatres and other places of amusement without restriction.

Ken Baker was born in a small village in Essex, UK, near Great Dunmow, a village which was also home to several famous personalities, among them HG Wells. Ken became involved in theatricals at Dunmow High School and became a choir boy in the local church choir.

His wartime army career consisted of six years in the Royal Army Service Corps and, after his basic training, he served two years in Northern Ireland where he was able to appear in and produce many army unit shows.

After the war, he settled in Richmond, Surrey, where he was accepted as a student at the Richmond Theatre after appearing in a number of prestigious amateur plays. His first professional appearance was in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion in 1947 and after that, became involved in weekly repertory before working in many of the major theatres in the UK.

While performing in the 1958 production of Peter Pan with Sarah Churchill and John Justin, he received an invitation to appear in a production of The Long, and the Short, and the Tall in Johannesburg. Thus began his 26-year association with South African entertainment as a respected and much sought-after actor in stage, film and radio.

He was a founder member of the then new Lyric Theatre (now defunct) in Durban where, after a year of fortnightly repertory, he took over the position of Director of Productions. However, ill-health dictated that he leave Natal and its humidity and return to Johannesburg. He was to return to Durban many times to appear in productions for the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company) where he was invariably prevailed upon to appear in locally produced radio plays.

With the closure of many theatres and the prevailing political unrest at the time, Ken decided to return to the UK in 1986 where he continued to pursue theatrical activities.

(artSMart is indebted to Christopher Williams for comments taken from his biographical project on Kenneth Baker written in October 1989.)