Remembering Roy Kinnear: A charming screen presence whose life was cut tragically short

August 1963: Television and stage actor Roy Kinnear (1934 - 1988). (Photo by Frank Harrison/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

By the time it came to shooting Return of The Musketeers in 1988, the Richard Lester-directed movie adaptations of Alexander Dumas’ classic series of novels had already had their fair share of controversy.

Return… was the threequel to 1973’s Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge and the speed at which the second of these was released was the reason for the problem.

The cast and crew had been under the impression they were shooting one movie. But when all the footage had been shot, producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind decided to split it into two movies – without the actors’ consent.

They sued and won a settlement, the case resulting in the Screen Actor’s Guild creating what is colloquially known as The Salkind Clause, preventing filmmakers from doing the same thing in the future.

Detail from the poster for 1989's The Return of the Musketeers. (EFD)

Nevertheless, the stars – including Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain – were happy to strap on their scabbards 15 years later once again under the direction of Lester, best known as the helmer of Beatles’ movies like A Hard Day’s Night. Also returning was the funny British actor called Roy Kinnear, father of Bond actor Rory, who was a close friend of Lester and frequently appeared in his productions.

Read more: Films that lost a fortune

Kinnear was born in Wigan in 1934 and had made his mark as a TV comedy performer, before starring in things like Help! (1965), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) as Veruca Salt’s dad, as well as various sitcoms.

From right to left, actors Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, Roy Kinnear as Mr. Salt and Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt in the film 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory', 1971. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

He voiced Pippin the 1978’s animated classic Watership Down. By the time he was asked to reprise his role as loyal servant Planchet in Return of the Musketeers, he was 54, successful and married to fellow actor Carmel Cryan with three young children.

As well as the producers’ sequel tampering, the franchise had previously been no stranger to accidents. During the shooting of the first instalment, Reed had to go hospital after getting a sword in his arm and York had almost lost an eye during a duel. The latter, who played D’Artagnan, took to using his script as makeshift body armour under his costume.

The stunt that eventually turned fatal doesn’t on its face seem that terrifying. The four Musketeers and Kinnear were supposed to gallop on horses over a bridge in Toledo, Spain and grind to a halt. But the bridge was covered with flagstones and was slippery. The lead actors said it was too dangerous because of the drop either side. Even a stunt co-ordinator said it was unsafe.

British actors Roy Kinnear (1934 - 1988) and Carmel Cryan attend the premiere of melodrama film 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?' at the Prince Charles Cinema, Soho, London, UK, 10th July 1970. (Photo by P. Shirley/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

And that’s not counting Kinnear’s dislike of horseriding. “I’ll ride if I am forced to,” he once told Carmel, “I’ll never do it for pleasure.” He was only given 15 minutes to practice for the shot.

Action was called and the actors rode across the bridge, but Kinnear’s horse lost its footing and the actor was thrown off, damaging his pelvis. His wife and kids had been with Kinnear for most of the production but had since returned to England. After he was whisked to the Ruber Internacional Hospital in Madrid, Carmel was informed and she flew back to Spain immediately.

“I was unhappy when I saw the hospital,” she told the Times in 2011. “There was nobody around. ‘My God, we must get out of this place,’ I told him, ‘they don’t care if you live or die’.”

25th March 1974: Stars of the film 'The Three Musketeers' from left to right; Simon Ward, Michael York, Christopher Lee, Raquel Welch, Geraldine Chaplin, Jean Pierre Cassel and Roy Kinnear. (yFrank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images)

Doctors appeared to be happy with his progress, but he’d lost five pints of blood. The next day, after being transferred to a nearby clinic, he had a heart attack and died.

Unsurprisingly, the film’s cast and crew were in shock. “It was ghastly,” recalled the movie’s screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser in his autobiography. “He was such a jolly, witty character in the prime of life.”

Read more: The films still coming to cinemas in 2020

After taking a day to think about it, the decision was made to continue shooting. “We all unanimously came to the same decision to finish the film,” said Michael York later to LBC. “Primarily so that what Roy had contributed would endure.”

But not everyone agreed they should continue. Christopher Lee said it would have been better to cancel the film, while co-stars like Richard Chamberlain were furious. In an era before CGI, the rest of Kinnear’s role was performed by a body double and a sound-a-like was subsequently hired to voice his lines.

(Original Caption) Beatle John Lennon (right) and Roy Kinnear play members of a British Platoon caught up in World War II's north Africa campaign in United Artists' How I Won the War, directed by Richard Lester.

A movie spokesperson argued the film would be a tribute and that they hadn’t been wrong to allow Kinnear to do the stunt. “There is no question that any risk would be taken,” he told Screen International four days after the actor’s death. “You don’t take chances with key actors and in this picture Roy was a principal player.”

However, his wife was convinced that someone was at fault and needed to be found responsible, spending years in a protracted legal battle with the producers for compensation. They in turn claimed it was the hospital’s negligence, not them, that caused the star’s death.

In 1994, she was vindicated after being awarded £650,000 – the Spanish facility was eventually forced to pay a large amount of that settlement. “No money, nothing, will ever help us get over the last six years of hell or the next 20 years or more without him,” she said outside court.

English actors Roy Kinnear (1934 - 1988) and Carmel Cryan, UK, 2nd August 1969. (Photo by Norman Potter/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Director Richard Lester more or less retired after the incident, later telling Time Out, “I really won’t talk about The Return of the Musketeers, I never have and I won’t now. But I think you can draw your own conclusions.”

Michael York said in 1989, “I would like to feel Roy’s life was not wasted, that the example of his accidental death can be used to safeguard, that it never happens to any other actor anywhere.”

Fortunately, the Kinnear acting legacy continues. Son Rory, now 44, is a stage powerhouse best known internationally as intelligence wonk Tanner in the Daniel Craig 007 films.

Rory Kinnear as MI6 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner on a character poster for No Time To Die. (Eon/Universal)

Sadly, Roy’s oldest daughter Karina recently died of Covid-19 aged 48. Prior to that, she lived in Roy Kinnear House, a home for several young people with disabilities built and maintained through a charity established by her mother.

Twenty three years after his death, Rory remembered his father in The Times. “The image the public had of my father and the person he really was overlap perfectly,” he said. “He was kind, generous, happy and very loving.”