Stars support tribute to TV pioneer Louis Mahoney
'He was all about change, and he believed that things would'
01 December, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Louis Mahoney appearing in Fawlty Towers
A FUNDRAISING campaign has been launched to celebrate the life of a popular Hampstead resident hailed as “Britain’s first black film star”.
Screen Nation, also known as the Black BAFTAs, wants to create a film tribute to Louis Mahoney, an early pioneer of black rights who died aged 81 from lung cancer in June. John Cleese, Denzel Washington and David Warner are among those who have agreed to take part, according to the filmmakers’ appeal for funds to get the project going.
Mr Mahoney’s daughter, Sashola Prestcote, said: “It would be lovely, because Dad worked really hard and tirelessly for so many years promoting equality and rights across the industry. He was quite a private man. He never courted publicity to honour him. But he really made a difference. Right up until the end, he was meeting up-and-coming actors – giving guidance.”
Ms Prestcote said she recently found a copy of a speech Mr Mahoney made at the TUC conference in 1976 “about the rights of black actors at the time and the portrayal of ethnic minorities in society”.
She said: “Right now, BLM [Black Lives Matter] and equality is at the forefront of people’s consciousness. But this isn’t new, people like Dad have been fighting for this for years. He was an eternal optimist. He never harboured any animosity. He was all about change, and he believed that things would change. There was no burning of flags, he was ever the gentleman, quietly doing what he needed to advance the cause.”
She added: “He doesn’t need an award for me to know what he achieved, but it would be lovely to have something to show to other people in the future.”
Mr Mahoney, who lived on the corner of Gayton Road and Willow Road for 20 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. His many friends lined Church Row before his funeral in the Hampstead Parish Church. He is often remembered for playing a newsreader in Doctor Who, and a doctor in Fawlty Towers episode, The Germans.
For many in the 1960s and 1970s it was the first time a black man was seen in professional roles on TV. He appeared in almost every popular drama, ranging from Dixon of Dock Green in 1965 to Holby City in 2016.
Born in Gambia, Mr Mahoney came to Britain in 1957, training at the Central School of Speech and Drama in Swiss Cottage.
He was one of the first black actors to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared at the National, Royal Court and Almeida theatres.
He was a prominent anti-racism campaigner for the union Equity, where he argued for an acting boycott against apartheid South Africa and “colour-blind casting”. He demanded Sir Cameron Mackintosh employ Afro-Asian actors in Miss Saigon in the early 1990s, before becoming vice-president of Equity.
His film credits include appearing in Captain Phillips – alongside Tom Hanks – and Omen III.
A regular in Hampstead pubs, he was known and loved by many of the NW3 old guard.
Screen Nation would normally have given him a special prize but this year’s awards have been called off due to Covid.
Historians and celebrated film directors have agreed to take part in the project being organised by Mr Mahoney’s friend, Screen Nation chief executive Charles Thompson MBE.
Any donations will go towards its costs. “Screen Nation feel it’s now imperative we do everything we can to produce a tribute film befitting the memory of Louis Mahoney – a giant of British film and TV,” the fundraiser organisers said.
To make a donation, visit www.justgiving.com and search for Screen Nation.