Paul Ritter will be remembered as a brilliantly inventive chameleon of an actor, as much at home in the guise of a mendacious Soviet nuclear engineer as of a comedic Jewish father to his two childish bambinos.
I first saw Paul on stage in Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests trilogy at the Old Vic in 2008. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. When I was told that they wanted him to play Martin Goodman in the pilot episode of Friday Night Dinner, I said: “You get him and I’m in.” Not only did Paul deliver in the role, he far surpassed everyone’s expectations – surprising, versatile, oddball, rooted in the clearest truth and always utterly, heart-stoppingly hilarious.
I also had the enormous privilege of collaborating with Paul on a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Anne Youngson’s novel Meet Me at the Museum, a few weeks before he died. He plays Anders Larsen. At times, it feels as if you are simply listening to a documentary about an isolated Danish museum curator, so skilfully does Paul inhabit the character. It took enormous courage and effort for him to record the drama remotely from his home when he was so ill, and I am honoured that he so willingly agreed to do it. It is a fine legacy and tribute to his artistry, and a gift of time and experience that I will treasure.
I am eternally grateful that our paths crossed. His kindness, attention to detail and phenomenal memory, his passion for music and football, his devotion to his beautiful family, his complete inability to accept a compliment, and his quiet, loyal, compassionate friendship will stay with me for ever.
The world is a less brilliant place without Paul in it. Go lightly, my friend. You are deeply beloved.
Paul’s family wishes any tribute donations to be made to the Old Vic Impact Fund. The forthcoming 10th anniversary celebration of Friday Night Dinner on Channel 4 will be dedicated to Paul.