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Christopher Malcolm remembered fondly
Longtime members of Vernon’s theatre community are mourning the loss of veteran stage and film actor Christopher Malcolm, who died of cancer Feb. 15 at his home in the U.K.
The son of Powerhouse founding member, the late Paddy Malcolm English, and William English, a prominent businessman in Vernon and former member of the Vernon Winter Carnival Society, Malcolm had an illustrious career in movies, TV and on the stage, both as an actor and an executive.
“I can vividly remember sitting in a Toronto theatre in 1981 watching Warren Beatty’s Reds when Chris appeared on the screen. In full Okanagan voice, I blurted out ‘Hey, I went to school with that guy.’ (I was) a proud Vernonite,” said Lynne Sawicki-Fulton, who attended school and grew up with the Malcolm family. “Chris and his family lived in Bath, England with gorgeous Georgian buildings and the ancient Roman baths. At age 67, Chris is another one who has left the party much too early.”
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Malcolm moved with his family to Vernon in the late-1940s when he was a toddler. The second of four children, he and his family settled on a farm in the area.
An amateur theatre enthusiast, his mother Paddy became involved in Vernon’s Little Theatre, which would later become Powerhouse Theatre. She directed numerous plays for the theatre, and is recognized for bringing pantomime to the B.C. stage.
When the local theatre community decided to purchase an abandoned power station on 35th Avenue, Malcolm, who was a teen at the time, dropped out of a course he was taking at the University of B.C. to help with the renovation of what would become Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre in 1963.
“Chris was involved at the very beginning of the Powerhouse and was one of the 65 volunteers who donated 3,000 hours of work to transform the old power station into our community’s theatre,” said Sarah “Scotty” McLean, Powerhouse Theatre’s current president, who has been with the theatre since its early beginnings.
Malcolm appeared in the opening show at Powerhouse, The Mad Woman of Chaillot, in 1963, which was directed by his mother. He did the lights for Love Rides the Rails in 1964, appeared in The Little Hut in 1964, and in the award winning Firebugs in 1965.
He left Vernon shortly afterwards at the age of 19, returning to Britain by boat to live with his grandmother in Essex. It’s there that he gained notice on the British stage, appearing in productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Open Space Theatre and Royal Court Theatre in London.
It was with the latter company that he starred in the original production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as Brad Majors.
Malcolm would later co-produce a new production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was nominated for a Lawrence Olivier award and would go on to success throughout the U.K. and the world.
Besides acting, directing and producing for the stage, Malcolm also appeared in film and TV productions, including The Empire Strikes Back, Reds, Ragtime, Labyrinth, Highlander and Absolutely Fabulous.
Although Malcolm was unable to come to Powerhouse’s 50th reunion this past November, McLean says he kept in contact.
“He always tried to drop in for a visit when he would come back to the Okanagan to visit his sister, Heather Hooper in Kelowna,” she said.
“Although Chris had attained great heights in his career, he remained one of the most gracious, gentle, and modest men I have ever known, and I will miss his kind spirit.”
Malcolm is survived by his wife, actor Judy Lloyd, three children and a grandson.