So Long, Major

Death of David Ogden-Stiers….

David Ogden-Stiers, the actor who so wonderfully played Major Charles Emerson Winchester 111 in the long-running television series M*A*S*H has died from bladder cancer at the age of seventy five.

He was one of my favourite actors from the series, a quite brilliant foil to Alan Alda and Mike Farrell, he managed to replace Larry Linville’s character as Major Frank Burns and make the role his own. He was the anti-hero, the delightfully snobbish, well-read surgeon who, like Burns, loathed life at the mobile surgical hospital and more especially his sleeping quarters known, quite suitably as ‘The Swamp’. His repartee with Alda in particular made for some of the great moments in the programmes history, his character revelled in complaining, desperate for a glimmer of sophistication in a war which offered none save Hawkeye’s bootleg martini’s. Unlike Burns before him, he wasn’t obsessed with ‘Hot Lips Houlihan’, the chief nurse. He put himself above all others and his performances were a joy to watch.

His personal life personified his M*A*S*H character in many ways, it wasn’t until he was in his sixties that he made public his sexuality, he was a private man who said he regretted putting work opportunities before his right to be openly gay, a truly sad indictment of the era in which he lived through.

He performed on Broadway, was a three-time Emmy nominee, twice for M*A*S*H and, like his character, Winchester, a devotee of classical music as the resident conductor of the Newport Symphonic Orchestra. I have seen him play other roles and one would be sure he would wish to be remembered for a broad career but for me, he was a part of my early teenage years as a constant actor on weekly British television. The closing music and credits were a signal for bed before school the following morning and whilst much of the wit passed over me at that time I was able to rediscover it all in my forties with a boxset collection. When so many things one revisits are never quite as good as one imagined, M*A*S*H and its actors really were.

David Ogden Stiers 1942-2018

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