Geoffrey Palmer

Last updated 06 November 2020

Geoffrey Palmer (1927-2020)
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Geoffrey Dyson Palmer

Born: Saturday 4th June 1927
Died: Friday 6th November 2020 (age: 93)


Geoffrey Palmer is an English actor, best known for his roles in sitcoms such as Butterflies and As Time Goes By.

Palmer was born in London, England, the son of Norah Gwendolen and Frederick Charles Palmer, who was a chartered surveyor. He attended Highgate School, London. 

After serving in the Royal Marines Palmer joining a local amateur dramatics society. He became an assistant stage manager at the Q Theatre, by Kew Bridge, then the Grand Theatre in CroydoN and spent several years touring with a repertory company.

Early television appearances included a variety of roles in Granada Television's The Army Game, two episodes of The Baron and as a property agent in Cathy Come Home, a very highly influential drama documentary shown on British TV in 1966.

Getting a major break in John Osborne's West of Suez at the Royal Court with Ralph Richardson, he then acted in major productions at the Royal Court and the Royal National Theatre and was directed by Laurence Olivier. Many of his television parts were as a stuffy, middle class buffoon, and he is known for deadpan drollery. 

Two sitcom roles brought him major attention in the 1970s: the hapless brother-in-law of Reggie Perrin in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and the phlegmatic Ben Parkinson in Carla Lane's Butterflies. He starred opposite Judi Dench for over a decade in the BBC situation comedy As Time Goes By (1992-2005). During this time he also appeared with Dench in other productions: the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies where he portrayed Admiral Roebuck, and Mrs. Brown, he played Sir Henry Ponsonby to Dench's Queen Victoria.

His distinctive voice has given him a career in advertising and television voiceovers, most notably the Audi commercials in which he popularised the phrase "Vorsprung durch Technik", and as the narrator for the BBC series, Grumpy Old Men and Grumpy Old Holidays. He narrated the audiobook version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, released in 2005 as a podcast by Penguin Books. He narrates Little England.

In 2007 he teamed up with Silksound Books to record The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith as an online audiobook.

In Doctor Who Geoffrey Palmer was cast in the role of the Captain in Voyage of the Damned, having previously appeared as different characters in the Third Doctor serials Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Mutants.

Palmer married Sally Green in 1963 and they have a son, Charles, who has directed episodes of Doctor Who and daughter Harriet. 

In the New Year's Honours List published 31 December 2004 Palmer was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to drama.