Today would have been the 86th birthday of actor Burt Kwouk OBE, who died in May.
Perhaps best known for his role as Cato in the Pink Panther films alongside Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau, Kwouk had a long career stretching from the 1950s to shortly before his death. With roles in almost 40 feature films and countless TV series, he became an instantly recognisable and much-loved figure in the British entertainment scene.
Often thought to have been born in China, he was actually born in Warrington, Lancashire, in 1930, to wealthy Chinese parents. When he was just a child his family returned to China and he was raised in Shanghai, attending its Jesuit Mission School, which he later described as "the Far East equivalent of Eton". His family returned to Britain in 1947, but soon afterwards young Burt was dispatched to the United States to complete his education, graduating from college in Brunswick, Maine, in 1953.
Unfortunately his family lost their fortune in China's 1949 revolution so when Burt returned to Britain in 1954, finding employment became a pressing need. He later wrote that he was "nagged into acting" by a girlfriend who persuaded him that his oriental looks combined with a thorough command of English would mean no shortage of character roles.
She was proved right and Burt soon found work, honing his acting skills in various stage roles before making his film debut in "Windom's Way" (1957), with a more significant role the following year in "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness". Several more film and TV roles followed before he landed the part of Cato in "A Shot in the Dark" – the second instalment of the Pink Panther series – in 1964. It was a career-defining role, which he would reprise on another six occasions, right up to 1993.
The running gag was that Inspector Clouseau had ordered his manservant, Cato, to attack him unexpectedly using his martial arts skills, in order that the policeman should stay alert at all times. It resulted in some hilarious fight scenes, usually ending when the phone rang and Cato would immediately cease fighting to resume his usual manservant duties. At which point Clouseau, taking advantage of the diversion, would land the decisive blow!
Kwouk was seldom out of work, becoming a stalwart of popular TV series such as "The Saint", "Danger Man" and "The Avengers", and having many film role, including two James Bond movies, "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice", and the 1967 bond spoof "Casino Royale" starring David Niven. It seemed whenever a producer needed an oriental character, Burt Kwouk's phone would ring.
These cameo roles often required little in the way of acting skills, but he more than proved his true abilities in the 1980s TV drama "Tenko", set in the Second World War. He played the honourable but misguided Japanese Major Yamauchi, commander of a women's prison camp.
Kwouk also had a natural talent for comedy, evident in his later TV work, appearing as himself as a regular on the "Harry Hill Show" and touring with several live stage versions of the show. His last major role was as "Electrical Entwistle" in the world's longest-running sitcom, "Last of the Summer Wine". He was one of the show's main characters from 2002 to its close in 2010.
Outside of showbiz, he was married to Caroline Tebbs for 55 years, from 1961 until his death from cancer on May 24th this year. The couple had one son and four grandchildren. Recognising his long and varied career, he was awarded the OBE for services to drama in the 2011 New Year Honours list.