Windsor Davies will be remembered for his comical loud Welsh accent, but in reality, he was very different to the on-screen character he often portrayed.
He bellowed his way to fame on British television screens as the imposing Battery Sergeant Major Williams. However, those who knew Windsor Davies tell a tale of a vastly different character. Known to loved ones as a quiet birdwatcher, Davies exemplified an actor capable of disappearing into his roles.
Born in Canning Town, East London, in 1930 to Welsh parents, Davies’s early life was spent in the bustling city until his family moved back to their native Nant-y-moel, Bridgend in 1940. A former coal miner and National Service soldier in Libya and Egypt, Davies’s early work experiences seemed to have little in common with the later passions shaping his life. He worked as a teacher in Staffordshire and South London after training at Bangor Teacher Training College, teaching English and Maths, but a deep-seated love of the arts led him to the stage.
Taking up amateur dramatics, he eventually became a professional actor at 31. His role as the screaming sergeant major in “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” truly launched his career. Davies once said he modeled the character on real-life individuals he encountered during his national service. Spike Milligan described his performance as “the funniest comic performance he had ever watched.”
Yet, behind this boisterous character lay a quiet, contemplative man. “The man on screen was a creation, an act,” his friends might tell you. “Off-stage, Windsor was as gentle as they come. You were more likely to find him birdwatching than raising his voice.”
His love of nature extended to his personal life, where he was a keen birdwatcher. Settled in the south of France with his wife, Eluned Lynne Evans, with whom he had five children, Davies found tranquillity in observing nature’s flighty creatures.
Davies also carried his distinctive, deep Welsh-accented voice into other career avenues. He had successful forays into films, starring in two “Carry On” films and a Welsh rugby film, “Grand Slam.” He even lent his voice to adverts for Cadbury’s Wispa and Heinz Curried Beans.
Despite a career filled with various roles, his greatest passion lay in the quiet appreciation of nature. His home in France provided him with ample opportunities for birdwatching, allowing him to indulge in his love for observing the intricacies of avian life. Windsor’s hobby revealed the quiet, solitude-loving man behind the abrasive roles he played.
Davies’s passion for quiet observation contrasts starkly with the iconic image of him screaming “Shut Up!!” as Sergeant Major Williams. Yet, it’s perhaps the most fitting testament to his skill as an actor: he could portray such a character convincingly while being such a different person off-stage. For decades, Windsor Davies showed art of acting means becoming someone entirely different.
Davies passed away on 17 January 2019, aged 88, just four months after the death of his beloved wife. But his legacy in the world of comedy lives on.