Avengers roles included Arkadi in The Fantasy Game

In common with many of the actors who performed in The Avengers, Rex Garner was a British ex-patriate. He was born in Wolverhampton in 1921 and first went to South Africa in 1968 to direct and play in a production of Uproar in the House. After several years commuting between England and South Africa, he settled in the latter and forged a career that led him to be regarded as one of the giants of South African theatre, practically a legend in his own lifetime. His long career saw him become one of the most respected and reknowned directors of theatre in South Africa. He is particularly noted for his work both as actor and director in comedies and farces. He worked as principal director for Pieter Toerien, a major producer of South African theatre for many years. In 1994, Toerien named the small theatre in his Alhambra complex The Rex Garner Theatre in appreciation of Rex's considerable services to South African show business.

Rex started his acting career while still in Britain working extensively in television, film and theatre. He broke through into television in 1950, playing Sergei Sinitsin in a light-hearted BBC play set in Moscow, The Whole World Over (transmitted 24th January 1950). By the end of the decade he was appearing in prominent roles in series such as Shadow Squad, in which he played lead character Vic Steel in the introductory run of episodes (aired between June and September 1957). He also did much work in situation comedy, appearing notably in the Associated Rediffusion series My Wife and I in 1958, with Mai Zetterling and Joan Benham, and this stood him in excellent stead for his career in South Africa, where his talent for light comedy and farce became greatly valued.

In Britain during his "commuter years", he was seen often on the stage and on television. He appeared as Captain Ashley-Jones in an episode of Jimmy Perry and David Croft's smash hit wartime comedy series Dad's Army, and featured in another less well-remembered project of Perry's, Lollipop Loves Mr Mole, in 1972.

In South Africa, he immersed himself in the theatre, becoming a mainstay of stage farce in productions including Run for Your Wife, Move Over Mrs Markham and Till Bed Us Do Part, often taking the director's chair as well as appearing on stage. He also completed a great deal of radio work for Springbok Radio.

In his autumn years, Garner's theatre work continued to great acclaim, and he was also seen in the high profile BBC Television mini-series Rhodes - filmed in South Africa - in the role of Sir Henry Loch. 

Rex Garner returned to Britain in the early 2000s, shortly after receiving the Fleur du Cap Lifetime Award for his contribution to the acting profession in South Africa. He died at the grand old age of 94 on 17th May 2015.

by Donald Monat with Alan Hayes

 

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