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John Howard Davies

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John Howard Davies, a wistful child actor of British movie dramas, memorable as the title orphan of "Oliver Twist," who became a comedy director and producer who nurtured such enduring programs as "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and "Fawlty Towers," died Aug. 22 Monday at his home in Blewbury, England.

He was 72 and had cancer, his son William Davies said.

Mr. Davies, the son of a film critic and screenwriter, was 8 when a family friend, director David Lean, hired the boy to star in his 1948 version of "Oliver Twist."

Lean described the actor as a "pale, angelic-looking lad, with large expressive eyes." He proved an ideal Oliver for his adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel about an orphan boy who becomes a pickpocket under the tutelage of abusive masters Fagin (Alec Guinness) and Bill Sikes (Robert Newton).

Mr. Davies starred in another grim but well-received production, "The Rocking Horse Winner" (1949), based on a D.H. Lawrence story about a child tormented by his parents' arguments over money.

He later joined BBC Television's production team in the late 1960s. In 1969, he produced and directed several of the early episodes of "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

Another "Python" alumnus, John Cleese, said that Mr. Davies was "a very, very good judge of comedy." In 1975, Mr. Davies and Cleese collaborated on "Fawlty Towers," a farce set at a dowdy English seaside hotel that is widely regarded as considered one of the most accomplished comedies ever made.

Published in The Record/Herald News on Aug. 26, 2011
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