My second piece of sad news so far this year is that actor Dickie Owen – best known for his portrayal of Corporal Schiess in Zulu - died at his flat in New Cross on 7 April at the age of 86.
Dickie was born in March 1927 and enjoyed a burst of popular success as an actor in the 1960s, not only playing Schiess but also – less recognisably, being swathed in bandages! – the Mummy in Hammer Films’ Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964; he also appeared in The Mummy’s Shroud, 1967). After that his film career declined, something he looked back on with wry amusement – he was known to sign autographs of himself as Schiess with the comment ‘The last time I ever worked!’ By the 1990s he had largely disappeared from public view but the steady rise of Zulu’s status as a classic of British ‘60s cinema lead to film historians tracking him down, and in recent years he became popular at autograph signing conventions in London. He attended the re-premiere of Zulu in June last year, although his presence was – unfortunately, in my view – not acknowledged from the stage. I was very lucky to have a chat with him on that occasion and he pondered the long-term success of the film with rueful good humour. ‘All this talk about it being a classic’, he said, ‘we didn’t think that at the time. We all worked on it because we were Stanley’s mates, and he knew he could get us cheap! In fact, at the end of filming, we were all offered the choice of an air ticket home or the money; I took the money and made my own way home, I made a bit out of it that way!’
If it didn’t make his fortune Zulu has, at least, insured Dickie an enduring place in cinema history in a performance which has added lasting credit, too, to the actions of the real Christian Ferdinand Schiess.