EDUCATION:- Harris College, Lancashire, Drama Centre, London.
MARRIAGES:- Mary Maddox
CHILDREN:- Archie & Jacob
Don Warrington moved to England with his mother Shirley (a hairdresser in Trinidad) and older brother when he was eight. His father, Basil Kydd, who was a local politician in Trinidad, passed away suddenly at 48 when Don was just six.
Don and his family, like many from the West Indies, came for a better standard of living. With his Auntie Lena already in England, his mother moved over on her own to find a place to call home, whilst Don and the family were looked after by his grandmother. When Don’s mother Shirley returned to Trinidad, Don had grown close to his grandmother and didn’t want to leave for this new journey. The day they emigrated was the day that would change Don’s life forever, arriving on a huge Italian ship which took three weeks to arrive in a cold and damp England. Quite a shock for an eight-year-old used to the colours of the Caribbean.
They grew-up in inner city Newcastle upon Tyne, amongst very few black families and it wasn’t long before Don realised that these streets were not paved with gold as he had envisioned. With a newly adopted Geordie accent, impressive football skills (nicknamed the Young Pele’) Don quickly learned to adapt to everyday life in the Northern city in order to fit in, defending himself from the local schoolkids, but also the hostility from the teachers.
When Don was 12, his mother Shirley decided to retrain as a nurse in America. Don’s much loved Auntie Lena, already settled, would look after the kids whilst their mother was away. Don and his brother were already surviving together as the only two black kids at their school so they had quickly become hardened to their new life, and with their mother moving away.
From a young age, all Don remembers wanting to be is an actor, “I wanted to rescue maidens and have sword fights, to be someone else and experience life in a rich way that people in films seemed to.” Whilst in Newcastle, Don got hooked on American films and British TV, and after seeing Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, he decided acting was his future.
With a keen interest in the theatre since boyhood, he left school at 17 and worked as an assistant stage manager at the city’s Newcastle’s Flora Robson Playhouse, before studying at University of Central Lancashire (Harris College), moving to London in 1969 where he trained at The Drama Centre for three years.
Christened Don Williams, after his mother’s maiden name, he would later discover that there was another actor, Don Williams, listed in Equity. He took Warrington as his new stage name, from the road where they lived in Newcastle, Warrington Road.
Shortly after leaving the drama school in 1972, Don spent three months in the European production of Hair. The following year was to be Don’s breakthrough as an actor. As well as a season at Lincoln Rep, appearing in Measure For Measure, A Taste of Honey and Erpingham Camp, he also landed the part of the black student Philip Smith in Eric Chappell’s play The Banana Box. When the play became a TV series, it was Don who again got the part, his first television debut and first sitcom and, most importantly, made his name as one of the first black actors on British TV.
Of course, Don is best known for his role as Philip Smith in Rising Damp from 1974 – 1978, but also his current TV role in the BBC detective series Death in Paradise (2011 – 2022). He’s also appeared in a number of other notable television shows. He was a regular in the female cop crime drama C.A.T.S. Eyes, as government contact Nigel Beaumont (28 episodes – 1985–1987), the role of Graham Gaunt in To Play The King (3 episodes – 1993), from 2003 – 2005 he appeared in 12 episodes of the BBC1 sitcom The Crouches, playing the role of Bailey, Impact Earth playing General Harris (2007), Chasing Shadows playing the role of CS Harley Drayton (4 episodes – 2014). playing Grandpa in the long running children’s series The World According to Grandpa (28 episodes – 2022) and the long running successful crime series Death in Paradise as Commissioner Selwyn Patterson (67 episodes – 2011 – 2023)
In addition, there was a vast array of smaller roles in many programmes including Triangle (7 episodes – 1981) Red Dwarf (Commander Binks – 1992), Lovejoy, Manchild (4 episodes – 2003 – 2005), Doctor Who (2006) and several Doctor Who audio plays.
Don also appeared on BBC2s Grumpy Old Men, in a series of Kenco coffee advertisements on UK TV, in which he plays an African coffee plantation owner.
In 2008, Don competed in the sixth series of Strictly Come Dancing, partnered with Lilia Kopylova. In Week 5, he lost the dance-off against Heather Small and was eliminated. Don joined the show to step out of his comfort zone, and a great opportunity to learn to dance.
Don’s debut in film was, like his TV debut, to reprise the role of Philip Smith in the film version of Rising Damp (1980). He also appeared in The Lion of Africa (1987), Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet as Voltimand (1996), Peter Greenaway’s 8½ Women (1999) and the horror film Lighthouse (1999).
Don’s theatrical work includes performances with the National Theatre (Dispatches, The Passion, MacBeth, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and also as an ambassador) the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bristol Old Vic and the Royal Exchange, Manchester.
Highlights include his debut in Eric Chappell’s The Banana Box (1973) as Philip Smith, his performance in a new stage version of Driving Miss Daisy (2012–13) alongside Gwen Taylor, followed by a starring role as Joe Keller in the Talawa Theatre Company’s all-black revival of Arthur Miller’s tragedy All My Sons (2013), Don also performed the lead role in the Talawa Theatre Company’s production of King Lear (2016) at the Royal Exchange, Manchester production, in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glenn Ross (2017 – 2018) as George at the Playhouse Theatre, and Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (2018) at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Don also directed Eric Chappell’s revision of the stage play The Banana Box, newly titled Rising Damp, in 2013.
It’s quite rare for an actor to land their debut TV performance in a sitcom that would go on to be one of the best situation comedies ever made. Thanks to Leonard Rossiter, Don was given the opportunity and, whilst he may have questioned the roles or there lack of over the years, there is no doubting that he may not have had the variety of roles in his excellent career that he has today, if it wasn’t for that charming man, Philip Smith.
Don was awarded the MBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to the arts.