The JBIFC is very sad to report the passing of actor Burt Kwouk, aged 85, whose death was announced on 24th May in a brief statement issued by his family.
Burt famously played Cato in seven Pink Panther movies and also had key roles in two EON James Bond movies, Goldfinger (1964), where he played Mr. Ling, the bespectacled Red Chinese specialist in nuclear fission, and You Only Live Twice (1967), where he was one of Blofeld’s mission control space scientists in his Volcano rocket base. He also had a part in a third Bond movie, the non-official version of Casino Royale (1967), produced by Charles K. Feldman, in which he played one of the Chinese army officers bidding for photos in a rather unusual auction.
Born in Manchester, England, when his Chinese parents were visiting the UK on business, Burt Kwouk spent much of his early life in Shanghai, but settled in the UK after the Communist revolution in China in 1949, when his family lost its wealth.
He had a career in movies and TV which stretched over 50 years and, as a Chinese-British actor, was regularly in demand for a variety of roles. His ‘break-through’ role was arguably as the madcap manservant Cato in the second Pink Panther film, A Shot in the Dark (1964), opposite Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. He also later won wide acclaim for his role as Japanese Major Yamauchi in Tenko, the gritty women’s prison TV drama set in World War Two.
From 2002-2010 he also took a central role in the very popular BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, and, in 2011, it was announced in the Queen’s New Years Honours List that Burt had been awarded an OBE.
Speaking in an interview in 2011, Burt Kwouk said that working on the Bond movies had been a special experience for him: ‘Bond movies are always great fun because everything about them is big, expansive, huge – the sets are big, the amount of money that is spent is huge as well, and the whole thing has a big atmosphere about it. And actors like doing that kind of thing’.
Burt also generously shared inside stories with Bond fans on his memories of the 007 films, often with a touch of humour. At one stage, he recalled, for example, the sudden change of actor when Jan Werich was quickly replaced by Donald Pleasence as Ernst Stavro Blofeld on the set of You Only Live Twice: ‘One day we were filming with Werich in the control room, and then the next day I turned around and there was a different actor sitting in Blofeld’s chair!’
Burt Kwouk, 1930-2016. R.I.P.