Lionel Jeffries, whose numerous film roles included Grandpa Potts in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” died Feb. 19 following a long illness in Poole, southern England. He was 83.
Jeffries also wrote and directed the 1971 film “The Railway Children.” Jeffries made his stage debut in “Carrington V.C.” at the Westminster Theatre in London in 1949, and his film debut five years later in “The Black Rider.”
Later film roles include Inspector Parker opposite Peter Sellers in “The Wrong Arm of the Law” (1963), King Pellinore in “Camelot” in 1967 and Gen. Sapt in “The Prisoner of Zenda” in 1979. He also played Horace Vandergelder in the 1984 London production of “Hello, Dolly!” starring female impersonator Danny La Rue.
Prematurely bald, Jeffries played Dick Van Dyke’s father in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” although, Jeffries recalled, he was six months younger than Van Dyke.
Jenny Agutter, one of the stars of “The Railway Children,” has said that Jeffries gave each of his child actors a half crown coin if they produced a usable scene on the first take.
Despite the success of “The Railway Children,” voted one of Britain’s 100 best films by the British Film Institute in 1999, Jeffries directed only four other films including two that he also wrote.