Ewen MacIntosh obituary | TV comedy


Ewen MacIntosh, who has died aged 50, was an actor memorable for his supporting role as the accountant Keith Bishop in The Office, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s sitcom set in the Slough branch of the fictional paper company Wernham Hogg.

“All we were told before the first day’s filming was that it was a mock documentary,” said MacIntosh. “The only benchmark I had was This Is Spinal Tap, which is pretty much my favourite comedy film. I thought, ‘Well, Christopher Guest, who plays Nigel Tufnel, just deadpans and chews gum, so maybe if I just deadpan and chew gum I’ll get away with it.’”

Over two series (2001-02) and a two-part Christmas special (2003), Keith’s stony demeanour worked as a counterpoint to David Brent, the embarrassing, cringe-making general manager played by Ricky Gervais. While the boss put on a jovial front and believed himself to be a hilarious entertainer, Keith was downbeat in the extreme.

“One of the first things I did was a scene where Ricky was introducing the new guy to everyone and I basically just stared him down as he was introducing him,” MacIntosh told the Independent in 2021. Brent told the new empoyee that those in the accountancy department, especially Keith, were “mental”.

MacIntosh prepared for the role by taking a course at a market research call centre, and gained a cult following as the dry, monotone man of few words who cuts conversations dead with his inappropriate comments, whether his explanation of the US meaning of “fanny packs” or suggesting that sex workers should be invited to the Christmas party. These moments would usually be followed by “Big Keith”, as fellow workers called him, biting into a scotch egg. After a string of “takes”, MacIntosh would have to reuse the eggs – “turning them around to hide the bites,” he said.

While The Office launched stellar careers for Gervais, Merchant, Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook, MacIntosh settled into life as a character actor. Coming to terms with being remembered for this one role, he was encouraged by his agent to audition when an insurance company was making a commercial and said it wanted a Keith-type character. “I went along – and didn’t get it,” he lamented.

MacIntosh was born in Merioneth, north Wales, the son of Sara (nee Itzcovitz) and Ewen MacIntosh. He attended Repton school in Derbyshire, then studied linguistics at Edinburgh University (1996-99). With its improvisational comedy troupe the Edinburgh Comedy Revue (later renamed the Improverts), which also included the future actors Miles Jupp and Kevin McKidd, he performed sketch comedy at the city’s Bedlam theatre and the Edinburgh festival fringe.

When he had graduated, he continued with three other ex-Edinburgh students (including Jamie Deeks, who went on to have a small role in The Office) in the comedy group Navelgazing, which appeared at the fringe several years running. Later, they had their own seven-part, five-minute sketch show, Navelgazing Presents, on the UKTV channel Dave (2011).

After The Office brought him recognition, MacIntosh landed guest roles in the first two series (2002-03) of Little Britain, starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams. He also popped up in the budget airline cabin crew comedy-drama Mile High (2003-05), Murder in Suburbia (2005), Casualty (2006) and Miranda ( 2009).

MacIntosh made a cameo appearance in a 2011 episode of Gervais’s mockumentary Life’s Too Short and appeared as Buffet Man, banned from an all-you-can-eat restaurant, in the final series of his comedy-drama After Life (2022).

He had roles in various low-budget films, including the thriller The Scouting Book for Boys (2009), and appeared alongside stars such as Lionel Blair, David Hamilton, Martin Shaw and Carol Decker in a 2009 remake of the promotional video for Chris Rea’s hit single Driving Home for Christmas.

In 2016, as he struggled to find acting work, MacIntosh was declared bankrupt. During the Covid-19 pandemic, like many celebrities at the time, he earned money by selling video messages, in the guise of his Office character. “All my requests bar none are for me to do Keith lines and Keith quotes for people’s birthday messages, stag dos and weddings,” he said.

MacIntosh is survived by his parents and younger brother, Colin.

Ewen Douglas MacIntosh, actor, born 25 December 1973; died 19 February 2024



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