Talking about on the hoof. Thanks to a good friend of mine who is in Emmerdale I had managed to line up an interview with the marvellous Lesley Dunlop (who is also in it). Great – Frontios, one of the last remaining stories on my list, was taken care of. Unfortunately, she suddenly got a truck load of extra filming and very apologetically asked to reschedule (note to self, get back in touch with Ms Dunlop!).
This left me with about a week to go till Christmas. I already had things in motion to secure a cat with Steven Moffat chat which would take care of The Time Of Angels/Flesh And Stone and was intended to be the last Who’s Round interview. Now, suddenly, there was a story I didn’t have an interviewee for, so I had to get my thinking cap on.
I had always found a certain gentleman to be an engaged and candid contributor to the DVD range so quickly begged his email from a colleague. It was probably Ed Stradling or John Kelly but alas I begged by text and so the evidence was swept away in the great Toby’s iPhone Data Collapse of 2014 (or was it 2015? There have been so many). Anyway – thanks to my mystery benefactor.
I had to be prescriptive – I had about 2 days during which I was scheduled to be in London before Christmas, so I had absolutely no idea if it was going to be possible to convene this interview. Thankfully, my request was answered almost immediately (and, I’m pleased to say, positively) and the resulting edition is – I think – great fun. It is also in two parts, of which this is the first.
Oh, I’m a bit behind (I’ve been posting about Psoriasis a lot instead as it has been Psoriasis Awareness Week so I hope you are now sufficiently aware!).
Anyway, two new Who’s Rounds have come out.
The first was recorded immediately after I had performed a Christmas comedy show with this particular fellow (with whom it has been my great pleasure to work many times over the years). He was in a Doctor Who story that is probably not considered canonical but it’s part of the show’s rich tapestry so what the heck? And something was clearly in the air as when we had finished we emerged from the 99 Club in Covent Garden and opposite us, at the exit of the Donmar Theatre, stood Peter Capaldi, patiently posing with fans and signing autographs. This show gets bloody everywhere!
Second up, I had arranged to interview one lady but a change of timetable meant I would be joining her on the day she was due to have lunch with a colleague. And this colleague has done loads of Doctor Whos. So I got two for the price of none. And they had a lot to say so there is a second part to this interview due out next week.
Kenneth Gilbert, who played World Ecology Bureau official Richard Dunbar in the Tom Baker classic The Seeds Of Doom (1976) has died at the age of 84. Prematurely grey and with distinguished granite features, he often played authority figures, although the one he portrayed in Doctor Who found himself on the wrong side of the fence. Dissatisfied with seeing “non-entities” promoted in his place he sells the location of the Krynoid seed pod to eccentric millionaire Harrison Chase and so initiates a chain of events which nearly results in mankind’s consumption by lethal alien vegetation. He has an attack of conscience and tries to remedy the situation, leading to Chase’s famous instruction to his underling – “Scorby – get Dunbar”. Scorby doesn’t get him but the Krynoid does, and the civil servant perishes in the climax of episode four. It’s a strong performance from Gilbert who maintains a stoical dignity even when selling his soul: he had a gift for subtle underplaying which lent his characters a touch of class and made him such an essential actor for character parts.
Born in Devon in 1931, Gilbert’s early stage work included a 1957/58 stint with what was to become the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre playing (amongst others) Balthazar in Romeo And Juliet (with Richard Johnson and Dorothy Tutin), Valentine in Twelfth Night and the Priest to Michael Redgrave’s Hamlet. He stayed at Stratford for the following season playing opposite Charles Laughton’s King Lear and Paul Robeson’s Othello.
He was the principal actor at Pitlochry’s 1975 season playing Solness in The Master Builder and Richard in On Approval. For the Old Vic he toured in Henry VI Parts I and II and Henry V (1974-1975) and played the key role of Enobarbus opposite Alec McCowen’s Antony in their 1977-1978 Antony And Cleopatra (Derek Jacobi was Caesar). Other theatre work included St Joan with Eileen Atkins (Prospect Theatre 1977), Judge Brack to Joanna Lumley’s Hedda Gabler (Dundee 1985), Boyet in Love’s Labours Lost (Ipswich, 1992) and the title role in The Wizard Of Oz (for the RSC at the Theatre Royal, Bath 1994-1995).
He was a familiar face on television,appearing on the small screen as early as 1953 in The Heir Of Skipton. He kept busy throughout the 1950s and by 1961 was playing opposite William Russell’s Hamlet. Prominent roles included Friar Tuck in Wolfshead: The Legend Of Robin Hood (1969) and Harold Earle in House Of Cards and To Play The King (1990/93) and these were augmented by countless guest parts in everything from No Hiding Place (1963) to Hustle (2011) via Callan (1969), The Mind Of Mr JG Reader (1971), Crown Court (1973), Edward VII (1975), The Changes (1975), The New Avengers (1976), Testament Of Youth (1979), Enemy At the Door (1980), The Gentle Touch (1981), Cracker (1995) and Midsommer Murders (2003) often playing policemen, doctors or authority figures. He could consider himself to be one of Douglas Camfield’s rep of actors and worked with the acclaimed director many times including on The Sweeney (1976) and Ivanhoe (1982) : Camfield liked casting actors he knew could do the job and wouldn’t need too much direction, so his continued use of Gilbert can be taken as a mark of his quality. Gilbert also had an underused gift for comedy as well as a natural authority which mad him so useful to at bringing presence and watchability to potentially dull roles.
He almost didn’t make it into Doctor Who. As he recalled many years later “I rang the production office and said ‘Look, I think I’ve caught my daughter’s chicken pox.'” He thought this would involve taking a couple of days off but under doctor’s orders was out of action for several weeks. He could easily have lost the job but instead the studio schedule was altered to accommodate his absence – a great deal of trouble and expense in order to retain the services of an actor deemed vital to the success of the production.
He married the actress Beth Harris in 1966 and the couple lived in East Anglia for many years. She predeceased him, passing away in 2012. Kenneth Gilbert died on October 29th.
I am a bit pleased with myself about this one. I had done a DVD documentary about this particular story which brought me into contact with many of its first cast. It would have been easy for me to call one of them. But the thing is, the interviews I had done were already in the Who’s Round mould. Time was running out though, and bizarrely there were three consecutive stories from this period that I had failed to cover.
I thought I’d give it a go and instead of calling one of those actors I knew and whom I could access because they were based in London I’d instead contact someone who didn’t know me from Adam and who lived in a different continent.
Neville Jason, the actor who played Prince Reynart in the 1978 Tom Baker story The Androids Of Tara has died. His good looks and bearing had an old fashioned and regal quality that made him perfect casting for the prince, a part that also required him to perform as an occasionally malfunctioning android. The serial is rather splendidly acted and whilst the likes of Peter Jeffrey and Declan Mulholland have all the fun, Jason does a fine job of giving lustre to a potentially dull part: and his innate poise and effortless charm are spot on, fulfilling exactly the needs of director Michael Hayes.
The Androids Of Tara was written to apeThe Prisoner Of Zenda, which had first been adapted for film in 1937 “Michael cast me as Prince Reynart because The Prisoner Of Zenda starred Ronald Colman and Michael thought if I put on a pencil moustache I’d look like Ronald Colman,” he recalled years later. His role required that he share the screen with Mary Tamm’s as Romana. “Neville was very good in the part,” she felt “because he had that romantic hero look which was essential. He was lovely, very nice to work with.”
Co-star Paul Lavers who played his bodyguard swordsman Farrah remembered him with great affection. “He was a gentlemen: he was like a breed of actor that I’d read about – terribly, terribly well spoken, effete and very well read. He was just a joy to be with.”
Jason trained at RADA where his voice work was noted early and he received the diction prize from Sir John Gielgud: this was to stand him in good stead throughout his career. He has walk-on roles during the 1957/58 season at the RSC, carrying spears for the likes of John Neville’s Hamlet and touring with Laurence Olivier’s Titus Andronicus before joining Birmingham Rep. Other theatre roles included such romantic leads as John Worthing in The Importance of Being Ernest, Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac. He also appeared in a number of musicals.
On television he was Horatio to Barry Foster’s Hamlet (1961) and played regular roles such as Lapointe opposite Rupert Davies as Maigret (1960-63 – on which he first met Michael Hayes) and Mr Bob Turner in Emergency Ward 10 (1965). Hefty roles after Doctor Who included and Malcolm Penny in Goodbye Darling (1981) and hitman Constant Delangre in Skorpion (1983). Other TV work included Dixon Of Dock Green (1966), Barlow (1974/75), Churchill’s People (1975), Warship (1976), Armchair Thriller: Rachel In Danger (1978), Minder (1984), The Tripods (1985) and Adrain Shergold’s TV film Ahead Of The Class (2005) with Julie Walters. He also appeared on the big screen in the Bond film From Russia With Love (1963) and Ridley Scott’s big screen debut The Duellists (1977).
He had great success as an audiobook narrator. He recorded the whole of War And Peace, an epic which came in at 70 hours upon completion. The Washington Post described him as “the audiobook world’s unofficial marathon man”. And no wonder: he was a huge aficionado of Proust and abridged and recorded the whole of the massive Remembrance Of Things Past, even translating the last volume himself. The result is a 150 hour long recording available on 120 CDs. His credits as an audiobook reader were extensive and award winning, and some of those that he directed won Talkie Awards. His voice was also put to good use as a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company on three occasions and latterly he lent his tones to computer games as well.
He also co-wrote The Sculpture of Frank Dobson:his wife Gillian had opened a gallery in their Camden home in the early 1980s and still works selling modern British art and advising galleries. She survives him.
The accomplished and much loved Welsh character actor Richard Davies has died at the age of 89.Balding, with a gap tooth and distinctive accent he was best known for his appearances as Mr Price in the ITV sitcom Please Sir! (starring John Alderton). That said, and despite an ever detectable twinkle, he was an actor of more skill and gravitas than a quick perusal of his comedy credits might initially suggest. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan he was destined for a life in the mines (which he entered aged 14) before packing his bags for London in order to try to make it as an actor. It’s fair to say that he did.
His one encounter with Doctor Who came in 1987 – the production team needed someone with a lightness of touch to play a genial Welshman in the Sylvester McCoy story Delta And The Bannermen. It’s unlikely that Davies was anywhere other than top of the list when it came to casting that particular role. It’s a story with an odd tone but whilst Don Henderson is a genuinely villainous presence it is Davies who best straddles the show’s mixture of comedy and drama. It is easy to believe that his character is an old soldier and his innate authority when he commands Henderson to spare Bonnie Langford’s Mel contrasts nicely with the humour with which he plays the scenes where he discovers the true nature of the TARDIS. It’s a skilful performance, perfectly judged.
Burton Burton – as his Doctor Who character was called – was just one small role in an illustrious roster of parts. He played real life Victoria Cross recipient Private Jones in the classic film Zulu (1964), bravely holding off the invading hordes alongside fellow actor Denys Graham (as another Private Jones!). This good, solid supporting role came after a number of small parts in films such as A Run For Your Money (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). He subsequently turned up in Oh, What A Lovely War (1969) as the butcher in Steptoe And Son Ride Again (1973) and was, inevitably, in the 1972 film version of Under Milk Wood (and it would be impolite to have expected otherwise).
It was on the small screen, however, that he made the biggest impact, and he had an especial gift for comedy.As well as his stint throughout the entire run of Please Sir! he played the incompetent private eye Gimble in the first series of Bob Block children’s comedy Robert’s Robots (1973), Clive in three series of Bill Maynard vehicle Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt (1973-1977), as the Chancellor Of The Exchequer – a desperately sane counterpart to Peter Jones’s bonkers wannabe superhero Prime Minister – in Whoops Apocalypse (1982) and as Stan Evans opposite Robin Askwith in Bottle Boys. He even managed to make a mark in one-off appearances including the harassed Mr White in the famous The Kipper And The Corpse episode of Fawlty Towers (1979), as a trade union official in Yes Minister (1980), as Clive Jenkins in the Not The Nine O’Clock News skit of Question Time, and as a man with horrible memories of Victor Meldrew in One Foot In The Grave (1992).
It is worth mentioning that there was plenty of drama alongside the comedy, and he cropped up in manyprogrammes – notably a semi-regular role in Z-Cars (a memorably oily turn as the informant Sloan, 1963-65), as well meaning but frustrated teacher Mr Black in Dennis Potter’s Where The Buffalo Roam (a Wednesday Play in 1966), Angels (1975/80), To Serve Them All My Days (1981), mini series The Citadel (1981), Big Deal (1985) and And The Beat Goes On (1996) as well as a number of different one off roles in the same series that testified to his versatility : five in No Hiding Place (from 1964), and three each in Softly, Softly (from 1966) and Dixon Of Dock Green (from 1967). He was a series regular as Idris Hopkins (corner shop proprietor and husband to Kathy Staff’s Vera) in Coronation Street (1974-75) and as Max Johnson in Taff Acre (1981).
A perusal of the characters he played finds a number of Taffys, an Owen Owen to go with his Burton Burton, many a Dai and a Jones or two,but if the roles he played were occasionally stereotypes he always brought something more to them than might have been on the page and his performances were never lazy. Indeed, for a generation or two of viewers he was part of the televisual furniture, a reliable and welcome performer whose appearances always put a smile on the face.
He passed away of the 8th October after a battle with Alzheimers but, according to his daughter Nerissa, he “lived with fun to the end”.
Lines that could only have been said by Richard Davies (and were):
“At times like this, I often wonder what Nye Bevan would have done, and I’m convinced he would have shat in his pants.” – as Clive Jenkins on Question Time (Not The Nine O’Clock News)
“Yes, and if that’s no good, we’ll try the one up by the prophylactic emporium.” – as Mr White in Fawlty Towers
“Meldrew… Victor Meldrew! God, he was a pillock eh? There’s a big drawing of him on the wall of the girls toilets. Oh yes, you’d remember him Steve… he was a right bastard… I gave him my hamster to look after one holiday and when I got home his cat had eaten it. Tried to palm it off as a suicide.” – as Billy in One Foot In The Grave.
“Now, let me try and get this right. Now, are you telling me that you are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen, and because of the danger, you want me to evacuate the entire camp?” and “Oh, by the way, can we have space buns and tea afterwards? Or don’t they drink tea on Mars?” – as Burton in Doctor Who – Delta And the Bannermen
He is survived by his actress wife Jill whom he met in Rep (it would have been their 60th wedding anniversary on October 28th), their children Nerissa and Glen and four grandchildren.
RICHARD DAVIES – 25th January 1926 – 8th October 2015