Category Archives: News

CLIFFORD EARL 1933-2015 RIP

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Ken Earl (using his acting name Clifford Earl) as Major Branwell in the 1968 Doctor Who story The Invasion.

Clifford Earl, who played the Station Sergeant in the Christmas Day 1965 episode of The Daleks’ Masterplan (The Feast Of Steven) and Major Branwell in 1968’s The Invasion opposite Patrick Troughton – both for director Douglas Camfield – has died at the age of 81. Better known in certain quarters of the outside world under his given name (Ken Earl) his achievements for real servicemen  – versions of whom he often played in fiction – are worth noting alongside his not unenviable acting credits.

Camfield was well known for demanding authenticity from those he cast in uniform and he definitely got the real thing from Earl, who, in his second and best role in the show, portrays a cooly efficient Major who helps the Doctor defeat the Cybermen with a little help from companion Zoe’s calculations. After his missiles have wiped out the Cyber-fleet he compliments the mathematical genius by declaring that “she’s much prettier than a computer”. Such reflections of their time aside Earl is vital in helping to keep the drama heightened during those tense moments of the final episodes when the soldiers wait to see if their attack will succeed. His solid presence and grim determination keep the tension bubbling right up to the epic story’s climax. His turn in The Daleks’ Masterplan a few years earlier is a much lighter affair, reflecting the Christmas frippery the production team are after in this long lost one-off.

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Ken Earl bravely campaigned for those who had been tested on at Porton Down in the 1950s. Photo: BBC.

It should be no surprise that Earl had had military experience, but his was blighted by a scandal that has rightly rocked the establishment. In 1953 as an RAF medic on National Service he volunteered to be a guinea pig in order to help with work to find a cure for the common cold at the Porton Down research establishment. He was subjected to the same test as – and just two days apart from – a young airman, Ronald Maddison, who died 45 minutes after being exposed to the nerve agent Sarin. Earl and other veterans maintain that they were never told the truth about the experiments done on them and in 2008 the Porton Down Veteran’s Support Group, which Earl founded, won £3 million in compensation for the thousands of servicemen unwittingly subjected to dangerous exposure. The money, and accompanying apology from the government (but no admission of liability by the Ministry Of Defence), came too late for the many who had already died. Those like Ken who did survive suffered ill health (in his case spondylosis, liver cists, prostate and skin cancer, a heart murmur and depression) for the rest of their lives – ill health that they attributed to what had been done to them at Porton Down. He nonetheless considered himself lucky “At least I’m alive and I have had three score years and ten,” he told the BBC in 2004, “poor old Ronald Maddison got only 45 minutes”. His stoical character and dogged determination on behalf of his fellow servicemen meant that Earl was much admired, respected and liked in veteran circles.

Earl’s other television credits – many of them in uniform as either policemen or soldiers – included Scotland Yard (1959), Danger Man (1960), Bootsie And Snudge (1960/61), No Hiding Place (1963/67) Gideon’s Way (1965), The Baron, (1966) Man In A Suitcase (1967), The Avengers (1967/68), Dixon Of Dock Green (1967/69) Softly, Softly (1968/69), Department S (1969), Paul Temple (1969), Randall And Hopkirk Deceased (1970), Edward And Mrs Simpson (1978), Danger UXB (1979), Ike (1979, as Mountbatten), The Professionals (1980) and The Upper Hand (1990). On the big screen he appeared in Scream And Scream Again (1970), Diamonds Are Forever (1971) Tales From the Crypt (1972) and The Sea Wolves (1980). He was also a familiar face to forces personnel as he appeared in a number of MOD training films. He later became a news reader and continuity announcer performing In-Vision for Southern Television in the 1970s and out-of-vision for TVS in the 1980s.

He is survived by his wife Beth, a son and two daughters.

Clifford Earl (Ken Earl) 1933-2015

With thanks to Robert Forknall.

ROBIN PHILLIPS RIP

d01-1e-026Robin Phillips, who played Altos in 1964’s The Key’s Of Marinus, has died at the age of 73. A friend of the director, John Gorrie, he was brought aboard to assist the TARDIS crew as they struggled to complete a task (discovering the whereabouts of s series of hidden micro-keys) which they had to compete without being able to rely on the presence of the Doctor (as actor William Hartnell had a two week holiday booked). He is essentially the romantic lead, sharing action duties with William Russell’s Ian, and showing some real grit when facing down the evil Voord as they threaten the object of his affections, Katharine Schofield’s Sabetha.

As David Copperfield
As David Copperfield

Born in Haslemere, Surrey, on 28th February 1942, he left school at 15 but studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school, and appeared there at the Theatre Royal making his professional stage debut in a season which found him playing Konstantin in The Seagull and Romeo in Romeo And Juliet. Other Bristol productions between 1959 and 1961 included The Clandestine Marriage,and  The Long, The Short And The Tall and he also appeared at the Chichester festival and Oxford Playhouse. In 1962 he broke into television and as well as Doctor Who he clocked up the usual fare that a capable young actor would hope to accrue on his CV – Compact (1962), The Saint (1965), The Avengers (1966), The Forsyte Saga (1967 – star Nicholas Pennell and he would collaborate again in the theatre) and the title role in David Copperfield (1969).

It is for his work as a director that he will be best remembered (he had first dabbled at Bristol), notably his role in revitalising Canada’s Stratford Theatre in Ontario. Prior to relocating to Canada he had directed in the UK for the Hampstead Theatre Club, the RSC and Chichester. There was initially some press resistance that a relatively young Brit  should be taking over a Canadian theatre but he managed to erase what he described as the “twirling, spinning and shouting” that dominated productions and instead create work that was more modern in style and thus easier for the audience to absorb. He lured British theatrical greats such as Maggie Smith (he considered his working relationship with her to be the deepest he had in the business) and Brian Bedford to work alongside fine Canadian actors like Martha Henry whose admiration his working methods quickly provoked.

Robin Phillips - acclaimed director.
Robin Phillips – acclaimed director.

According to actor Barry McGregor “one of the great qualities that makes him what he is is that he teaches as he directs – that is so exciting.” He made “everyone feel valued and important to a production” felt actor Marti Maraden.

He was artistic director there from 1975 to 1980 and directed 40 productions, including a sensual Measure For Measure in his first year, followed by Antony And Cleopatra (with Smith and Bedford), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. He returned in 1986-87 to direct Cymbeline and The School For Scandal.

Elsewhere he ran the Grand Theatre at London, Ontario (1983-83), was artistic director at the Citadel Theatre from 1990-1995, helped found the Soulpepper Theatre in 1998 and also directed on Broadway. On the London stage in 2000/2001 he directed Jessica Lange in Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Lyric Theatre, also starring Charles Dance and Paul Rudd) and Francesca Annis in Ghosts (Comedy Theatre).

Casualty and Dynasty star Maxwell Caulfield, upon the news of Philips’ death, described him as a “borderline genius”.  Stargate: Atlantis actor Torri Higginson Tweeted “Thank you for your stories, lessons and demanding presence every second”.

Philips felt that theatre was a vocation – “We do it for reasons other than just to entertain. If we do it well we can make a huge difference to people’s lives.” He was awarded the Order Of Canada in 2005 and the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.

He died on the morning of Saturday July 25 after a long illness and is survived by his long time partner Joe Mandel.

OLAF POOLEY RIP

olaf-pooley-06Olaf Pooley was Doctor Who’s oldest surviving actor until he passed away yesterday at the grand old age of 101.

As ever with people who have crossed paths with the famous Time Lord, there was much more to him than his 7 weeks as the obstinate Professor Stahlman in the Jon Pertwee classic Inferno (1970). That said, it’s a terrific turn – a plausible villain whose motivation is utterly believable and who never strays into caractature. Pooley was reluctant to don the make-up required to transform him into one of the monsters of the piece – a Primord (basically Lemmy from Moorhead after being bitten by a werewolf member of ZZ Top) – but this didn’t stop him from delivering an entirely committed and serious performance as the testy and driven scientist impatient to crack the Earth’s core. When the Doctor is transported to a parallel world Stahlman’s alternative counterpart is crueller and more powerful, not afraid to have pesky, interfering time traveller erased by the military regime in charge of the totalitarian state. Inferno is indisputably one of the show’s true classics and Pooley is an essential part of it’s dark, gritty and tense DNA.

Born in Dorset during the First World War he spent much of the Second in Rep at the Liverpool Playhouse and Theatre Royal, Bristol and also appeared in the very first UK production of Twelve Angry Men at the Queen’s Theatre, London. He had, though, originally studied architecture and painting and enjoyed much success as an artist, exhibiting all over the world and spending his final days, still wielding his brush, in Santa Monica.

Olaf Pooley interviewed by US TV News on the event of his 100th birthday.

He is one of a small but illustrious bevy of actors to have appeared in both Doctor Who and Star Trek (the Voyager episode Blink Of An Eye). He had emigrated to the USA in the 1980s and so much of his CV is taken up with the likes of MacGyver (1985), Hill Street Blues (1986), LA Law (1992) and Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman (1996).

His TV work in the UK began in the late 1940s and included HG Wells’ The Invisible Man (1959), Maigret (1961), The Plane Makers (1964), sherlock holmes (1965), the expert (1968), Doomwatch (1971), Jason King (1971), The Zoo Gang (1974) and The Sandbaggers (1978) amongst many others. He wrote the screenplay to the film Crucible Of Horror starring his good friend Michael Gough – with whom Pooley lived for a time, gaining the affection and admiration of Gough’s then wife Anneke Wills, aka Polly for Doctor Who, who remembered him very fondly and told me : “My dear old Ola. 101! Up in the clouds, having a drink with Mick Gough – chuckling that he made seven years more than him: both of them completely compos mentis right to the end. So it’s not sad, it’s a triumph. May we all live to be 101 and keep our marbles”.

Ben Jolly, a UK based Doctor Who fan who visited Pooley at home in April, remembers, “He was a great guy to chat to – the conversation just flowed. His son-in-law Brian said after the visit that it had been a great tonic for Olaf who couldn’t believe that three chaps from London would have an interest in him. Apparently it gave him a real lift after a period of not being terribly well.”

There is a great interview with him here – there’s a Star Trek influence on it but it’s got plenty of intersesting detail and a sense of the man’s fascinating character.

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As the cleric in Star Trek: Voyager.

 

Thanks to Paul Ballard of Fantom Films and Lori Morris.

MICHAEL HAWKINS RIP

Michael Hawkins as General Williams in Frontier In Space (1972)

News has reached me, via his widow Julia, that Michael Hawkins – who played General Williams in the 1972 Doctor Who adventure Frontier In Space – died late last year. Julia is happy for the information to appear online so I thought I’d do a quick post for the actor best known among visitors to this parish for his dignified turn as the human soldier responsible for starting a deadly war between Earth and Draconia. Mr Hawkins was also interviewed about his role on the Making Of… documentary on the Dalek War DVD box set.

A handsome actor with a refined air about him, he was more versatile than the parts he usually got suggested – note his turn as Beavis, the beleaguered subject of cruel mental conditioning in the Doomwatch episode Hair Trigger (1972). He had previously appeared in the very first episode of that series, The Plastic Eaters (1970), and his other genre roles included an aristocrat in the early scenes of Hammer’s Hound Of the Baskervilles (1959), The Avengers (3 roles from 1961), Out Of This World (1962), as a regular in R3 (1965), Thirteen Against Fate (1966), The Baron (1967), Man In A Suitcase (1968), and another military type in Survivors (1977).

He enjoyed a busy time of it on television all through the 60s and 70s in everything from Z-Cars to George And Mildred, via I,Claudius and Crown Court, with decent stints in Brett (1971), season one of The Brothers (1972), The Scobie Man (1972), King Cinder (1977) and The Devil’s Crown (1978) propping up a hefty roster of one-off guest stints.

He is often mistakenly referred to as the father of Christian Slater – there is indeed a similar hawkish profile shared by both men, and the Hollywood star’s father was indeed an actor called Michael Hawkins, but this is not he. Like many details on certain famous websites, this is incorrect, so I have not used any other information here (such as dates) given by them either – not until I am satisfied they are correct. At present I am happier to leave that information blank than propagate a mistake, though I believe Mr Hawkins was in his mid 80s at the time of his death on the 26th October last year.

This short article may be updated in due course.

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Thanks to Paul Ballard of Fantom Films.

HG AND THE H-BOMB

HG AND THE H-BOMB

Examining the extraordinary role of HG Wells in the creation of the nuclear bomb 70 years ago –  how a simple, devastating idea led to the world we know today.

In his 1914 novel The World Set Free, Wells imagined bombs that destroy civilisation and lead to a new world order. But his “atomic bombs” – a name he conceived – are grenades that keep on exploding.

How did this idea become a reality?

The very talented (and sunniest, most charming fellow) Simon Guerrier asked me to provide a few voices for this documentary presented by Samira Ahmed and co-produced by another talented and charming Guerrier (there must be something in the family porridge), Simon’s brother Tom.

It’s quite an eclectic array from Yours Truly but hopefully they don’t all sound like me – and if they do I hope it doesn’t detract from what is a fascinating documentary which can be heard here until early August.

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THE DAD WHO FELL TO EARTH

THE DAD WHO FELL TO EARTH

As I type this you have just over three weeks to catch The Dad Who Fell To Earth on iPlayer. It is a play I wrote for Radio 4 about a man who discovers that his recently deceased father wasn’t a door-to-door salesman as he thought but in fact an alien from a  distant world charged with preventing the destruction of mankind. It’s about grief and loss and a purple planet with clever cats.

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The play stars Ronald Pickup as Russ, Cherylee Houston as Jan, Alexandra Mathie as Wendy, Lee Fenwick and Pete/Steve, and Zoe Iqbal and Chelsea. Oh, and me. The producer os the fabulous Charlotte Riches. Most of us are pictures below.

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I can honestly say that is has been the most rewarding engagement of my professional life so far – the writing process was smooth, the cast are fabulous and Charlotte has done an amazing job with the edit (Sound by Sue Stonestreet, one of the unsung heroes of the radio department at the BBC in Salford). I’m delighted to say the the play received Pick Of The Week in The Independent, The Observer, The Telegraph and The Mail.

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You can listen on it here (depending on what date you read this):