Category Archives: Obituaries

REG WHITEHEAD RIP – The First Cyberman dies aged 83

REG WHITEHEAD RIP – The First Cyberman dies, but his legacy encompasses more than his Doctor Who milestone…

Reg WhiteheadReg Whitehead, the actor who played Krail, the Cyberman who explains their origins during episode two of The Tenth Planet (1966), has died at the age of 83. He played another Cyberman – Jarl – later in the story, as well as featuring in the famous close-up which was our first view of the silver giants at the end of the opening instalment. He played Cybermen again in The Moonbase (1967) and Tomb of the Cybermen (1967) and also took centre stage for another popular monster’s debut by being the man inside the suit of the first Yeti to appear at the climax of the first part of The Abominable Snowmen (1967).

The iconic ending to the first episode of The Tenth Planet, with Reg centre stage.
The iconic ending to the first episode of The Tenth Planet, with Reg centre stage.

“The first ones were terrible – they chafed you, they were totally impractical. You couldn’t bend down. They were the most uncomfortable, smelly, disgusting costumes that ever the Beeb managed to make,” he told me a few years ago with a chuckle. And he should know – he was the “Ground Zero” Cyberman, working with designer Sandra Reid as she tried the costume out on him before the suits were finalised and filming began.

Discomfort aside he enjoyed working with both of his Doctors. William Hartnell, on his swan song, had a little fun with the young thespian. “He wasn’t a well man but he did have a lovely thing that he did with me. He said to me ‘Call yourself an actor? ‘I said ‘I try to become one Bill’. He said ‘Alright, if you can do this I’ll call you an actor.’” Reg laughed as he recalled Hartnell tap-dancing across the studio and back again, landing back in his starting position. “‘Can you do that?‘ [asked Hartnell]. I said ‘Not a chance,’ and he said ‘Well that’s the trouble with you youngsters today.’” He enjoyed working with his successor Patrick Troughton whom he described as “a lovely guy and – even up till now – one of the very best Doctor Whos there was.”

Despite his input into their original creation he was happier with the more streamlined and less cumbersome costumes that were created for the Cybermen in their second and third stories. “There was no question that they would have to redesign them, [for The Moonbase] but it [the discomfort] was still dire, it really was.” Having been a monster in Doctor Who he felt it difficult to be taken seriously by the production team as an actor outside of the costume but he did make a friend on The Moonbase. He and Frazer Hines shared a love for horses and the two of them would monitor the racing and betting in between rehearsals. On Tomb of the Cybermen he got friendly with Deborah Watling and took her out on a date.

_76881435_yeti13The Yeti was costume was equally uncomfortable but “for five days we sat in a bus and watched the rain pour down” because there was location filming in Wales. “The day the bus pulled up and we were finally going to do the shoot. It was about 6 o’clock in the morning and there – lo and behold – was a tent which had been pitched during the night. I was told, to go and shake the guy ropes and see what happened.  Two German students hurtled out of the thing and ran off as fast as their legs could carry them!”

He didn’t return to Doctor Who after The Abominable Snowmen. “I was doing other things. In the theatre mainly – the theatre was my greatest love anyway so I would always look there for my living” – but even that came to a stop.

“Pure luck,” is how he describes his move into the marketing of executive toys which led to his move away from acting . “A guy parked his van outside my flat and I said “Do me a favour, you couldn’t move your van could you?”. He said “I know you” and it turned out that he was an actor – Simon Prebble – and he came down and said to me, “I’d love to get you involved in this product here [in the van]. Within days I had been to the liquidator who had been involved with the company, Scientific Demonstrations, and I bought the bits and pieces for £500.” The “bits and pieces” included Newton’s Cradle, the famous swinging sphere construction used to illustrate the conservation of momentum and energy and which went on to decorate many a corporate desktop. “Five years later we sold it to the Americans. It’s responsible for pretty much everything you can see around you,” he said, indicating his handsome Newbury home, filled with charming, well-chosen paintings emphasising his enjoyment of the countryside and equine pursuits.

Newton's Cradle
Newton’s Cradle

With a newfound financial freedom he managed to combine his love for racing with his business acumen and became a celebrated and successful racehorse owner. He still missed acting, though: “You never lose it – to walk away from it, it’s horrid.”

Born in Warwickshire in December 1932, he had got into the business when, having been in Canada for four years he entered a talent competition. The prize was a year’s drama training in London which he saw as a free ticket home. Having done that training he worked in rep and eventually broke into television, where his other credits included two consecutive episodes of Z-Cars as Detective-Constable Cropper (1963) and roles in the Power Game (1966 ), The Avengers (They Keep Killing Steed, 1968), The Saint (1969) and the Nigel Kneale play Wine of India (1970).

Reg died peacefully at home on March 11th at the age of 83. Stable owner Barbara Coakley paid tribute: “Reg was a lovely, kind man and great character. He was a very loyal owner and a great supporter of the yard,  popping in regularly and meeting up in the local on Friday evenings for the racing crack.” There was a thanksgiving service for him a few weeks ago – trainer Richard Phillips was there to bid farewell to his friend, known in their circles as ‘Uncle Waggy’ : “A great character, the church was packed to say goodbye to one of life’s good guys. There were many smiles and laughs, just as Waggy would have loved there to be.”

Reg is reunited with his old mate Frazer Hines for the DVD recording of Tomb of the Cybermen.
Reg is reunited with his old mate Frazer Hines for the DVD recording of Tomb of the Cybermen.

As for his place in Doctor Who history: “It’s something I don’t bring up too often but it’s incredible how many people come up to me. Kids who were amazed – the look of awe on some people’s faces is amazing. It’s good fun to remind people sometimes – yeah, I was a Cyberman once.”

“I think that it was good television and it stands up well even today”

He is survived by his wife Linkie (who, on a personal note, is a very classy lady who couldn’t have been more charming when I visited them back in 2012) and by Deighton, a son.

REGINALD DEIGHTON WHITEHEAD – 1932-2016

With thanks to John Kelly.

SONIA MARKHAM RIP – Hartnell make-up designer dies

SONIA MARKHAM RIP

Sonia MarkhamSonia Markham, who was the make-up supervisor of Doctor Who for the majority of the Hartnell era has died at the age of 78.

Her connection with the show began early on when she was a make-up artist on The Sensorites (1964), assisting Jill Summers, and she continued in that capacity until promoted to senior designer on for the second production block, beginning with The Rescue. During her tenure her responsibilities included Kevin Stoney’s distinctive look as Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Masterplan (1965/66), ageing Ewen Solon as tribe leader Chal in The Savages (1966) and applying series star William Hartnell’s wig, an act she was photographed performing by the Daily Mirror in a series of memorable behind-the-scenes shots. Her final credit for the show was on The Smugglers (1966).

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Guest star Ewen Solon was barely recognisable under Sonia’s make-up for the Doctor Who story The Savages (1966).

Sonia Markham was born in 1938, the daughter of the actor David Markham and radio dramatist Olive Dehn. She was the eldest of four daughters – respected actress Kika (Edward & Mrs Simpson, A Very British Coup) is the widow of Corin Redgrave; Ace of Wands star Petra played Safiya in the Doctor Who story The Crusade (and so was made up by her elder sibling); the poet and dramatist Jehane is the widow of Only Fools And Horses and Rise Of The Cybermen actor Roger Lloyd-Pack.

After Doctor Who she worked on The Three Musketeers (1966), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1967), and Dombey and Son (1969).

Sonia with William Russell, Joe Greig, Toby Hadoke and Ray Cusick on the DVD commentary recording for The Sensorites. Photo: Simon Harries.
Sonia with William Russell, Joe Greig, Toby Hadoke and Ray Cusick on the DVD commentary recording for The Sensorites. Photo: Simon Harries.

Having given up her career in television she retrained as a psychotherapist and counsellor and campaigned for humanitarian and environmental issues. She and her husband wrote to The Guardian in 2015 highlighting their opposition to government plans to charge for demonstrations and signalling their intent to join the forthcoming Climate Change march. She also contributed to the DVD commentaries on her stories The Sensorites and Planet of Giants and was happy to give interviews about her time on the show.

She married Ernest Rodker, her long term partner, in 2002. He survives her, as do their two sons Oliver and Joel.

Sonia G Markham 1938 – 2016.

With thanks to Anneke Wills.

Photos copyright © Simon Harries.

JON ROLLASON RIP, Doctor Who and Avengers actor dies

JON ROLLASON RIP

tve14908-98-19680210-0Jon Rollason, who played Harold Chorley in the recently recovered Doctor Who story The Web of Fear, has died at the age of 84. 

Born in Birmingham in 1931, he enrolled at the Old Vic theatre school in London after completing his National Service. In interviews he claimed that his early work in the theatre was somewhat disheartening, citing playing Henry V’s corpse at the beginning of Henry VI Part 1 at Birmingham Rep in 1952 as the low point of his career. He also played the small part of Woodville and the production (as well as Parts 2 and 3 in which he also appeared as various soldiers and attendants) transferred to London. He had also appeared at Birmingham the year before in The Boy David and The Critic. When Laurence Olivier played Archie in the original production of John Osborne’s The Entertainer, Rollason understudied the character before playing the role of William Rice after the production had transferred to the Palace Theatre in 1957. He was also busy in Rep, and starred alongside Richard Harris in Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow at The Comedy Theatre in 1956 (the two were lolling around in their underpants backstage when they were surprised to be visited by Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller) and eventually his smooth voice began to get him work on radio.

By the end of the decade he was playing leading roles on the Home Service and his credits included Arnold Yarrow’s play The Ivory Gates (1959), The Jago Line opposite Michael Bryant (1959), The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1960), Hello Out There (1961), True Story: The Last Mistake (by Frederick Treves who had also been in Henry VI), and any number of Saturday Night Theatres, Sunday Plays, and Afternoon Theatres. One of the most notable was a 1960 production of the hitherto unperformed Harold Pinter play The Dwarfs. Rollason also leant his voice to readings and excerpts on variety shows and was generally very at home on the wireless throughout the 1960s. He also wrote for the medium, his plays including If I Were The Marrying Kind in 1969.

drkingHe had started appearing on television in 1955 in The Children of the New Forest but no roles especially stood out until he was cast as Dr Martin King in The Avengers in 1962. A short lived role, intended to fill the shoes of the swiftly exiting Ian Hendry and using scripts written for his character Dr Keel, Rollason nonetheless gets star billing after Patrick MacNee on the closing credits of his three episodes. Filling in for an established actor was never going to be a rewarding task but Rollason acquits himself well and has the looks and presence to make himself a convincing dramatic lead – but the show had other ideas and never again was Steed partnered with a male co-star.

His other bid for cult immortality is more of a character part and he certainly has fun hiding behind thick specs and phoney bonhomie as irritating reporter Harold Chorley in the Doctor Who classic The Web of Fear. Part Alan Whicker, part David Frost, when the going gets tough Chorley absconds and becomes a chief suspect in the Guess-Who’s-The-Traitor shenanigans in the story’s latter episodes. It’s a great turn – balancing his humorous pastiche of a conniving, patronising journalist with the requisite fear required as the character gets increasingly terrified when the story reaches its climax.

Dave_robbinsHe was an on-off contributor to Coronation Street, playing Dave Robbins at various intervals between 1963 and 1971. Robbins was a teaching colleague of Ken Barlow who lodged with him for a while. They campaigned for a school crossing together but not in time too prevent a pupil being run over and killed, much to Dave’s dismay. He moved away in 1964 after having an affair with Ken’s wife but returned for Barlow-centered storylines in 1969 and 1971. That wasn’t Rollason’s only brush with soap opera as he also wrote episodes of Crossroads (and claimed to have created the popular character Benny for actor Paul Henry). This was an addition to an eclectic writing CV that took in commercials, documentaries and the creation of the two-part series Special Project Air which starred Peter Barkworth in 1969 (it was produced by Doctor Who‘s Peter Bryant). He wrote speeches for the heads of major car companies to deliver at international conferences and his writing agent was Tony Hancock’s brother Roger who also represented Dalek creator Terry Nation.

As an actor his work on the small screen included Z-Cars (1963/65/69), No Hiding Place (1964), Swizzlewick (1964), The Baron (1966), Thirteen Against Fate (1966), Mogul (1967), Softly, Softly (1966/68), Julius Caesar (a BBC Play of the Month 1969), The Borderers (1970), Take Three Girls (1973), Barlow (1973), and Robin’s Nest (1979).

As a staff writer for ATV he realised that he could live wherever he liked and so moved to Wales – first to Rhydlanfair then Betws y Coed and finally Llanrwst where he became an active member of the community, culminating in his becoming Mayor. He also  facilitated a gallery which showcases the work of the artist John Horwell, helped to set up the local Almshouses Museum and was a member of the board of a youth project which enabled the Lallanrwst’s youngsters to learn skills and enjoy activities in a protected environment.

He had not been in the best of health for some time and though he showed an interest in my Who’s Round project the opportunity never arose. He passed away in hospital on the morning of February 20th and is survived by his second wife, Janet, and three children.

Jon Roger Rollinson, actor and writer, born April 9th 1931, died, February 20th 2016.

FRANCES PIDGEON RIP – actress and Lennie Mayne’s widow dies.

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Frances Pidgeon photographed by Ken Russell in 1956, the year she married Doctor Who director Lennie Mayne (© Topfoto)

The actress Frances Pidgeon who appeared twice in Doctor Who has died at the age of 84. Her first role was an uncredited one, as the non speaking handmaiden of Queen Thalira in The Monster Of Peladon (1974). Her second role was more substantial, as Miss Jackson, the assistant to Professor Watkins in The Hand Of Fear (1976). The uniting factor of these two stories was director Lennie Mayne, to whom Pigeon was married until he was lost at sea in an accident in 1977.

Born in Epsom in May 1931, the tall, athletic and beautiful Pidgeon was a ballerina and dancer in musicals : an early appearance was in 1947-48 in Alice In Wonderland at the Shakespeare Memorial theatre (later the Royal Shakespeare Company) at Stratford-Upon-Avon. Mayne was an Australian who also began his career as a dancer and the pair worked together on stage, notably in 364 performances of Cole Porter’s musical Can-Can at the Coliseum in the West End in 1954/55. They married in 1956 and had twin girls in 1964.

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Pidgeon demonstrates an “Alternative Use For A Hip Bath” in another of Russell’s experiments in still photography (© Topfoto).

In 1956 she was picked by Ken Russell to be the subject of various photographs he took which showcased her beauty and married it with surrealistic props – in one her bare legs emerge from beneath a tin hip bath, in another she wears a lampshade as a skirt. She and Russell had danced together at the London Theatre Ballet and hung out together at the Troubadour coffee bar.

On screen she danced in Love From Judy (1953), many episodes of On The Bright Side (1959) with Stanley Baxter and Betty Marsden, This Is Bobby Darin (1959), Die Kleinste Show Der Welt (1960), Up Jumped A Swagman (1963)  Were Those Days (1969) and and episode of Omnibus about the waltz (1969). She also choreographed a sequence for an episode of Are You Being Served? (1976) and an Alan Plater penned Play Of The Week in 1978 called Night People (1978).

She was one of the supporting ensemble in the Mike Yarwood and Lulu vehicle, the series Three Of A Kind (1967) and gradually began to take small roles on television, often in productions directed by her husband such as Doomwatch (1971/72) and The Brothers (1975).

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Pidgeon as Miss Jackson in Doctor Who’s The Hand Of Fear.

There is no particular of nepotism here because Mayne – a universally adored figure – surrounded himself by people he knew when he was working, whether he was married to them or not. The number of productions in which Pidgeon and Mayne’s names also intersect with those of Denys Palmer, Rex and Pat Robinson (Patricia Prior) or Laurie Webb (all of whom appeared in Mayne’s The Three Doctors) are numerous and comprised a mutually supportive and respectful unit of artists and friends. The Robinsons and the Webbs lived very close to Mayne family as well and helped to provide a support network for Pidgeon after Mayne’s tragic death.

She had been in ill health for some time and passed away earlier this month. The twins survive her.

FRANCES PIDGEON 1931-2016

Obituaries Round Up

OBITUARIES ROUND UP

Here is how it works – if I haven’t been asked to do an obituary of someone for a paper I will try to do a good one here. Even if I have been asked, I still might blog about them, but giving a more personal or Doctor Who flavoured slant to the piece. I was very flattered when I was asked by the Herald Scotland newspaper if they might use some of the work here and publish it in their pages. I was delighted to agree and so I tweaked my obituary of Kenneth Gilbert and it appeared in the hard copy of the paper last week. That version (different from the one on this blog) and can be found on the Herald’s website here.

This week I have been rather busy becoming a kind of literary Hayley Joel Osment: a sad duty, maybe sign of a morbid disposition, but I like to think I’m giving proper their due. And so I am pleased that Doctor Who Magazine have commissioned a lengthy piece from me about Derek Ware which will be appearing in a forthcoming issue. 

Anthony Read-2The Guardian asked me to write a piece on Anthony Read, Doctor Who writer and script editor, BBC producer, and prolific contributor of scripts to loads of memorable series. Also a very lovely fellow. He was interviewed for Who’s Round, briefly, and the results are here. His family, especially his daughter Emma, were incredible helpful and patient at a very difficult time but it has really helped the piece so my thanks to them.

He was never in Doctor Who and I didn’t know him so I am incredibly flattered to have been entrusted with the obituary of an actor I greatly admired, Anthony Valentine, and his piece came out in today’s paper and is online here. As a general note, Richard Bignell and Rob Fairclough are the sort of unsung heroes one goes to when one wants a bit of help with these things and they are always unfailingly and speedily on hand with assistance. Richard, for example, delves into his database at all hours of the day for the kind of information that is essential but often difficult to access. So thanks to them.

108693-2In related news, prolific Doctor Who extra Terence Denville, who had a pretty busy career as a character actor on stage and played small roles on TV (he received his only onscreen credit on Doctor Who as a Cyberman in The Invasion but was also an Ice Warrior in The Monster Of Peladon amongst other non-speaking bits) passed away in October.  Those of you fascinated by the political affiliations of minor Doctor Who actors may be interested to know that he stood for parliament for the National Front a few times. A friend who worked with him said that he had never mentioned it on the many times they had spent together in dressing rooms but there we go.

P1320684Finally, I was sad to find out about the death – aged 79 – of stuntman Roy Street who worked on a few Doctor Whos (Terror Of The Autons, The Curse Of Peladon, The Masque Of Mandragora) but whose impressive list of credits outshine Saturday teatime television and bestride the movie industry. I use “bestride” advisedly as he was an excellent rider and could steer two horses at once – standing with one foot on the saddle of each one and taking both pairs of reins. He could also be relied on to do driving and motorcycling and his impressive list of credits includes lots of James Bonds (including as recently as Skyfall), lots of Sharpes and comes right up to date with Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

His old buddy Derek Martin – Charlie Slater in Eastenders no less – told me: “He taught me riding, he taught me how to pull horses over. He was great. He went to Italy to film The Borgias to do his horse trick down a hill. Anyway, he got there and it turned out they wanted him to ride two horses who were shod, bear back, on cobbles. And – typical of Roy – he did it.

“Funny with Roy – whatever job he was on the first thing he’d ask about was “What about laundry money?”. Say it was even two grand a week he’d say “Does that include laundry money”. Laundry money! It’d only be about 7’6″ but he’d still want to know if it was included. Ha! He was a good man though, a good man.”

Thanks to Derek for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his stories with me.

Kenneth Gilbert 1931-2015 : Douglas Camfield regular dies

KENNETH GILBERT DIES AGED 84

Kenneth Gilbert as Richard Dunbar in The Seeds Of Doom.
Kenneth Gilbert as Richard Dunbar in The Seeds Of Doom.

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).

Gilbert was often seen in uniform, including in this episode of The Sweeeney.
Gilbert was often seen in uniform, including in this episode of The Sweeeney.

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.

Kenneth Gilbert recalling The Seeds Of Doom for the BBC DVD release.
Kenneth Gilbert recalling The Seeds Of Doom for the BBC DVD release.

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.