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.
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.