I was at Alexandra Palace the other night to see my stepson perform for Kaos, the signing choir. That’s not a misspelling of singing, they are a signing choir: they sing and sign at the same time (try typing that drunk). The performance was facilitated by the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, whose patron, who I was delighted to see taking his place at the end of our row, is Philip Madoc. Excited, I informed the rest of my party. None of them knew the name. So shocked was I at the whole scenario that as I reeled off credits, my addled brain forgot to mention soggy chips, not telling Pike and German U-Boat captains.
But it got me thinking. I love British character actors, and I forget sometimes how actors I could recite the CV of (unaccountably mislaid wranglings with The Home Guard notwithstanding), might not resonate with the great unwashed as much as they should. Some of our finest talents are prolific and versatile and in most of our favourite shows. So there’s going to be some corner of the internet that is forever theirs. Everyone knows who Amanda Holden is for goodness’ sake. So there’s no excuse not having space for Madoc in your brain. In the first of an occasional series, I Know The Face But… dedicates a few paragraphs and links to the works of some of this nation’s finest performers, starting with, of course,
He really should need no introduction. He’s been in everything, bringing with him a suppressed venom or quiet danger to a number of character parts. He is sometimes on the side of the angels, where his rich Welsh tones add gravitas and weight to professional men or moral crusaders. For decades, though, he really was your actor of choice on TV if you wanted a terse, simmering, edgy villain. Despite often being focused, and using menace through stillness, Madoc also allows his eyes to light with fire and his mouth to twitch with flickering amusement. Tiny nuances flitter across his countenance to suggest that despite his apparent coldness, he’s only flirting with sanity. Well known for his intellect and ability with languages, Tom Baker once claimed to have caught him reading a book in Latin. One of those actors incapable of doing anything other than lift his part off the page, here’s a barely adequate five credits to pique your interest or trip your memory. Links to clips may come later, but I only speak pidgin internet at the moment.
Yes, The German U-Boat Captain in Dad’s Army. ‘Nuff said. Well, not quite ‘nuff, for as every great comedian (and I) will tell you, you need a good straight man, and Madoc quite rightly doesn’t send up Mainwaring’s Nazi nemesis, instead playing the steely eyed Hun with all the patronising menace he would have done in an actual war film. The results are rightly legendary, and have ensured Madoc a pension’s worth of repeat fees from clip shows.
Noel Bain in A Mind To Kill. Pretty impressive for an actor who was a well known face in the late 1960s to still be trusted enough for his ability and profile to play a lead role in a long running series in the next century. Madoc starred as Bain for 10 years, playing the old school copper getting used to modern police methods in a series filmed in both Welsh and English.
Four appearances in TV Doctor Who (plus one on film). Alright, I’m not going to limit my choices for this blog-series to that show, but to be fair, it is Doctor Who fans who generally celebrate fine actors. More so, certainly, than modern TV critics (whose job should presuppose some knowledge of the
medium). Would Sam Wollaston or Ally Ross be able to identify Madoc at fifty paces? I doubt it. Anyway, he’s incapable of a bad performance, but the silky menace of his purring War Lord in The War Games and his slenderest grip on sanity as the zealous scientist Solon on The Brain Of Morbius are two distinct but equally effective studies in villainy. They also show how important facial hair is to intergalactic crime.
Starring in the title role of The Life And Times Of David Lloyd George. An epic production of the kind the BBC excelled at, mixing fine scripts of historical events with experienced actors delivering good dialogue, they trusted the audience that that would be enough. It was, and more.
Magua in The Last Of The Mohicans. Long before Daniel Day Lewis was sleeping rough and eating bracken for his art, BBC TV adapted James Fenimore Cooper’s novel into 8 episodes. Native American actors were scarce in the UK, but no matter when you have a stony faced, wild eyed Welshman to ooze vitriol as the Huron Indian Chief determined to scalp the maidens in distress under the protection of frontiersman Hawkeye (Kenneth Ives) and Mohican chief Chingachgook (an Emmy nominated John Abineri).
The above is a tip of an impressive iceberg, and one that would easily sink some of today’s supposedly titanic CVs. The internet is your friend should you want to find more. I had the honour of meeting Mr Madoc once. Mr Bacchus joined us too, and we discussed his contributions to British television in a most convivial manner. Legend.
For suggestions to other entries in this series, do Tweet me, and I shall do my best to oblige.