Tag Archives: Doctor Who actor dies

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.

Neville Jason RIP – “Androids Of Tara” actor dies

Neville Jason, who died recently.
Neville Jason, who died recently.

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 ape The 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.”

As Prince Reynart in The Androids Of Tara.
As Prince Reynart in The Androids Of Tara.

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).

A2006He 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.

Neville Jason 1934-2015

With thanks to Malcolm Franks.

Richard Davies – Welsh Character Actor – RIP 1926-2015

RICHARD DAVIES RIP

Richard Davies
Richard Davies

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.

d07-7f-131
Held hostage with Bonnie Langford in Delta and the Bannermen.

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).

Coronation Street's Hopkins family.
Coronation Street’s Hopkins family.

It is worth mentioning that there was plenty of drama alongside the comedy, and he cropped up in many programmes – 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).

Private 593 Jones - not to be confused with Private 716 Jones (or any of the other ones). Zulu (1964).
Private 593 Jones – not to be confused with Private 716 Jones (or any of the other ones). Zulu (1964).

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

With thanks to Nerissa Davies.

CLIFFORD EARL 1933-2015 RIP

tve5094-19681221-98
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.

Hero-Ken-Earl copy
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.