It’s tricky being an amateur researcher.I don’t kick doors in, nor do I follow up if someone forgets to email me back. So I do leave stones unturned, largely because I don’t want to annoy anyone. The ridiculous thing, of course, is that without exception all of the actors and production personnel I have spoken to have been very happy to have been remembered. But that doesn’t stop me being shy.
So this month, when I discovered that Victor Platt, a very recognisable actor with a Toby Jug countenance that made him born to play coppers and barkeeps,passed away in January aged 96 I rued that I had not found him (hiding in plain site as he was). He could have told me about Quatermass and the Pit (he has a great cameo as a spooked PC who takes Andre Morell around a deserted, possibly haunted house) and Doomwatch and The Road. Of course, his loss is properly felt by his family and loved ones and he may not have remembered much about the acting career he retired from 40 years ago in order to turn his hand to sculpting – but he might have enjoyed a lunch and a reminisce and I’d have been flattered and excited to have met him. Getting in touch with such people (which I attempted to do with Mr Platt several times) is more difficult now – my union, Equity, used to forward mail to members but since belligerent autograph seekers began to overuse the free forwarding system to send gazillions of unwanted items through the post to unsuspecting pensioners (and then kicked off when some weren’t returned) they no longer do – which means genuine researchers lose out too.
Carl Conway also passed away recently – and his death highlights another aspect of how tricky amateur research can be.My friend Ben Jolly let me know that IMDB was suggesting that Mr Conway had just passed away aged 95 (IMDB previously had him listed as deceased in 1992 by the way). So I did some digging. I found a Texan Carl Conway had died on February 17th aged 95 and I immediately put this down to IMDB being useless and people not fact checking properly (a real internet malaise, especially with IMDB and Wikipedia). Digging deeper however, I discovered that our Carl Conway – from Doctor Who‘s The War Machines and The Ambassadors of Death – had passed away exactly a week before the American one. Also aged 95!
Mr Conway had been suggested to me as a potential interviewee.He had been a DJ on Radio Caroline and had contacted the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame in 2008 to tell them what he was up to (which is what had made me certain that IMDB’s 1992 death date was wrong). His two roles in Doctor Who plus his career as the voice of the famous pirate station and his subsequent life organising film shows for old people’s homes would have made him a fascinating subject, but alas I never tracked him down (remember, I do all this stuff in my spare time).
So, Mr Platt and Mr Conway – sorry I never got to meet you, and believe me I would have loved every minute of doing so. Sorry not to have had the chance to thank you for all the entertainment. In the great scheme of things the fact that I never managed to track you down will have meant very little to you – but it would have meant a lot to me, and I think the small band of people who read and listen to my stuff would have been chuffed too.
Peter Thomas – actor from missing William Hartnell story The Savages – dies.
Peter Thomas, who played Captain Edal in The Savages, has died at the age of 80.He had worked with Christopher Barry prior to the making of the story and so was in the director’s mind when it came to casting the chief of the security forces on the unnamed planet where all is not what it seems. With Frederick Jaegar, ostensibly the story’s lead villain, spending much of the action impersonating William Hartnell’s Doctor it is Thomas who provides most of the thuggishness. He’s the enforcer and easily the story’s most unpleasant character – and unusually, he survives at the end, in a story which has no fatalities. Thomas had to undergo golden facial make-up but that wasn’t his biggest problem on the show: “Bill Hartnell and I did not get on that well in The Army Game – I fell out with him during rehearsals. He used to shout, and if you forgot a line or miscued him he would tell you! Literally in our last episode of Doctor Who I think he forgave me: in the final scene, owing to the pressure of work instead of “Grab him and strap him to the trolley” I said “Strab him and grap him to the trolley” – but it did get a laugh even from Bill Hartnell.” The finished result wss good though – the audience research report for The Savages finds the viewers singling out the performances of Hartnell and Thomas for the most praise.
Thomas trained at LAMDA from 1952 and upon graduation did a short stint in rep at Lancaster before National Service (the RAF) intervened. Having done his duty (and performed onstage in RAF variety shows and stage productions while he was doing so) he returned to the theatre and then broke into television where he made something of a career of playing bad guys. His TV roles included Probation Officer (1959), Walk A Crooked Mile (1961), Z-Cars (1962), No Hiding Place (4 different characters 1962/65), The Plane Makers (1963), No Cloak, No Dagger (1963), The Avengers (three times – 1966/67/68) and Big Breadwinner Hog (1969) with Peter Egan, whom he had encouraged to become an actor when Egan was a young lad. In this excellent but very violent series Thomas is unmissable as a leather clad thug with a teddy boy quiff and a flick knife.
After the film Tales From The Crypt (1972) and an episode of Crown Court (1976) he disappeared from the acting profession for about thirty years due to the unfortunate illness of his wife. Having established himself as an onstage comedy stooge (he worked with Hancock, Benny Hill, Graham Stark and Jimmy Jewel) he had to turn down 35 weeks touring alongside Bob Monkhouse – such a commitment was impractical with two young children and a terminally ill partner and so he made the difficult decision to sever ties with his agent and accept no more offers.
In the early 80s he started a production company, and he kept his hand in the performance side of things when he provided the voice overs and the occasional presentation spot for the corporate videos that they made. Approaching the age at which most people retire, and with his children now grown up, he began to work professionally as an actor again and was very proactive in getting his own work – doing short films and modelling shoots whenever he could, and creating a character called Mr Grumpy.
In 2013 his face adorned the London underground as part of the Turn2US charity campaign, one of many posters he featured on in recent years (he also showed up for the NHS carers recruitment campaign and the Oxford Hearing Centre). He also contributed to advertising campaigns for Heineken (a James Bond/Skyfall tie in) and French Netflix. This sort of work was a callback to the 60s when he had a high old time appearing in adverts for all sorts including Don Carlos Cigars, Remington Razors, Rich Tea Biscuits, Black & Greens Tea, Guinness and Bilslands Bread. He was also an able guitarist and folk singer.
He was happy to be associated with Doctor Who, and kept up with it over the years:“It was caught the atmosphere of the 60s – and when they brought it back years later it was an instant success. One of my favourite Doctor Whos was Jon Pertwee and in the newer versions it has to be David Tennant. It was a good show”. Peter recently joined me and Kay Patrick to discuss The Savages for one of Fantom Films’ forthcoming Who Talk releases: he was sprightly and full of memories so the news of his passing was as surprising as it was saddening..
With thanks to Paul Dunn.
Peter Thomas took part in a Who’s Round which you can listen to here.
You can see my video of the Doctor Who names we lost in 2016 here.
At the end of the year I always to a video tribute to those people from the Doctor Who universe who have left us. I had trouble uploading this so it didn’t go up on New Year’s Eve as hoped. Anyway, it is here now, and I hope it does its job.
I was very saddened to learn of the death of Terence Bayler.He was a fine actor: tall, handsome, with soulful eyes and a slight warble to his voice which could suggest plummy aristocracy or a hint of melancholy. He often played upper class toffs or British officers so I was shocked to discover, when I was invited to his home in 2013, that he retained the kiwi twang which gave away his working class New Zealand roots. I spent a delightful afternoon with him and his lovely wife Valerie, herself a talented actress (who also makes very nice muffins).
He was of course best known for his brilliantly funny contributions to Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) and for the key role of Macduff in Polanski’s bloody take on Macbeth (1971). He appeared in everything from Rutland Weekend Television (1975/76) to Lipstick On Your Collar (1993) via Upstairs Downstairs (1975) and had an enviable stage career too. He also told me my favourite Cyril Shaps anecdote ever.
He was nothing like most of the parts he played – he was extremely self effacing, down-to-earth and softly spoken. Unfailingly polite too – always ringing to thank one for an encounter or card or note. His approach to the profession was interesting too – he wasn’t an actor for any reason other than he figured that he could earn a living doing it. He was as happy in the garden or making things out of odds and ends as he was anywhere else.
I liked him a lot. I had contacted him because he played twice in Doctor Who, as a slave who met a sticky end (he was amused that a fan wrote to him about playing “the doomed Yendom”) in 1966’s The Ark opposite William Hartnell and as Major Barrington, one of his many military characters, exuding decency and stiff-upper-lipped resolve with just the right level of pathos in The War Games (1969). Both characters don’t get past a single episode but both performances are good and it’s nice to have him pass through the show playing such different roles.
I have gone into further detail in my Guardian obituaryhere, but there is no place for the more personal reminiscences in such a piece. I found Terry to be such a kind and gentle man : I was extremely touched to see him and Val waiting outside the Garrick theatre after my performance there. I’m blessed and flattered to have had such encounters with people whose work I have admired over the years – though it makes moments like this all the sadder. My condolences to Val and to his family (his daughter Lucy is an actress who had a four month stint in Eastenders as Elizabeth Beale in 1988 – and popped up again recently as a different character).
My 2013 interview with Terry can be downloaded for free from Big Finishhere.
REG WHITEHEAD RIP – The First Cyberman dies, but his legacy encompasses more than his Doctor Who milestone…
Reg 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 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.
The 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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.