JON ROLLASON RIP
Jon 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.
He 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.
He 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.