KENNETH GILBERT DIES AGED 84
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.