Tag Archives: Obituaries

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

ROBIN PHILLIPS RIP

d01-1e-026Robin Phillips, who played Altos in 1964’s The Key’s Of Marinus, has died at the age of 73. A friend of the director, John Gorrie, he was brought aboard to assist the TARDIS crew as they struggled to complete a task (discovering the whereabouts of s series of hidden micro-keys) which they had to compete without being able to rely on the presence of the Doctor (as actor William Hartnell had a two week holiday booked). He is essentially the romantic lead, sharing action duties with William Russell’s Ian, and showing some real grit when facing down the evil Voord as they threaten the object of his affections, Katharine Schofield’s Sabetha.

As David Copperfield
As David Copperfield

Born in Haslemere, Surrey, on 28th February 1942, he left school at 15 but studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school, and appeared there at the Theatre Royal making his professional stage debut in a season which found him playing Konstantin in The Seagull and Romeo in Romeo And Juliet. Other Bristol productions between 1959 and 1961 included The Clandestine Marriage,and  The Long, The Short And The Tall and he also appeared at the Chichester festival and Oxford Playhouse. In 1962 he broke into television and as well as Doctor Who he clocked up the usual fare that a capable young actor would hope to accrue on his CV – Compact (1962), The Saint (1965), The Avengers (1966), The Forsyte Saga (1967 – star Nicholas Pennell and he would collaborate again in the theatre) and the title role in David Copperfield (1969).

It is for his work as a director that he will be best remembered (he had first dabbled at Bristol), notably his role in revitalising Canada’s Stratford Theatre in Ontario. Prior to relocating to Canada he had directed in the UK for the Hampstead Theatre Club, the RSC and Chichester. There was initially some press resistance that a relatively young Brit  should be taking over a Canadian theatre but he managed to erase what he described as the “twirling, spinning and shouting” that dominated productions and instead create work that was more modern in style and thus easier for the audience to absorb. He lured British theatrical greats such as Maggie Smith (he considered his working relationship with her to be the deepest he had in the business) and Brian Bedford to work alongside fine Canadian actors like Martha Henry whose admiration his working methods quickly provoked.

Robin Phillips - acclaimed director.
Robin Phillips – acclaimed director.

According to actor Barry McGregor “one of the great qualities that makes him what he is is that he teaches as he directs – that is so exciting.” He made “everyone feel valued and important to a production” felt actor Marti Maraden.

He was artistic director there from 1975 to 1980 and directed 40 productions, including a sensual Measure For Measure in his first year, followed by Antony And Cleopatra (with Smith and Bedford), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. He returned in 1986-87 to direct Cymbeline and The School For Scandal.

Elsewhere he ran the Grand Theatre at London, Ontario (1983-83), was artistic director at the Citadel Theatre from 1990-1995, helped found the Soulpepper Theatre in 1998 and also directed on Broadway. On the London stage in 2000/2001 he directed Jessica Lange in Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Lyric Theatre, also starring Charles Dance and Paul Rudd) and Francesca Annis in Ghosts (Comedy Theatre).

Casualty and Dynasty star Maxwell Caulfield, upon the news of Philips’ death, described him as a “borderline genius”.  Stargate: Atlantis actor Torri Higginson Tweeted “Thank you for your stories, lessons and demanding presence every second”.

Philips felt that theatre was a vocation – “We do it for reasons other than just to entertain. If we do it well we can make a huge difference to people’s lives.” He was awarded the Order Of Canada in 2005 and the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.

He died on the morning of Saturday July 25 after a long illness and is survived by his long time partner Joe Mandel.

OLAF POOLEY RIP

olaf-pooley-06Olaf Pooley was Doctor Who’s oldest surviving actor until he passed away yesterday at the grand old age of 101.

As ever with people who have crossed paths with the famous Time Lord, there was much more to him than his 7 weeks as the obstinate Professor Stahlman in the Jon Pertwee classic Inferno (1970). That said, it’s a terrific turn – a plausible villain whose motivation is utterly believable and who never strays into caractature. Pooley was reluctant to don the make-up required to transform him into one of the monsters of the piece – a Primord (basically Lemmy from Moorhead after being bitten by a werewolf member of ZZ Top) – but this didn’t stop him from delivering an entirely committed and serious performance as the testy and driven scientist impatient to crack the Earth’s core. When the Doctor is transported to a parallel world Stahlman’s alternative counterpart is crueller and more powerful, not afraid to have pesky, interfering time traveller erased by the military regime in charge of the totalitarian state. Inferno is indisputably one of the show’s true classics and Pooley is an essential part of it’s dark, gritty and tense DNA.

Born in Dorset during the First World War he spent much of the Second in Rep at the Liverpool Playhouse and Theatre Royal, Bristol and also appeared in the very first UK production of Twelve Angry Men at the Queen’s Theatre, London. He had, though, originally studied architecture and painting and enjoyed much success as an artist, exhibiting all over the world and spending his final days, still wielding his brush, in Santa Monica.

Olaf Pooley interviewed by US TV News on the event of his 100th birthday.

He is one of a small but illustrious bevy of actors to have appeared in both Doctor Who and Star Trek (the Voyager episode Blink Of An Eye). He had emigrated to the USA in the 1980s and so much of his CV is taken up with the likes of MacGyver (1985), Hill Street Blues (1986), LA Law (1992) and Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman (1996).

His TV work in the UK began in the late 1940s and included HG Wells’ The Invisible Man (1959), Maigret (1961), The Plane Makers (1964), sherlock holmes (1965), the expert (1968), Doomwatch (1971), Jason King (1971), The Zoo Gang (1974) and The Sandbaggers (1978) amongst many others. He wrote the screenplay to the film Crucible Of Horror starring his good friend Michael Gough – with whom Pooley lived for a time, gaining the affection and admiration of Gough’s then wife Anneke Wills, aka Polly for Doctor Who, who remembered him very fondly and told me : “My dear old Ola. 101! Up in the clouds, having a drink with Mick Gough – chuckling that he made seven years more than him: both of them completely compos mentis right to the end. So it’s not sad, it’s a triumph. May we all live to be 101 and keep our marbles”.

Ben Jolly, a UK based Doctor Who fan who visited Pooley at home in April, remembers, “He was a great guy to chat to – the conversation just flowed. His son-in-law Brian said after the visit that it had been a great tonic for Olaf who couldn’t believe that three chaps from London would have an interest in him. Apparently it gave him a real lift after a period of not being terribly well.”

There is a great interview with him here – there’s a Star Trek influence on it but it’s got plenty of intersesting detail and a sense of the man’s fascinating character.

Cleric
As the cleric in Star Trek: Voyager.

 

Thanks to Paul Ballard of Fantom Films and Lori Morris.