Tag Archives: Doctor Who actor obituary

REG WHITEHEAD RIP – The First Cyberman dies aged 83

REG WHITEHEAD RIP – The First Cyberman dies, but his legacy encompasses more than his Doctor Who milestone…

Reg WhiteheadReg 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 iconic ending to the first episode of The Tenth Planet, with Reg centre stage.
The iconic ending to the first episode of The Tenth Planet, with Reg centre stage.

“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.

_76881435_yeti13The 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.

Newton's Cradle
Newton’s Cradle

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.”

Reg is reunited with his old mate Frazer Hines for the DVD recording of Tomb of the Cybermen.
Reg is reunited with his old mate Frazer Hines for the DVD recording of Tomb of the Cybermen.

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.

REGINALD DEIGHTON WHITEHEAD – 1932-2016

With thanks to John Kelly.

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.