Thursday, 30 July 2020

Jeff Rawle

British actor Jeff Rawle

Jeff Rawle:

I first remember seeing Jeff Rawle in the 1970s TV series 'Billy Liar', the first version of Keith Waterhouse's kitchen-sink Walter Mitty that I ever encountered. With its budget studio-bound look and sitcom-hysterics live audience, it made somewhat underwhelming television, and was soon lost deep in the recesses of my memory. When I read the book and saw the 1963 film in the '80s, there was barely a flicker of brain cells to remind me of this incarnation, yet it turns out that Rawle and his Mr Shadrack (Colin Jeavons) - though forever in the giant shadows of Tom Courtenay and Leonard Rossiter - made an impact on me after all.

As Billy Fisher in the early '70s TV 'Billy Liar' 

With that pinched, underfed urchin look of '70s youth, Jeff Rawle played Billy with energy and verve, albeit with none of the nuance of the film version, which is understandable as it was virtually his first television acting role. The show was popular at the time, but didn't quite make him a household name. Roles on television that immediately followed tended to be rather slight, but included some variously serious dramas, such as Bertold Brecht's 'Baal', and the odd 'Play For Today' among the 'Van Der Valk', 'Crown Court' and 'Hammer House Of Horror'. 

In an episode of 'Remington Steele'

By the end of the '80s there were some more substantial recurring castings, in 'Angels', the 'Doctor Who' adventure 'Frontios', 'Fortunes Of War', and 'Vote For Them', before things started to brighten up with the odd 'Minder', 'Boon' and 'Wycliffe'. It was two comedy offerings that brought him more into the public eye once again: 'Faith In The Future' - a sequel to 'Second Thoughts', with Rawle replacing James Bolam as the foil to Lynda Bellingham, with Julia Sawalha and Simon Pegg in early roles; and more notably 'Drop The Dead Donkey' - the slightly topical newsroom comedy which featured him as the timid George Dent caught in a constant battle of egos and politics.                 

In the satirical journo-com 'Drop The Dead Donkey' 

Possibly, it was his affecting portrayal of retired rocker Roger Fenn in 'Doc Martin' that led to his casting in 'Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire', but whatever it was that led to the role, it certainly proved to be leg-up in terms of profile. Although not a large part, Amos Diggory plays into one of the crucial plot points of the film via his screen son, Cedric, (future star Robert Pattinson) and the emotional fall-out of his death. 

As tweedy ministerial wizard and 'port-key' guide Amos
Diggory in 'Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire' (2005)

This side of the Potter, Jeff Rawle has been in some interesting and worthwhile stuff, such as an enjoyable drama based on the early development of 'Doctor Who' - the Mark Gatiss-helmed 'An Adventure In Space And Time' - and several episodes of 'The Durrells', but perhaps got most attention as the 'Hollyoaks' serial killer Silas Blissett, investing the character with a level of depth that seems to have sent thrills racing through the soap-watching audience.          

A 'Doctor Who' veteran himself, seen here in the drama
about the birth of the show 'An Adventure In Space
And Time', with Sarah Winter as Delia Derbyshire.  

Perhaps the '70s TV 'Billy Liar' is due for a rewatch? It's been made available on DVD and features previous Familiar Unknown subjects George A Cooper and Colin Jeavons who are almost always worth a look. Whatever the verdict, Jeff Rawle certainly deserves my modest salute.    

Jeff Rawle -imdb

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Pip Torrens

Pip Torrens, British actor

Pip Torrens: 

Bromley-born actor Philip 'Pip' Torrens has a really very extensive body of work in his résumé, stretching back to the mid-'80s, with literally dozens of roles in a range of films and television, including some pretty big titles. Despite this, you'll probably recognise his suave good looks, but perhaps not be able to come up with the name. Early casting made much of his classic young Englishman vibe, while latterly this has transformed into something of the wry sophisticate, with a plethora of professional, military, or villainous complexions.    

As newbie copper PC Monkhouse, with his well-crucial
nemesis Delbert Wilkins in the 'Lenny Henry Show'

His cinema career seems to begin with the horribly-clichéd Rob Lowe teen movie 'Oxford Blues' (1987), but continues with the likes of the epic 'Little Dorrit' (1987), 'A Handful Of Dust' (1988), 'Eminent Domain' (1990), Patriot Games (1992), War Horse (2011), The Iron Lady' (2011), 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (1997), 'How To Get Ahead In Advertising' (1989), 'Remains Of The Day' (1993), 'Longitude' (2000), the Keira Knightley 'Pride & Prejudice' (2005), 'My Week With Marilyn' (2011), 'Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens' (2015), and 'Darkest Hour' (2017). A fair cross section of a few decades there.  

As Egyptologist Howard Carter  in the enjoyably far-fetched
'Young Indiana Jones: Treasure Of The Peacock's Eye' TV movie,
seen here with William Osborne playing EM Forster   

Although his CV is heavier on the serious, literary, and historical material, there are a few light comedy and comedy-drama roles on television. For example, 'The Lenny Henry Show', 'Murder Most Horrid', 'Yes, Prime Minister', 'Up The Women', 'Jeeves & Wooster', latterday 'Minder', and 'The Brittas Empire' among the comedies. Add to that some gentle detective/mystery fare such as 'Rosemary & Thyme', 'Lovejoy', 'Marple', 'Ruth Rendell Mysteries', 'Midsomer Murders', 'Van Der Valk ' and 'Maigret'. Not to mention the generally well-liked David Tennant era 'Doctor Who' stories 'The Family Of Blood' and 'Human Nature'.       

Back-lit and inscrutable as the royal adviser, Sir Alan 'Tommy'
Lascelles, a stern presence in the TV series 'The Crown'    

There are a few potboilers too, parts in the sort of shows that make up many actors' bread and butter. Among these we might consider popular schedule-filler such as 'Heartbeat', 'The Bill' (five roles, all different), 'Casualty' and a courtroom lawyer stint in 'Coronation Street'. 

As Colonel Kaplan in 'Star Wars: Episode VII -
The Force Awakens' (2015), somewhat in the
tradition of Michael Culver as Captain Needa.    

But it's in the semi-heavyweight division that Pip Torrens has been most notable. See, for example, his strong role in 'The Crown', and several other historical dramas such as 'Shackleton', 'Versailles', 'Fleming', and 'War & Peace'.

As the amusingly evil and perverse Herr Starr in the 
extreme comic-book TV adaptation 'Preacher'

Recent appearances of interest include 'Deep State', 'Black Mirror', and the playfully OTT comic book-based 'Preacher' in which he achieves the difficult job of stealing the show from a cast of fallen angels, saintly superheroes and God himself, with his portrayal of the hilariously ruthless Herr Starr.

To judge by his record thus far, there are many excellent roles in store for this accomplished actor, so hopefully this small salute will mean that a few more people will be able instantly to put a name to the face.

 Pip Torrens-imdb     

Sunday, 31 May 2020

David Cann

David Cann: 

Distinctive actor, with a combination of tough-guy and strangely elfin looks - thanks perhaps to his expressively pointy eyebrows - yet equally adaptable to everyday everyman roles. He first caught my attention from cropping up in a lot of modern comedy of the oddball sort, (being one of Chris Morris's development team for the radio show 'Blue Jam' and his later TV output), and also popular with the likes of Kevin Eldon and Reece Shearsmith. 

A typical role in a 'Brass Eye' interview sequence 

Trained at RADA in the mid 70s, his early television jobs saw him tackling some extra and bit-parts in low budget sci-fi faves, such as 'Tomorrow People', 'Sapphire & Steel' and 'Blakes 7', though seemingly never 'Doctor Who'.     

I think this is our chap... An early role as the 'chaircreature'
of a galactic committee in 'The Tomorrow People', played
in a rather jolly Python-esque falsetto.  

Uncredited role in 'Blakes 7' (on right).  

He proved extremely versatile, with small roles gradually giving way to better things in an ever-widening range of genres. He was in 'Shine On Harvey Moon', had a prolonged stint on a later series of 'Grange Hill' as Mr Bentley, and appeared as several characters on both sides of the law in 'The Bill'. He was also in 'EastEnders', 'Bad Girls', 'Silent Witness' and 'Doctors', as well as an episode of 'Killing Eve'.

In the 1981 TV reboot of 'Callan'

Vintage menace in an episode of 'Campion'

But it's in comedy that he's been most visible and memorable, with appearances in Chris Morris's 'Brass Eye' and 'Jam', 'Black Books', 'Saxondale', 'It's Kevin', 'Psychoville', 'Benidorm' and most recently, 'Sex Education'.

More 'Brass Eye'. This time as an astronaut. 

Films have been a mixture of comedies: 'Dog Eat Dog' (2001), 'Run Fatboy Run' (2007), 'Attack The Block' (2011), and more serious fare '1984' (1984), Chromophobia (2005), Les Miserables (2012) and 'Dead Eyes' (2007).

Mostly pretty interesting stuff. One of those actors that it's almost reassuring to see appear, giving the impression of being in good hands. I salute you.      

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Jeannette Charles

British actress Jeannette Charles portraying the Queen in the German sex film 'Leos Leiden'

Jeannette Charles: 

The ultimate type-cast actress may be Jeannette Charles, who for several decades has been film and TV's default lookalike for the Queen. Does she really look like her? I'm not too sure, there might be something of the Princess Annes about her long upper lip, but to me she's nothing much like the real item. Her own face has become so familiar, though, that she is virtually a national institution herself - the official stunt queen. 

Behind the till in 'Q6' with John Bluthal and Spike Milligan
Though not really an actress as such - she's rarely given any lines - apparently she was involved in theatre as a young woman, but rarely cast because of her 'uncanny likeness' to the royal princess, and later the young queen, in an age of greater deference. The similarity was again remarked by her local paper in Essex in the early '70s, and with the coming of the irreverent era of post-Python comedy, she's been constantly in demand, usually as a simple sight-gag, and has been seen in a number of productions of wildly variable quality. 
With German comedy legend Loriot, aka Vicco von Bulows in 1974
Spike Milligan's establishment-baiting silliness made great use of her in series including 'Q6', 'Q7' and 'There's A lot Of It About', and she's seen in contemporary comedies such as 'Rutland Weekend Television', 'The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash', and later 'Not The Nine O'Clock News' and 'Never The Twain'. In an episode of 'Mind Your Language' with a little twist, she plays a woman who is mistaken for the queen. Kids 'TV was also a regular earner, with appearances on 'The Sooty Show', 'On Safari', 'Ratman' and the like.       

I wonder whose idea this was? Queen looking less than thrilled. 
On the cinema screen, after a few low-budget '70s porn/sex comedies (non-sexy roles obviously, but the Germans, it seems, love a throwaway royal joke), including 'Leos Leiden, aka 'Born Erect' (1976), 'Secrets Of A Superstud' (1976), and 'Queen Kong' (1977), she pops up in 'National Lampoon's European Vacation' (1985), 'The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad' (1988),  'Austin Powers In Goldmember' (2002). I have no idea what part she plays in the bizarre sounding Israeli topless prank comedy 'Nipagesh Bachof' (1987) but it's there on her CV. 
With Leslie Neilsen in the 'The Naked Gun' (1988) 
Born in 1927 (a year later than the real deal), she is now in her nineties and in retirement in her native Essex. Hopefully she will receive her telegram at the appropriate juncture - I wonder if any additional comment will follow the centennial good wishes?  

Jeannette Charles-imdb

Monday, 13 April 2020

Patrick Murray

British actor Patrick Murray as Mickey Pearce in the BBC comedy 'Only fools And Horses'
Patrick Murray:

London-born actor, probably most instantly recognisable as Mickey Pearce, Rodney's comedy foil in 'Only Fools And Horses', permanently frozen as a chirpy two-tone wideboy, already something of an anachronism by the time he appeared in 1983.

Patrick Murray had previously been seen in the gritty Borstal drama 'Scum' (1979) and before that, the low-budget 'Moon Over The Alley' (1976) a sort-of musical that dealt fairly unflinchingly with racism in '70s Notting Hill, and 'The Class Of Miss McMichael' (1977) which saw a rigid Oliver Reed and progressive Glenda Jackson clashing in the staff room of a rough-house  London school.      

In the interesting social conscience musical 'Moon Over The Alley' (1975)

  At the tail-end of the '70s there was a flush of tougher social dramas with 'natural' actors and Patrick Murray was able to find a series of roles in these, but his 'authentic' London characterisations were tempered by his slight build and less-than-menacing demeanour which led to a series of comedy parts, including the perennial chancer of the Nag's Head.              
As Dougan in the powerful and influential 'Scum' (1979)

While a semi-regular gig in 'Only Fools And Horses' that ran across 20 years, from 1983 till 2003, other roles filled out the actor's schedule. TV comedies included 'The Upper Hand', 'Shelley', Hale & Pace's 'The Management', and the strangely memorable Robert Gillespie vehicle, 'Keep It In The Family. 

With Glenda Jackson in 'The Class Of Miss McMichael' (1977)

As a lift boy in the feeble 'Curse Of The Pink Panther' (1983)

On the drama side, he shows up in smallish roles in 'Bergerac', 'Lovejoy', Roy Clarke's short-lived 'Pulaski', 'House Of Elliott' and of course 'The Bill'. I'm slightly surprised to see that he never appeared in 'The Sweeney' or 'Minder', which I would have thought were nailed-on certainties. One interesting oddity is 'Big Jim & The Figaro Club' a one-off nostalgic drama about a student who returns to his village for summer work on a building site, it later became a series, but without Murray.     

Playing Enid Blyton's idea of a villain in 'Five On Kirrin Island Again' 

Most recently, he has been starring in his own series - originally to be called 'Brain Damage', but which is now being touted under the name 'Conditions' - a light-hearted (I think) drama about retrieving some escaped mental patients. As far as I can tell, it has yet to be picked up by a network, although a number of episodes have been made - with Denis Waterman joining the cast at some point.    

Still wearing the Mickey Pearce pork-pie hat for the fans 

Feature film jobs since the '70s have been rather thin on the ground, but he can be spotted briefly in 'The Curse Of The Pink Panther' (1983) a poor effort made after Peter Sellers died, and has a rather grisly moment in the Hazel O'Connnor pop potboiler 'Breaking Glass' (1980) as the kid killed during a skinhead riot under the Westway.  Much more recently, he appears in 'Vikingdom' (2013) a cartoony 3D-CGI fantasy movie, although he's not easy to recognise under the world's biggest eyebrows. Here's the trailer.       

Something a bit different. As the wise man Alcuin in the
Norse hokum 'Vikingdom' (2013)
Patrick Murray-imdb

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Spencer Banks

Spencer Banks:  

Very much in demand in his youth during the '70s, when he took the role of Simon in the mind-expanding young-person's drama 'Timeslip', Spencer Banks also appeared in the folk-horror 'Penda's Fen', a 'Play For Today' from 1974 which now rubs shoulders with 'The Wicker Man' (1973) and 'Children Of The Stones' as a classic of the genre. With his shock of red hair and expressive, sometimes awkward, features and manner, he was a natural for the role of the loner or outsider. 

In the witness box in an episode of 'Crown Court' 

With Spud, played by Mike Grady, in 'Tightrope'
Beyond these, he can also be seen in good quality fare from throughout that decade including 'Tightrope', 'Lord Peter Wimsey' with Ian Carmichael, 'Village Hall', 'Churchill's People', Dennis Potter's 'Pennies from Heaven', 'The Georgian House' and 'Minder'. In addition, he had a short spell in the popular (with older ladies) teatime soap opera 'Crossroads' which was probably a biggish deal at the time. 
In yet another children's time-travel mystery
serial, this time HTV's 'The Georgian House'
By the early '80s and beyond, pickings seem to have got a little slimmer, though he pops up as a copper in 'Shine On Harvey Moon'. There are a few decade-apart roles including 'Doctors' on TV and the straight to DVD 'Amityville Playhouse' (2015). Whether he was just too much a face of the '70s, or his moment simply passed, it seems he retired from seriously pursuing an acting career. Nowadays he is a much sought-after guest at cult TV conventions, but I can't help but hope that some interesting part is still in his future timeline.

Bonus content:
For a full-on '70s time capsule, I point you to this splendidly mundane oddity:
'Living At Thamesmead' (1974)

Spencer Banks-imdb

Nickolas Grace

Nickolas Grace as Matthew in 'Survivors'

Nickolas Grace

Dark haired (now distinguished grey) and rheumy-eyed, with a hint of sophisticated malfeasance and 'mwah-ha-ha', Nickolas Grace has played wonderful mixture of mainly villainous and disreputable characters over the years. He's possibly most familiar for his masterful turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in 'Robin of Sherwood' or as the impossibly louche Anthony Blanche in 'Brideshead Revisited'. 
'Brideshead Revisited'
As the Sheriff of Nottingham in 'Robin of Sherwood'
There has been a strong thread of comedy shows down the years. These range from the rather mundane to the quite strange, eg: 'The Fenn Street Gang', 'Birds Of A Feather', 'Alas Smith & Jones', the peculiar medical-themed sketch revue 'The Pink Medicine Show', the wilfully bizarre 'Inside Victor Lewis Smith' and the successful sitcoms 'My Family' and 'Absolutely Fabulous'.       

In the comedy short 'The Hardest Part' (2010) with Jeremy Child
But drama has always been to the fore, with roles in quality costume stuff such as the Pre-Raphaelite shenanigans of 'The Love School', 'Napoleon & Josephine' (as Nelson), 'Morte D'Arthur', 'Decline and Fall', 'The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes', 'Casanova', 'Merlin' and a bravura title turn in 'Lorca, Death Of A Poet' which he acted in English with a Spanish cast and production company and was later re-dubbed.

In the exceptional BBC drama 'Killing Eve'
Crime, political intrigue and action shows have included 'The Survivors', 'The Final Cut', 'The Chief', 'The Professionals', a smattering of 'Marple', 'Alleyn', 'Midsomer Murders'-type mid-evening mysteries, and light dramas of the 'Lovejoy', 'Minder' and 'Bergerac' ilk. He also pops up in the cult Gerry Anderson flop 'Space Precinct' and the critically acclaimed 'Killing Eve'. He's a respected stage actor and director, but what seems to come over on the screen is an almost irresistible sense of enjoyment and relish for every role, however meaty or slight. A craftsman.