Thursday 29 January 2015

Robert Putt

Robert Putt:

Very distinctive moon-faced character actor who flits occasionally across our screens, having progressed from non-speaking extra and minor roles. He's racked up an impressive list of TV programmes from 'The Sweeney' and 'The Professionals' to 'The Monocled Mutineer', 'Martin Chuzzlewit' and 'Our Friends In The North'. He's also blown bubbles at The Rutles in 'All You Need Is Cash' and chased a nun around Holby General with his flies undone.    

In an episode of 'The Professionals' 

Some other memorable appearances include playing East End killer Mad Danny Durbridge opposite Steve Pemberton in the oddball detective show 'Whitechapel' and the bloke who keeps a cricket ball down his pants - to hold his hernia in check - in 'Doc Martin'.   

In 'Ruby In The Smoke'
Inadvertently striking the exact mid point between John Bluthal and
David Lodge, in the Enid Blyton children's series 'Castle of Adventure'
The big screen has beckoned for roles in Mike Leigh's 'Naked' (1993) and 'Vera Drake' (2004), as well as 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' (1984), 'A Fish Called Wanda' (1988), and such varied fare as the movie of 'Porridge' (1979), 'Hawk The Slayer' (1980), 'Mike Bassett: England Manager' (2001) and our old favourite 'Confessions of a Driving Instructor' (1976). A classic all-rounder.   

Reading Imelda Staunton her rights in 'Vera Drake' (2004)

Robert Putt-imdb

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Ellis Jones

British actor Ellis Peters in 'Pardon My Genie' with Hugh Paddick

Ellis Jones:

Here's a slightly elusive one. As an energetic and distinctively beaky young actor, Ellis pops up in a swathe of TV in the early '70s. These days he's a respected senior drama coach and creative bigwig at RADA, although he has continued to make sporadic appearances on our screens over the years.

In an episode of the BBC naval drama 'Warship'
With the late Ken Jones in an episode of Eric Chappell's
office sitcom, 'The Squirrels', from 1975

I particularly enjoyed his turn as the office ingĂ©nue in 'The Squirrels', an unfairly overlooked minor classic from the pen of 'Rising Damp' creator Eric Chappell. He also shows up in 'Warship', 'Z-Cars' and 'Doctor Who' (he is, in fact, the first person to appear in 'Doctor Who' in colour, in the opening Pertwee-era story, 'Spearhead from Space' in 1969) and a number of Shakespearean roles including the Fool in the Thames TV production of 'King Lear' with Patrick Magee, much shown in school English classes. 
In 'Spearhead from Space', the first Jon Pertwee story of 'Doctor Who'
In the 'Cadfael' mystery, 'A Morbid Taste For Bones'
So perhaps it's ironic that he's probably best remembered by many for playing the hapless Hal Adden (geddit) in 'Pardon My Genie' with Hugh Paddick as the crabby and obtuse spirit of the lamp, rather than for helping the acting careers of Tom Hiddleston, Ben Whishaw, Eve Best, Sally Hawkins, Gemma Arterton and Matthew Macfadyen, to name but a few.     

Ellis Jones-imdb

Sunday 25 January 2015

John Cairney

John Cairney:
† Feb 16 1930 – Sep 7 2023

Dark, broodingly handsome Scots actor, largely associated with his memorable portrayals of the poet Robert Burns. His lasting association with Burns began in 1965 with Tom Wright's solo play "There Was A Man" at the Traverse, Edinburgh, and at the Arts Theatre, London. From Burns, he moved on to other solo pieces on William McGonagall, Robert Service and Robert Louis Stevenson.

In the full Rabbie Burns get-up.

Though his movie career began in the mid '50s, it appears that his TV heyday was probably the mid '60s to late '70s, after which he moved to New Zealand. His many television parts include other literary figures, like Branwell Bronte and Edgar Allan Poe, and other famous Scots, like Robert the Bruce. He has featured in programmes as varied as 'Dr. Finlay's Casebook', 'Secret Agent', 'The Avengers', 'Man In A Suitcase', 'Jackanory', 'The Persuaders', 'Elizabeth R', and 'Taggart'. He'd probably be better known if the BBC hadn't wiped his starring role in the 1966 Scottish drama series 'This Man Craig' in which he played an idealistic teacher. (Incidentally, his son in the programme was played by the young Brian Pettifer, saluted here earlier.) 

With Glenda Jackson in the acclaimed 1971 BBC series 'Elizabeth R'
In 'Jason & The Argonauts' (1963), second from right, just
over Laurence Naismith's shoulder
Feature film appearances include 'Lucky Jim' (1957), the Titanic story 'A Night To Remember' (1958), 'Victim' (1961), 'Jason & The Argonauts' (1963), Cleopatra' (1963), and the Sherlock Holmes meets the Ripper movie 'Study In Terror' (1965).
In the low-budget British sci-fi adventure 'Spaceflight IC-1' (1965)
He made some TV movies in New Zealand during the '80s and '90s as well as writing a number of books on Burns and other great Scottish figures Robert L Stephenson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  

John Cairney-imdb

Monday 19 January 2015

Zienia Merton

British actress Zienia Merton in ITC series 'Space: 1999'

Zienia Merton:

† Dec 11 1945 – Sep 14 2018

With her elegant gamine good looks and sophisticated demeanour, Anglo/French/Burmese actress Zienia Merton was cast in a number of 'vaguely exotic' roles in her early days, including the 'Marco Polo' story strand from the William Hartnell-era Doctor Who (now sadly wiped), a Kashmiri girl in 'Tales from Rudyard Kipling', and as the middle-eastern Zeba Hameed in an episode of the 'Strange Report'. On the big screen, she turns up as an Indian priestess in 'Help!' (1965 ), and as Maoist Mata Hari, Ting Ling, in the Gregory Peck spy romp, 'The Most Dangerous Man in the World', aka 'The Chairman' (1969).

In 'The Most Dangerous Man in the World' (1969) 

Dennis Potter's (very racy for the time) 'Casanova' in 1971 saw her playing Cristina to a world-weary Frank Finlay's eponymous libertine. Although the screenplay was intended to highlight the sadness, religious guilt and regrets behind his great romantic reputation (it is Dennis Potter, after all), most people, Mary Whitehouse included, tended to remark on the indulgent use of nudity (did I mention Dennis Potter?).      

In 'Casanova', the BBC's most talked-about drama of 1971

However, it was the Gerry Anderson sci-fi drama 'Space: 1999' which ran for two seasons of 48 episodes and gave her international exposure. Playing sensitive officer Sandra Benes, she featured in most of the show's heavy-handed plots, as the Andersons attempted to prove that it wasn't a children's show. Personal melodramas and cod-mystic astro-psychedelia vied for prominence, as the kids waited patiently for some explosions and spaceships. 

Since her Moonbase days, she has been in an interesting mix of mundane and fantasy fare, from 'EastEnders', 'Coronation Street', 'Casualty' and 'The Bill', to 'Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense', 'Dinotopia', 'Wizards vs Aliens' and 'The Sarah Jane Mysteries', which ties in nicely with her early adventures in 'Doctor Who'.       

Zienia Merton officiating at the wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (the late Elizabeth Sladen),
until the Doctor (in this case Tennant) arrives to stop her marrying Nigel Havers      
Zienia Merton-imdb

Thursday 15 January 2015

Benjamin Whitrow

Benjamin Whitrow:

† Feb 17 1937 – Sep 28 2017*

A very well respected character actor, probably best known for his portrayal of the peaceable Mr Bennett in the much admired 1995 BBC version of 'Pride & Prejudice', though he has had a quite slow-building TV career. After serving in the Army, he secured a few roles through the '60s before finding his feet in the popular period dramas of the early '70s, such as 'The Pallisers', 'The Bronte's of Haworth', and 'Clayhanger'.

Losing his patience with his cheeky mod employees in 'Quadrophenia' (1979)     
His officer experience made him highly convincing in roles requiring gravitas and authority, either in actual military dramas like 'Wings' and 'Danger UXB', or as a string of headmasters, politicians and politicians. He played Amundsen in 'Shackleton', Superintendent Braithwaite in 'The Sweeney' and aristocratic socialist Paddy O'Rourke in 'The New Statesman' as well as one-offs in the likes of 'Minder', 'Boon', 'Bergerac', 'Perfect Scoundrels' and 'Rumpole'.  

In 'The New Statesman' with the late Rik Mayall
He has done a fair number of classic dramas and serials, from 'A Man For All Seasons' to 'The Merchant of Venice', and after the mega-success of the Colin Firth-powered 'Pride & Prejudice', there were others in the same vein, including Squire Allworthy in 'The History of Tom Jones'. And lots more primetime drama and comedy throught the '90s and '00s, like 'Jonathan Creek', 'Monarch of the Glen', 'New Tricks', 'Doc Martin' and recently, 'Toast of London'.

As Julie Walters's accountant and client in 'Personal Services' (1987)
In the cinema, you can see him as Jimmy's boss in 'Quadrophenia' (1979), in the John Cleese vehicle 'Clockwise' (1986), and in 'Personal Services' (1987), Louis Malle's 'Damage' (1992), and the Val Kilmer movie of 'The Saint' (1997). He also voices Mr Fowler in the hit Ardman animation 'Chicken Run' (2000). 

*(Edit: Oct 2, 2017. Very sad to hear that Benjamin Whitrow has died. One of those actors who seems like he would be the ideal next-door neighbour. Which I mean as no faint praise.)   

Benjamin Whitrow-imdb

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Michael Percival

Michael Percival as Mr Mitchell in the BBC series Grange Hill

Michael Percival:


Many people's principle memories of Michael Percival date from when he played the sardonic form-teacher Mr Mitchell in the heyday of the popular BBC school series 'Grange Hill'. He's another of those actors who used to show up regularly, but are infuriatingly difficult to place.  

Perhaps you can spot him in feature films like 'Marat/Sade' (1967), 'No Blade of Grass' (1970), and the John Cleese trio 'Clockwise' (1986), 'A Fish Called Wanda' (1988) and 'Fierce Creatures' (1997),

Unusually casual behind the bar in an episode of 'Inspector Morse'
TV appearances include 'Boon', 'Rosemary & Thyme', 'Inspector Morse', 'Kavanagh QC', and 'My Uncle Silas'. He's also in 'Doctor Who' (Matt Smith episode 'Vampires of Venice'), 'Lovejoy' and comedies 'Me and My Girl' and 'Allo Allo', as well as a regular role in the strange secret service sitcom, 'The Piglet Files' starring Nicholas Lyndhurst.    

As an art dealer in 'Allo Allo'. As you'd imagine, he has just
purchased the 'Portrait of the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies'.
Having his car stolen by John Cleese in 'Clockwise' (1986)

*Sorry to see Michael Percival's name included in the 'In Memoriam' section of Equity magazine's Winter 2015 issue. I can find no further details at the moment.  

Michael Percival - imdb

Sunday 11 January 2015

Marcia Warren

British actress Marcia Warren

Marcia Warren:

A very accomplished, indeed award-winning, stage actress, often seen in Alan Ayckbourn's comedy plays but equally at home with Shakespeare, Chekhov and Beckett, she has nevertheless been able to fit in a number of memorable film and TV roles. She might be familiar as William Gaunt's troublesome neighbour, Vera Botting, from the '80s BBC comedy 'No Place Like Home', or possibly from the more recent 'Vicious' with Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen and Frances De La Tour - all of whom she has acted with on various prestigious stages.    

Brilliantly portraying the great character actress Esma Cannon in a recreation of 
'Carry On Cabby' from the TV drama 'Hattie'. Ruth Jones plays Hattie Jacques

Equally adept at playing duchesses and dogsbodies, Marcia Warren has also appeared in some good quality television drama, see 'The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes', 'The Father Brown Mysteries' and 'The History of Mr Polly', (edit: Add the 2017 season opener of 'Sherlock' to that list) as well as a lot of average prime time series such as 'Holby City', 'The Bill', 'Midsomer Murders', 'Doctors' and 'Casualty'. 

As the unworldly Penelope in the camp sitcom, 'Vicious',
starring Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen 
Sitcoms have been a staple of her TV career, including the generally forgotten 1983 Larbey and Esmonde effort 'Now and Then', 'September Song', 'Life Of Riley', 'Searching', 'Jam & Jerusalem', 'Miracles Take Longer' and 'Keeping Up Appearances'.   

As the widow of the mild-mannered lothario in 'Mr Love' (1985)
Behind her is the late Patsy Byrne, Nursie from 'Blackadder' 
Films include 'Mr Love' (1985), 'Don't Get Me Started' (1994),  'Unconditional Love' (2002), 'Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont' (2005), 'Leap Year' (2010).

Marcia Warren-imdb

Bill Wallis

Bill Wallis:

† 20 November 1936 – 6 September 2013

A great unsung character actor whose Pickwickian features appear in some of my favourite TV and film of the golden age from the '60s to the '90s, as well as some great radio including 'Week Ending' and the original series of 'Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy'. He can be seen in cult classics like 'The Avengers' and 'The Beiderbecke Tapes' on television, and fleetingly in absurd masterpieces like 'The Bed Sitting Room' (1969) and 'Brazil' (1985).   

He was memorable as the scrofulous jailer Mr Ploppy in 'Black Adder II', and the unscrupulous Minister for Sport in 'Yes, Prime Minister'. He is in the first ever episode of 'Midsomer Murders', Pete & Dud's 'Not Only But Also' and performs on Ivor Cutler's 'Prince Ivor' album. 

Well done, that man.   

Singing the interminable praises of Alan-A-Dale on 'Not Only
But Also', with John Wells, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook

Working on the mail train in 'Robbery' (1967)
Update: Largely unreported at the time, I didn't realise that Bill Wallis passed away in 2013. I salute him posthumously. 

Bill Wallis-imdb

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Perry Benson

Perry Benson and Su Pollard in the BBC series 'You Rang M'Lord'

Perry Benson:

Baby-faced and usually bespectacled cockney actor - almost like a junior Johnny Shannon -  often seen in comedy roles where he seems to make a virtue of a slightly wooden acting style to awkward comic effect. You might have seen him in a number of '80s alternative sitcoms, such as 'The Young Ones', Filthy Rich & Catflap', and 'Dream Stuffing', before he settled things down a little with 'The Black Adder', 'You Rang M'Lord', 'Oh Doctor Beeching!' and more recently 'Benidorm'.     

In the largely forgotten 1983 sitcom, 'Dream Stuffing'

You have been watching... 'Oh Doctor Beeching!'
As a contrast to the comedy has been a darker strain of film and TV dramas in which his flat London vowels have lent a banal gangster menace or fearful snivelling to the proceedings, see for example 'Scum' (1977), the harrowing Ray Winstone/Jude Law movie 'Final Cut' (1998),  'Mr In-Between' (2001), 'and 'Capital Punishment' (2003). Even bleaker was the relentlessly horrible 'Mum and Dad' (2008), a domestic psycho-gore horror set near Heathrow Airport.      

Scary in the grim suburban horror, 'Mum & Dad' (2008)
The '80s comedy and cult film connections are still there though, and he can be seen in interesting stuff like '15 Stories High' (as the neighbour with a horse in his flat), Shane Meadows's 'Somers Town' (2008) and his 'This Is England' (2006) and the TV series 'This Is England '86'. He also seems to appear in a lot of short movies, none of which I've seen, but which suggest that he is somehow involved at the grass roots of the industry.     

In the 1974 Play For Today, 'The Headmaster'

As 'Spaz' in the 'Young Ones' brief piss-take of 'Grange Hill',
with Ben Elton and our old friend Peter Greene     
He's also in the generally unconvincing punk movie 'Sid & Nancy' (1986) playing a chunky version of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, although I think Graham Fletcher-Cook who plays pre-Pistols frontman Wally Hairstyle looks much more the part. My 2d worth, anyway.   

Perry Benson-imdb