Friday 24 December 2021

David Wood

Actor David Wood in the ITV drama 'Crown Court'


David Wood:

David Wood's innocent schoolboy looks, deployed so notably in Lindsay Anderson's remarkable 'If..' (1968), have stayed with him for his whole career. Which certainly isn't to say that he has been typecast, with an amazingly broad range of roles under his belt that show him hopping nimbly from outright menace to disarming sweetness with apparent ease.

With Malcolm McDowell in 'If..' (1968)

 In fact, it's in the field of children's drama and literature that he has made his most lasting impression: writing his own play for children, 'The Gingerbread Man', which he later adapted for television, and adapting a number of classic children's books for the stage. He proved a gifted storyteller on the much-loved BBC institution 'Jackanory' for  many years, and can be seen in episodes of schools programmes such as 'Watch' and 'Seeing & Doing' as well as tots' shows like 'Playaway'. He's also in the well-made children's serial, 'Huntingtower' from the late '70s.
Alongside Bernard Cribbins, Maurice Denham and
Jan Francis for 'Jackanory's' take on 'The Hobbit'.

While all this wholesome fare very much suited the David Wood who would later come to be dubbed Britain's Children's Dramatist, the darker side of '70s television drama also proved to be in search of his talents. He can be seen in the the Wednesday Play 'Mad Jack' about Siegfried Sassoon and the horrors of the trenches, in the feverish adventures of the Pre-Raphaelites in 'The Love School', and he's in episodes of those cult-favourite collections of the uncanny: 'Out Of The Unknown' and 'Menace'.  


With Ann Morrish and Patrick Troughton in
the 'Out Of The Unknown' episode 'The Chopper'

 On the movie front, David Wood crops up in a few interesting titles, starting with the aforementioned 'If..' (1968), and including the psychological portmanteau horror 'Tales That Witness Madness' (1973) with Donald Pleasance, Robert Powell and Joan Collins. He's reunited with Malcolm McDowell in the 'Journey's End' adaptation, 'Aces High' (1976), and plays one of the baddies in 'North Sea Hijack' (1980) pitted against a bearded Roger Moore, throwing the kitchen sink at escaping his Bond persona with more bizarre quirks than he can realistically manage to pull off.          
 'Tales That Witness Madness' (1973)

In the First World War flying movie, 'Aces High' (1976)

There's a smattering of period dramas, including Turgenev's 'Fathers And Sons' and Goldoni's 'The Venetian Twins' from the BBC, and the ambitious but slightly awkward 'Disraeli' with Ian McShane. He's in some old sepia-toned TV favourites such as 'Danger UXB', 'Enemy At The Door', and 'When The Boat Comes In'. A memorable moment for me is his tap-dancing martial arts duel with Purdey in 'The New Avengers', one of the few times when the series approached the surreal heights of its '60s ancestor.

In the ATV historical drama 'Disraeli' in which he portrayed
Lord Derby. Here w
ith Ian McShane in the title role.

 His last listed performing role was in the star-studded TV movie 'Longitude' in 2000, but David Wood is still seemingly busy with his work in children's drama, adapting Roald Dahl and other writers for the stage, publishing plays and books, and lecturing school drama classes. An engaging actor and a dedicated educator, deserving of this little salute and more.   

David Wood-imdb

Sunday 5 December 2021

Anthony O'Donnell

Welsh actor Anthony O'Donnell in Mike Leigh's 'Nuts In May'

Anthony O'Donnell:  

I thought I only knew Anthony O'Donnell as Ray, the camper unfortunate enough to pitch next to Keith and Candice-Marie in Mike Leigh's 'Nuts In May'. As is often the case, I came to realise that I had seen the compact Welsh actor in quite a lot more than that. And that's without taking into account his long and successful stage career with the National Theatre, the RSC and many other prestigious theatrical institutions, largely as I am not much of a theatre-goer. 

'Nuts In May' in 1976

'Nuts in May' in 1976 was, it seems, his first foray into television, and the remainder of the '70s saw only a few appearances, in 'The Onedin Line', 'Crown Court' and 'The Sweeney' for example, and you don't get much more '70s than that. There was also an attempt to launch him as a sitcom star in LWT's rather pedestrian 'Lovely Couple', penned by the screenwriter of the 'Confessions...' films, but I don't have any memory of seeing it, despite it reuniting him with 'Nuts In May' star Roger Sloman in several episodes. 

The short-lived 1979 sitcom that didn't quite
make Anthony O'Donnell a household name.

Into the '80s and '90s and he was balancing an increasingly successful theatre career with the odd TV role. Memorable among these was the small but sinister gangster Big Dai in 'Minder', and some others such as the revived 'Tomorrow People', the vet series 'Noah's Ark', the Higson and Whitehouse one-off 'Dead At Thirty', and 'A Very Peculiar Practice'.

As Big Dai in the 'Minder' episode 'The Cruel Canal'

Cinema roles from this period include 'Santa Claus The Movie' (1985), 'Robin Hood' (1991), and a reconnection with Mike Leigh for 'Secrets & Lies' (1996). 

With Brazilian star Joaquin De Almeida in
'Xango From Baker Street' (2001)

 With the arrival of the 21st century, and now in his fifties, he appeared in Kenneth Branagh's 'Love's Labours Lost' (2001), and as Watson in a Brazilian twist on Sherlock Holmes, 'Xango From Baker Street' (2001), 'Vera Drake' (2004), 'The Baker' (2005), 'Death Defying Acts' (2007) and 'Skyfall' (2012).

The menacing looking (but ultimately played-for-laughs) Sontaran,
Kaagh, in 'The Sarah Jane Adventures', a spin-off of 'Doctor Who' 

Meanwhile, back on the small screen, came appearances in 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' as the humorously belligerent alien, Kaagh, and a turn in 'Gavin & Stacey', as well as Ruth Jones's 'Stella', the period drama 'Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky', 'The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher', and the Jeremy Thorpe drama 'A Very English Scandal'. All good stuff.  

In the supernatural comedy-drama, 'Being Human'

With Hugh Grant in 'A Very British Scandal'

Anthony O'Donnell-imdb

Tuesday 2 November 2021

Malcolm Storry


British actor Malcolm Storry as Bishop Talbot in the 2014 BBC series 'Father Brown'

Malcolm Storry:

Craggy 6'2" actor Malcolm Storry is something of a stayer. Since the '70s he has loomed over the cast of an impressive collection of popular TV shows and appeared on the big screen in some big films, yet his is another of those names you might find harder to recall.   

With Lynn Redgrave in the 1985 BBC
drama 'Death Of A Son'

His height makes him an imposing casting for a policeman, and he has played them in a wide range of settings; from the gas-lit streets of the Jeremy Brett 'Return Of Sherlock Holmes', to the more recent cases of 'Rumpole Of The Bailey'. 'The Singing Detective',  'The Chief' (with Tim Piggott-Smith), 'Inspector Morse', and the Bill Murray spy-comedy film, 'The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997).  

As the comically ruthless Peterson in the 
excellent 1987 series 'The Biederbecke Tapes' 

His comedy performances are also splendidly varied. He crops up in various roles in the David Jason vehicle 'A Sharp Intake Of Breath', and is the conventionally intimidating agent Peterson in 'The Biederbecke Tapes', failing to intimidate the show's cynical teacher duo. There was also the David Nobbs farce 'Dogfood Dan & The Carmarthen Cowboy' about truck driving pals unknowingly having affairs with each other's wives.    

With Peter Blake in 'Dogfood Dan & The
Carmarthen Cowboy' 

In the world of drama, he impresses in 'The Death Of A Son', 'Bread Or Blood', 'The Shadow Line', and is memorable in green wig and beard in the 1991 'Gawain & The Green Knight'. A lot of decent middle-brow stuff is also in there: 'Wycliffe' and 'Doc Martin' for example, depending on your tastes, and a ton of popular/populist shows from 'Pie In The Sky', 'Ruth Rendell Mysteries' and 'Midsomer Murders' to 'Boon' and 'The Professionals'. On the whole it's all quality stuff, recent primetime hits having included 'Father Brown' and 'Doc Martin'     

In 'Father Brown'

The big box office films he's been in: 'The Princess Bride' (1987), 'Last Of The Mohicans' (1992) and 'Firefox' (1987), and 'The Scarlet Letter' (1995) are probably not the best benchmarks of his career, in my opinion, but a wander through some of his TV outings cannot fail to entertain.     

Malcolm Storry-imdb

Friday 15 October 2021

Judy Matheson


Judy Matheson in 'Twins Of Evil'

Judy Matheson: 

One of the classic beauties of the golden era of Hammer horror films, Judy Matheson's most celebrated roles are in the saucy 1971 double-bill of 'Twins Of Evil' and 'Lust For A Vampire'. Other cult favourites of the era include 'Crucible Of Terror' (1971) and 'The Flesh & Blood Show' (1972), non-Hammer and more in the contemporary shocker mould than the gothic excesses of the former.

'The Emergence of Anthony Purdy, Esq, Farmer's
Labourer' a curious 1970 short film made by HTV  

After drama school and some early stage successes she found herself cast, 
alongside Euro superstar Capucine, in a Spanish giallo-style psychodrama, 'The Exquisite Cadaver', AKA 'Las Crueles' (1969). Although obscure at the time in the UK, it now seems to be partially eclipsing the traditional horrors as her stand-out performance. It's certainly a stylish piece, with the expected giallo tropes of lurid colours, modish fashion-house photography, mild nudity and outlandishly playful shocks. Matheson is very watchable in it, a screen presence not overshadowed by her more senior co-stars.      


'The Exquisite Cadaver' 1969

With the always brilliantly loathsome Ronald Lacey
in the lacklustre 'Crucible Of Terror' (1971) 

She made another little-known gem in 'The Emergence of Anthony Purdy, Esq, Farmer's
Labourer' with the great Freddie Jones, a 1970 exercise in rural conjugal awkwardness in grainy black and white. The same year she appeared on television in a documentary about the RSC featuring her friend, a talented young actress called Helen Mirren. Shortly before this,  she was shortlisted for a lead role in the TV sensation of 1969, 'Take Three Girls'. 

An iconic shot with the late great Peter Cushing
from the opening sequence of 'Twins Of Evil' (1971) 

That didn't happen though, and instead the early '70s saw a string of less-than-stellar film and TV offers. She's in a couple of typical Brit sex comedies, 'Confessions Of A Window Cleaner' (1974) and 'Percy's Progress' (1974), and adds some glamour to episodes of 'The Adventurer',  'The Sweeney' and 'The Professionals' before landing a longish stint on the teatime soap 'Crossroads' and a tiny role in a weird costume in 'Blakes 7'. 

A 'mutoid' apparently. 'Blakes 7'

From this point she seems to have moved focus to voiceover and continuity announcement work. She was a regular face on my local ITV region, TVS, in the '80s. In fact, she was out of the TV and film loop for 37 years, between 1980 and 2017, with the exception of personal appearances at Hammer fan conventions.

TVS continuity announcer in 1984

Roll on 2017 however, and it seems she's been lured back into the limelight by David Barry, better known as mummy's little soldier Frankie Abbott from 'Please Sir!'. Initially, he created a Fenn Street-meets-Vampires concoction called 'Frankula', followed in 2021 by 'The Lives Of Frankie Abbott'. There's also 'The Haunting of Margam Castle' which, like 'Frankula', features fellow cult horror star Caroline Munro, and 'What Did You Do In The War Mama?' with the similarly celebrated Madeline Smith. An intriguing development that seems likely to get the attention of the Hammer fanbase.

So, a salute then, but watch this space for updates.         

Judy Matheson-imdb

Monday 11 October 2021

Michael Deeks


Michael Deeks:   

An angelic jack-the-lad type of the '70s variety, Michael Deeks got a taste of the big time playing Swiftnick in the well-crafted and very popular teatime series 'Dick Turpin', an excellent comic foil and sidekick to Richard O'Sullivan in the lead role. Prior to that he had been seen in a few small roles in the early and mid-'70s, including 'The Tomorrow People', 'Within These Walls' and the original BBC version of the Borstal drama 'Scum', although not the film remake.  

Young highwayman Swiftnick meets his hero Dick Turpin
for the first time, under rather trying circumstances
With his mixture of wide-eyed innocence and puckish delinquency, Michael Deeks was cast in a variety of contemporary and period dramas, one of the more substantial of these was the intricate six-part Armchair Thriller story, 'The Circe Complex'. He plays prisoner Cat Devlin, persuaded to extract information from a fellow inmate, a canny jewel thief. He was also in a TV 'Hammer House Of Horror' and in the quite atmospheric TV play 'Tarry Dan Tarry Dan Spooky Old Man', which survives as a blurry YouTube video here.         

With an avuncular Arthur Daley (George Cole) in 'Minder' 

Perhaps inevitably, with the passing of these twinkly teenage years, he found himself as just one of many young male actors competing for jobs, and the plum roles dried up. A definite prune was the annoyingly silly (even for an '80s  kids' show) 'Galloping Galaxies' in which he appears as a dim robot amid the usual slapstick and feeble jokes. Rather better were roles in 'Juliet Bravo' and that episode of 'Minder' where Mel Smith plays an unscrupulous pop manager faking his star's death.   

Slightly channelling Dudley Sutton's Tinker Dill 
in the kids' show 'Bad Boyes' from the late '80s  

He's in one of those star-studded corporate training videos made by John Cleese's Video Arts Ltd, but sadly it's rather hard to see these unless you're a corporation. And an amusing episode of the always decent 'Strangers', dealing with modern day highwaymen. But, after a single episode of 'The Bill', it seems that he retired from acting and became landlord of a pub in the home counties for a time.

In any case, a salute is due. Cheers and your very good health.             

Michael Deeks-imdb

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Caroline Blakiston

Actress Caroline Blakiston in the TV series 'Shoestring'

Caroline Blakiston: 

For someone who can lay claim to a named character in the Star Wars franchise - Mon Mothma in 'Return Of The Jedi' (1983) - as well as a royal flush of the classic cult TV adventure shows of the '60s - including 'The Saint', 'The Baron', 'The Champions', 'Department S' and no fewer than three episodes of 'The Avengers' - it's surprising that you might be forgiven for not immediately knowing the name of Caroline Blakiston.

In 'Return Of The Jedi' (1983) briefing on the attack on Endor.
In later films, and the upcoming TV spin-off 'Andor', the role of
Mon Mothma was taken over by Australian actress Genevieve O'Reilly.   

Amazingly assured and accomplished from an early age, she has commanded substantial roles since the very beginning of the '60s, including two of the biggest successes of that decade in 'Emergency Ward 10' and 'The Forsyte Saga'. Radiating upper-class style and authority, she excelled as professional and aristocratic characters. She is, in fact, related to several titled families, although by no means a snob, having been married to fellow character actor, the great Russell Hunter - who came to the profession via the Glasgow shipyards.     

In the enormously popular television melodrama
'The Forsyte Saga', here with John Phillips 
In the dramas and period melodramas of the '60s and '70s, she cuts an impressive swathe of lady magistrates, doctors, high-ranking civil servants and landed gentry. Spot her in 'Wives & Daughters', 'The Mallens', 'Charters & Caldicott' and 'Raffles'. She was a regular as a barrister in 'Crown Court', and can be seen in 'The Sweeney', 'Nanny' and many more. 

In the stylishly-shot 'Public Eye'

Caroline Blakiston's movie credits beyond 'Jedi' are surprisingly slim. She's in 'The Magic Christian' (1969) with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, and a couple of other biggish films like 'Yanks' (1979), 'Fourth Protocol (1987), and Woody Allen's 'Scoop' (2006), but it's more likely that you've spotted her on the small screen.  

As a programmed super agent in an episode of
'The Champions', entitled 'The Experiment

In an episode of 'The Saint' with Roger Moore

The '80s and '90s saw her  pop up in 'Shoestring', 'Chancer', 'Mulberry' and the counter-espionage drama 'Mr Palfrey Of Westminster' with Alec McCowan, in which she plays Palfrey's M-like boss, the Coordinator.  On the comedy front, she's in 'Murder Most Horrid' and the mill melodrama pastiche 'Brass'.    

As the mysterious Coordinator in the understated  
spy drama series, 'Mr Palfrey Of Westminster'

More recently there have been medical machinations of the 'Casualty', Holby City' and 'Doctors' variety, and some detective and period pieces such as 'Poirot', 'Midsomer Murders', 'Father Brown', and 'Poldark. All quite in order for the latter stages of a long and distinguished career stretching back to the early '60s.  

Friday 10 September 2021

Murray Melvin

Murray Melvin, British actor

Murray Melvin:
† Aug 10 1932 - April 14 2023

What, really? Yes, you may be surprised to see me add Murray Melvin to this particular blog, celebrating as it does the tier of British actors who are much admired but just below the status of household name. He's certainly a touchstone for that most inventive and creative period in British film and drama, the kitchen-sink school of the '60s, Joan Littlewood's visionary open-door theatre and the work of the British film outsider auteurs who went on to great things. Yet, outside an increasingly rarefied audience for classic cinema, his name might not be on every lip.        

In 'A Taste of Honey' 

A truly individual actor, Murray Melvin's acid-camp performances are always mesmerising in their precision, microtonally nuanced in emotion. His path took him from West End office clerk to sweeping the stage at the East London's Theatre Royal Stratford East, where Joan Littlewood nurtured a company of remarkable natural actors plucked from all walks of society. She chose him to play the implicitly gay Geoffrey in the ground-breaking play 'A Taste Of Honey', a role he reprised in the film version in 1961, winning himself a Best Actor award at Cannes.        

As the feckless Lupin Pooter in Ken Russell's 
1964 film for the BBC, 'Diary Of A Nobody' 

His other early film appearances include Joseph Losey's 'The Criminal' (1960), 'Petticoat Pirates' (1962), 'HMS Defiant' (1962), 'Sparrows Can't Sing' (1963), the with-it 'Kaleidoscope' (1967), and a pair of '60s classics; 'Alfie' (1966) and 'Smashing Time' (1967).

Reunited with Rita Tushingham at the day-glo end of
the '60s with a cameo in 'Swinging Time' (1967)  

The next decade saw things step up a bit in terms of arthouse cinema, with his old friend Ken Russell, in 'The Boy Friend (1971), 'The Devils' (1971) and 'Lisztomania' (1975), with Stanley Kubrick in 'Barry Lyndon' (1975), and in the likes of 'A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg' (1972) and 'The Bawdy Adventures Of Tom Jones' (1976).      

In Ken Russell's inquisition emission, 'The Devils' (1971)

During this long purple patch there were small-screen roles in 'The Avengers', Ken Russell's TV movie 'Isadora' (1966) with Vivian Pickles, 'The Flaxton Boys', 'Bulman', 'The Onedin Line' and a smattering of Plays for Today. He also turns up in the odd thing like 'Super Gran', the star-studded 1999 TV movie of 'Alice In Wonderland', and the obscure but well-liked Canadian sci-fi series 'Starhunter'

Unmistakably neat and dapper, the astute and erudite  
 Mr Melvin is a popular interviewee for students of the arts. 

At the grand age of 89 (at time of writing), I'm pleased to see that Mr Melvin is still quite active and busy. His work since the '90s has included the film version of 'The Phantom Of The Opera (2004), and 'Jonathan Creek' and 'Torchwood' on television. Familiar rather than unknown then, I hope this small salute will alert new viewers to his unique cinematic presence.    

You can (as of Sep 2021) watch the 1964 Ken Russell film 'Diary Of A Nobody' via the YouTube link below. It stars Bryan Pringle and features a great cast including other Familiar Unknown alumni: Avril Elgar, Brian Murphy, Vivian Pickles and Jonathan Cecil. With harmonium score by Ivor Cutler. Enjoy.

'Diary Of A Nobody: The Domestic Jottings Of A City Clerk'   

Thursday 2 September 2021

Enn Reitel

 Enn Reitel:   

You may not be able to place where you've seen Scottish actor Enn Reitel, but you've certainly heard his voice without ever realising it. An enormously versatile and in-demand voice actor, he was a key member of the 'Spitting Image' team - putting words in the wobbling mouths of Geoffrey Howe, Roy Jenkins, Leonard Nimoy, Vincent Price, Donald Sinden, Julian Clary, Clint Eastwood, Norman Fowler, Mikhail Gorbachev, Dustin Hoffman and Ian St. John, to name but a few...

Some of the Spitting Image voice talent: (l-r) Chris 
Barrie, Steve Naillon, Jon Glover and Enn Reitel.

He has appeared on-screen occasionally, and there was even a period in the '80s where he seemed to be positioned as an upcoming sitcom star, somewhat in the vein of Hywel Bennett's sardonic 'Shelley'. He took the title role in the reboot of Kingsley Amis's 'The Adventures Of Lucky Jim' with Glynis Barber and David Simeon. At one point he was also mooted to play the part of Del Boy in 'Only Fools And Horses', which would surely have been a mistake, even without the benefit of hindsight. 

Reitel with Karen Smith in an episode of 'The Optimist'  

Menawhile, 'The Optimist' was a Channel 4 curiosity. An evocation of the poignant humour of the silent era, shot on location entirely on 16mm film. It was an elegant idea, well realised and running to a second series, but few seem to remember it now.    


As a lawyer in an episode of the popular
Victorian detective series 'Cribb' 

There was also the Clement & LeFrenais comedy 'Mog', about a burglar feigning insanity to dodge jail. Unlike their classic creation, 'Porridge', 'Mog' was short on comedic spark and lacked that show's unforgettable characters. Marty Feldman was originally cast as Mog, but died before filming began. Reitel struggled manfully with the part, but it was a narrow premise and little too dark to be at all popular. To be honest, I can't imagine the inevitably hectic overacting of Marty Feldman making a success of it either.       

'Mog', with his psychiatrist, played by the glamorous Catherine
Schell. The programme was about as funny as it looks here.  

Enn Reitel's lasting claim to fame is his ongoing voice-over work. His versatility with accents is the perfect adjunct to his natural rich baritone, and he seems able to jump from straight advertising and narration work to the most extreme parody without missing a beat. The computer game industry has been a fertile territory for him, with credits in a number of big-franchise titles like 'Avatar: The Game', 'Star Wars: The Old Republic', 'Elder Scrolls', 'Chronicles Of Narnia' and 'Metal Gear Solid'.     

Enn Reitel also provided the voicing for Nestor, the faithful
butler of Marlinspike Hall in 'The Adventures of Tintin' (2011)

Here's a little voice-over agency playreel to give you a sample of his work.

Enn Reitel-imdb