Guest Actor Biography
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Peter Arne

Kolchek, Death on the Slipway
Cosmo Gallion, Warlock
Redfern, The Golden Eggs
Pasold, Room Without a View

by Pete Stampede

As a horror fan, I found the feel of "Warlock" genuinely unsettling, even more so knowing that Peter Arne was actually murdered in real life, and it's never been satisfactorily explained. Just for the record, according to David Quinlan's Illustrated Directory of Film Character Actors, Arne was "believed to have been murdered by a student who then drowned himself."

Born on 29 September 1920 as Peter Arne Albrecht in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Arne was an actor from the short-in-stature-but-threatening category. In his screen career, his villains were not unlike those played by Herbert Lom, though with a less urbane and more strongly untrustworthy air. Rarely if ever cast as an "ordinary" character, he was a natural for wartime adversaries, mystery men, and spies. He was the son of a French father and American mother, which may explain the transatlantic accent he was sometimes required to adopt, particularly in the ITC series; you can hear it in "Room Without a View" to some extent, despite Brian Clemens' Veddy British insistences. Arne had definitely relocated to England by the time of WW2, where he had a good war, serving in the RAF as a fighter pilot. He later, self-deprecatingly, told the story of how he was shot down over the English Channel during the Battle of Britain, managed to get out of his plane, and swam to a nearby shore, where he noticed a crowd gathering and shouting; at first he'd thought they were cheering him on, but when he got ashore, he found out they'd been warning him that he'd been swimming through a mine field.

Perhaps as a result of this, he became indispensible casting in British war films, starting with For Those In Peril (1944), for Ealing, directed by Charles Crichton. The Purple Plain (1954), with an imported Gregory Peck, and Josť Ferrer's Cockleshell Heroes (1955), which 50s Britain seemed to regard as one of the greatest films ever made, followed in this mode. Then he was in one of the Lord of the Jungle's efforts made in Britain, Tarzan And The Lost Safari (1956), and a rather soppy Rank drama, High Tide At Noon (1957), in a rare sympathetic role as one of a Canadian family, with Patrick McGoohan dominating his scenes as a rough and ready type. Probably, Arne's best film role was as a villain in The Moonraker (1957), nothing to do with James Bond but a Roundheads vs. Cavaliers swashbuckler, starring George Baker, better known today as Ruth Rendell's crusty detective Inspector Wexford (suggesting this is sacrilege, I know, but Baker wouldn't have made a bad job of playing Steed, if given the chance). Remaining in villainy, Arne did a Cold War thriller, Intent To Kill (1958); was a ruthless Italian POW camp commandant in Danger Within (1958, US; Breakout), imprisoning such stalwart chaps as Richard Attenborough, Richard Todd and a scene-stealing Dennis Price; and a Nazi in Conspiracy Of Hearts (1960), a soppy tale of nuns and orphans vs. Nazis, perhaps a precursor to The Sound Of Music. Just for once, he was back as a British officer in Ice Cold In Alex (1958), during John Mills and Sylvia Syms' trek across the desert. He was villainous again in The Hellfire Club (1960), made in garish colour by future ITC producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker, and featuring Peter Cushing, but on the whole a pretty tame roisterer—where was Peter Wyngarde when they needed him?

The entry on Arne in Keith Howes' book Broadcasting It gives his TV debut as The Hero (BBC, 1953). It was followed by Joyous Errand (1957), a serial in which he apparently played "Peter Kendall, who doesn't care whether he lives or dies"; a couple of episodes of the obscure, pretending to be American series Assignment Foreign Legion, "Search" (1956) and "As We Forgive" (1957), in the latter as a priest; and Mark Saber, "The Sally Ankens Story" (1959), adventures of a one-armed private eye, made by the dreaded Danziger brothers (with some script input from Brian Clemens). A couple of pilots which didn't go to series, made in Britain but meant for American TV, were Gulliver (1961), made by Ray Harryhausen's company, with John Cairney (seen in "Requiem") in the title role, a pre-Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, and Arne as two kings; and Hornblower (1963), with the late David Buck, a minor Hammer star, as Horatio of that name, and Nigel Green, shown in the US under the Alcoa Premiere banner, and by the BBC (perhaps trying to steal a march on ITV's swashbucklers) in Britain. Arne also did a couple of single plays, Drama '61, "The Cruel Day" (ATV, 1961), and Armchair Theatre, "Night Conspirators" (ABC, 1962), starring Peter Wyngarde, with Arne as "The Old Visitor", eventually revealed to be Adolf Hitler. The following year, this was done as a stage play, again with Wyngarde, but with Patrick Troughton in Arne's role; the latter did, however, work with Wyngarde later in Department S, "The Double Death of Charlie Crippen" (ATV/ITC, 1969), yet again as an East European, also with John Savident, and "The Soup of the Day", also guesting Patrick Mower and Ronald Lacey.

Again in his Illustrated Directory Of Film Character Actors, David Quinlan noted that at around this time, Arne's film career "disappointingly dipped into minor supporting roles, sometimes verging on the comic...he was always value for money." Perhaps this happened because Arne was simply so busy on TV; it's a bit surprising that he did more of the videotaped Avengers than the filmed ones, as he was frequently in the ITC filmed series. Working with Patrick McGoohan again, Danger Man, "Find and Destroy" (ATV/ITC, 1961) had him as the first of several unfriendly agents; later, after the series had expanded to an hour and received the Secret Agent handle for American showings, he was in the intriguing "Colony Three" (1964), a precursor of The Prisoner in which McGoohan infiltrated a training camp for spies, in Eastern Europe, but resembling Britain, right down to a London bus appearing out of a desolate landscape. An added layer of irony was that the New York-born Irishman McGoohan, fellow countryman Niall MacGinnis, Welshman Glyn Owen and Malaysian-born Arne (who memorably got to screech dementedly while brandishing an axe at McGoohan at the end, before the latter throws him off a train) all played Englishmen; while Patrick Macnee's then wife, Catherine Woodville, killed off at the very start of The Avengers, here played a colony recruit whom McGoohan's bosses, to his fury, decline to rescue. In the same series, and again mangling nationalities, he was unbelievably cast as a Chinese agent in "A Very Dangerous Game", all the more bizarre as the rest of the cast included several genuinely Oriental actors, like the inevitable Burt Kwouk ("Kill the King," "Lobster Quadrille" and "The Cybernauts"); the mind boggles as to what his character, General G'Niore, was like in "The Mercenaries" (1965), set in Africa and which I haven't seen. He had been equally politically incorrectly cast in Man Of The World, "The Frontier" (ATV/ITC, 1962), as Chang, with British actors cast as Indian and Chinese characters, and again, Burt Kwouk sounding the only authentic note.

Back on the big screen, he was in typically shifty form as a suspect in The Girl In The Headlines (1963), a splendid little B-movie from a novel by actor Laurence Payne, starring Ian Hendry as a hard-nosed inspector and Ronald Fraser as his easy-going sergeant; a shame it didn't lead to a series for these two. Arne then supported in The Black Torment (1964), basically a rip-off by director Robert Hartford-Davis of Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda's Gothic horrors, which in turn owed something to Hammer (got that?). He then got to play Kitchener in the epic Khartoum (1966), but it was hardly a large role; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) was a very different type of film, but again, Arne's part (as a Captain of the Guard) rather got lost in the shuffle. Adopting his mid-Atlantic accent, he supported in a cheap and very silly sci-fier, Battle Beneath The Earth (1967), British but pretending to be in the US, and resembling a live-action Thunderbirds. He was also in The Oblong Box (1969), for AIP, the one about Vincent Price's disfigured, imprisoned brother escaping and going on the rampage, with a belated cameo from Christopher Lee.

Returning to TV, he was an unsentimental agent in The Sentimental Agent, "All That Jazz" (ATV/ITC, 1962), also with Anneke Wills; then British in Crane, "The Golden Attraction" (A-R, 1963), involved in dodgy goings-on in Morocco; a shady South American in The Saint, "The Revolution Racket" (ATV/ITC, 1964); a Russian in The Mask Of Janus, "Them Is Anyone That Isn't Us" (BBC, 1965), a spy saga starring the urbane Dinsdale Landen, from "All Done with Mirrors" and "Angels of Death"; and an Italian gangster, opening every conversation by saying "pronto", in The Baron, "The Long, Long Day" (ATV/ITC, 1966), featuring John Bluthal and with a screenplay credited to "Tony O'Grady"—actually a pseudonymous Brian Clemens. Wearing an absolutely hideous floral beach shirt (I should know, I've got one just like it), he was another Soviet agent in Man In A Suitcase, "The Boston Square" (ATV/ ITC, 1967), vying with McGill (Richard Bradford) to gain the confidence of a British oceanographer with secrets to sell. Those two frequent Avengers stuntmen, Peter Brace and the late Romo Gorrara, turned up in this as two of Arne's goons, still unbilled.

Arne was then in a thriller serial, This Way For Murder (BBC, 1967), with Peter Vaughan, and another Armchair Theatre, "Poor Cherry" (ABC, 1967), with a young Jane Birkin. A rare stage appearance was in the West End version of Man Of La Mancha, in the late 60's, with the late Richard Kiley repeating his Broadway triumph as both Cervantes and Don Quixote. The next two had him as a Russian, yet again; complaining of the cold in Antarctica (all too obviously a studio set), he was wasted in The Champions, "Operation Deep-Freeze" (ATV/ITC, 1968), but did rather better in Special Branch, "The Pleasure of Your Company" (Thames, 1970), as a friend from Moscow of cop Derren Nesbitt. In films, he was in both Sam Peckinpah's still notorious, still visible Straw Dogs (1971); and the real contrast of Nobody Ordered Love (1971), as a dodgy financier in a supposed expose of the film industry, starring scream queen Ingrid Pitt, and so obscure it's never even been on late night TV. On TV itself, he did; Take Three Girls, "Release" (BBC, 1971), a late 60's hangover about three "swinging dollies" sharing a flat; Out Of The Unknown, "The Shattered Eye" (BBC, 1971), actually the last episode of the SF anthology, with Arne as a character called Gavin (hmmm...), and Freddie Jones; as an Italian in The Protectors, "The Numbers Game" (ATV/ITC, 1972); and as another Russian, this time a colonel, in The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes, "The Secret of the Foxhunter" (Thames, 1973), with Derek Jacobi as a Foreign Office sleuth.

His most notable film role in a while (with his name on the posters) was in Peter Sellers' and Blake Edwards' belated return to old glories, The Return Of The Pink Panther (1974), as Colonel Sharki of the Lugash Secret Police, helpfully supplying Peter Jeffrey with Clouseau's name at the start, turning out to have larcenous intent, and eventually accidentally shot by the French loon. An oddity was A Place In Europe, "Jerez De La Frontera; The House of Domecq, Spain" (Thames, 1975), a travelogue documentary in which he was the on-screen host and narrator. With his hair thinning now, and later acquiring a moustache, Arne was back in more accustomed mode for Quiller, "The Night of the Father" (BBC, 1975), a now-forgotten espionage series starring Michael Jayton, and Secret Army, "Bridgehead" (BBC, 1979), as a German officer in a then-popular series set in occupied France, unfortunately only remembered now in that the awful 'Allo, 'Allo was a direct parody of this, right down to the central character being a cafe owner helping the Resistance. For the cinema, Alain Resnais' Providence (1977), starring Dirk Bogarde and a way out of character John Gielgud, was an upmarket credit, though Arne's role as a servant was again a minor one. The same was true of Agatha (1978), as a hotel manager, with Vanessa Redgrave as Agatha Christie, and an incongruous Dustin Hoffman.

On the face of it, Arne was doing as well as ever in the 80s, with a flat in London's upmarket Knightsbridge (just behind Harrods, in fact), a weekend retreat at Plymouth in the West Country, constant invites on the party circuit (sometimes as far afield as Monte Carlo) where he was an amusing raconteur, and an increasing interest in antiques, both as collector and, occasionally, dealer. Not to mention an un-starry but constant run of acting assignments; To Serve Them All My Days (BBC, 1981), as a doctor in a serial from R. F. Delderfield's school-set novel, starring John Duttine, then constantly in leading roles on TV, but demoted to supporting ones now; The Little World Of Don Camillo (BBC, 1981), an episode of another literary adaptation, with Mario Adorf as the wily cleric of the title, given to friendly sparring with Brian Blessed as the town's Communist mayor; and a drama-documentary on the future South Afican President, Prisoners Of Conscience: Nelson Mandela (BBC, 1981). He also filled in time as an American tourist on a few episodes of the cheaply made soap Triangle, with Sandra Dickinson, then married to the then Doctor Who Peter Davison, as his wife.

Film-wise, there were three in quick succession for Blake Edwards (again); a nightclub owner in the pleasantly overblown Victor/Victoria (1982), and the ill-advised follow-ups Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982) and Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983), in both as the same character, virtually the same he had played in Return, and all too clearly filmed at the same time, with Joanna Lumley misused in both as well. And as the review of Curse in the Monthly Film Bulletin pointed out, if the use of posthumous out-takes of Peter Sellers in Trail hadn't been bad enough, both an ill-looking (and Rich Little-sounding, due to the deterioration in his vocal chords) David Niven, and Arne, had died by the time of the film's British premiere. The same applied to a silly, made in Britain episode of Hart To Hart, "Two Harts Are Better Than One" (ABC/Columbia, 1983), also wasting David Warner and Ron Moody, in which Arne, as Stefanie Powers' newspaper editor, was, chillingly, found murdered on screen. His last work turned out to be The Far Pavilions (C4/Goldcrest, 1984), a Raj mini-series not in the same class as its contemporary, The Jewel In The Crown.

In the summer of 1983, Arne accepted an offer to appear in a Doctor Who story, "Frontios", in which he was cast as a doctor in an interplanetary colony. (The role was eventually played by William Lucas, seen in "Death's Door" and "Invasion of the Earthmen.") On Monday, 1 August 1983, Arne spent the late morning with wardrobe assistants from the show, attending a costume fitting for his role in Clerkenwell, near the city of London. He then caught a taxi back to his Knightsbridge flat, arriving there (as the driver later testified) shortly after 12:30 PM. What happened next remains unknown—it's unlikely that he went out again, as he was expecting a visit at 2 PM, and other residents in the block of flats confirmed that the doorbell didn't ring. They did, however, hear "a commotion" at around 1:50, and when a bloodstained fire log was found in the communal hallway, a couple of hours later, the police were called. They found Arne, inside his flat, beaten to death with a log from his fireplace; but there was no sign of a forced entry, and despite Arne's valuable antique collection, nothing had been stolen.

The small-minded, notoriously homophobic British tabloid press wasted no time in covering his murder from a seedy angle, their theories even involving the murders of a couple of other antique dealers, who may have been killed by the same hired assassin as the Vatican banker Roberto Calvi. In any case, the theory quoted by David Quinlan is probably the most plausible; but as it was only arrived at by police following the death of the young Italian in question, no one has ever been formally charged with Arne's murder. Keith Howes' entry on Arne states that a TV documentary, A Shred Of Evidence (1984), examined this still unsolved mystery.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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