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Dudley Foster

Philip Leas, The Hour That Never Was
Mr. Goat, Something Nasty in the Nursery
Parker, Wish You Were Here

by Pete Stampede

With staring eyes and menacingly precise diction (sometimes with a hint of a Northern accent), Dudley Foster was a character actor who perhaps deserved to have been better known, despite a prolific output. Foster was yet another 60's actor who was a former member of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, as were Richard Harris, Roy Kinnear, Yootha Joyce, Glynn Edwards, John Junkin and Victor Spinetti; one of Dave Rogers' Avengers fanzines from the 80s mentioned the unsubstantiated rumour that Spinetti (who was in all the Beatles' films, and nowadays mainly tells stories of the "and then Larry Olivier said to me" type) was the first choice to play John Steed. In her autobiography Joan's Book, Littlewood recalled that Foster had a wealthy father, who was persuaded to bankroll some of the troupe's productions. He was briefly a regular on Z Cars in the mid-60's, as Inspector Dunn, a temporary replacement for Stratford Johns as Barlow; it's more typical of his career, though, that when he had a guest role much later in the series, in 1971, it was as a villain.

Foster's Avengers connection began with a since-wiped episode of Police Surgeon starring Ian Hendry, "Operation Mangle" (ABC, 1960), as a rabble-rouser complicating Hendry's chances of treating an injured man. At the same time, he was regularly turning up in the ITC series, in which his suntan sometimes got him cast, in those unknowingly xenophobic times, as foreign baddies. Such as: The Four Just Men, "The Crying Jester" (ATV/ITC, 1959) as Luigi in one of the episodes starring Vittorio De Sica; Ghost Squad, "Eyes of the Bat" (ATV/Rank, 1961); Danger Man, "The Contessa" (ATV/ITC, 1961), this time as Giorgio, in an episode set in Patrick McGoohan's incongruous birthplace of New York, and with a minor role for Jackie Collins, who soon gave up being in the same line as her sister; and The Saint, "The Abductors" (ATV/ITC, 1965), supposedly in Paris, with Annette André and Nicholas Courtney. He was hardly absent from domestically-aimed, videotaped series either; Echo Four-Two, "Frozen Fire" (A-R, 1961), a totally forgotten spin-off from the almost forgotten No Hiding Place, but with a theme tune by Laurie Johnson; Jango, "The Itching Fingers of Lady Ffoulkes" (A-R, 1961), starring Robert Urquhart (seen in "Castle De'ath" and "Wish You Were Here") as a kind of early, British Columbo, right down to the dress sense, here with the wonderful Athene Seyler (from "Build a Better Mousetrap" and "Man-Eater of Surrey Green") as Lady F, Patrick Newell, and Foster as a store manager; Crane, "Two Rings for Danger" (A-R, 1964), again guesting along with Annette André; and two episodes of Public Eye, "It Had to be a Mouse" (ABC, 1966) and "Mrs Podmore's Cat" (Thames, 1972), starring Alfred Burke (who was in "Dragonsfield", "The Mauritius Penny" and "The Girl from Auntie"), as another shabbily dressed detective. Burke and Foster would later be nicely cast as a dodgy pair of brothers (called Foster, in fact), in Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased), "All Work and No Pay" (ATV/ITC, 1970), attempting to convince Annette André (yet again!) that they can contact the ghostly Marty. Foster was a detective-inspector, again, in one of Francis Durbridge's thriller serials, Bat Out Of Hell (BBC, 1966), trailing scheming lovers Sylvia Syms and John Thaw (this was one of the very few times Thaw has played a villain, along with "Esprit de Corps" of course).

Keeping his hand in regarding the theatre, Foster was a sardonic, side-of-stage narrator in Alan Plater's Close The Coalhouse Door, at the Nottingham Playhouse. He was in two well-rated entries in Sydney Newman's premier anthology series, Armchair Theatre, "The Rose Affair" (ABC, 1961), Alun Owen's updating of Beauty and the Beast, with Anthony Quayle as the latter, a reclusive millionaire: and The Wednesday Play, "The Girl Who Loved Robots" (BBC, 1965), as a space detective, also with Isobel Black (seen in "Silent Dust"), in the unfortunate title role, and Michael Gough. Also in the SF vein, Foster did a rather tatty (dare I say, even tattier than usual?) Doctor Who, "The Space Pirates" (BBC, 1969), Patrick Troughton's penultimate story as the Doctor. In the mid-60's, Foster developed a worrying habit of getting involved with sitcom pilots that didn't get off the ground; despite being originally cast in a pre-Porridge effort set in prison, Comedy Four, "Home From Home" (Granada, 1963), he was replaced at an early stage. And two he did appear in, Comedy Playhouse, "The Mascot" (BBC, 1964), set in the North and starring him as the new chairman of an ailing soccer team, and Six Of The Best, "Porterhouse—Private Eye" (ATV, 1965), in which he played a villain called Otto Mulchrone, opposing Carry On regular Peter Butterworth as the gormless detective of the title, didn't lead to series, either.

Nonetheless, he did have noteworthy comedic credits, in the form of several guest roles with Steptoe And Son: "Full House" (BBC, 1963), as one of a trio of gamblers Harry H. Corbett is foolish enough to agree to a game with; "My Old Man's A Tory" (1965), as a cold political agent who dashes Corbett's hopes to stand as an MP, prompting Wilfrid Brambell to snarl, "'Ow dare you call my son a scruff-bag!"; and "Robbery with Violence" (1970), again cast as a policeman, having to patiently contend with Brambell's account of being robbed (the rascally old man actually made the whole thing up). The nearest Foster got to a starring role was in another sitcom, If It Moves, File It (LWT, 1970), a kind of proto-Yes Minister pairing him with satirist John Bird, as ineffectual civil servants. Surprisingly, it was the work of Z Cars writer-creator Troy Kennedy Martin. Foster also did an odd-sounding special, It's A Terrible Waste (BBC, 1970), shown on BBC2 on Christmas Day, in which he played an Edwardian father doing magic tricks with household objects; maybe this was one of the last kicks of Lord Reith's doctrine at the BBC, insisting on reminding viewers there was life before television.

Wearing some quite superb small-lapelled jackets, Foster was a Soviet agent with an English accent in a daft US/GB TV movie, Foreign Exchange (191969), also with an unbilled Carol Cleveland. His cinema films included several of the Edgar Wallace B movies of the early 60's, as well as A Study In Terror (191965), as the Home Secretary, and Peter Cook and John Cleese's unsuccessful satire The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer (1970); I've always found Foster's delivery and steady gaze reminiscent of Cook, especially of the latter doing his character E.L. Wisty, so seeing them on screen together was intriguing. His guest roles continued: a rather patronising episode of The Persuaders, "Anyone Can Play" (ATV/ITC, 1971), as a Communist agent in Brighton (or "Brighton, England" as the opening caption had it); Jason King, "An Author in Search of Two Characters" (ATV/ITC, 1972), one of Peter Wyngarde's capers which had a, perhaps unwise, slant towards self-parody, also with Roy Kinnear and Neil McCarthy; The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes, "The Duchess of Wiltshire's Diamonds" (Thames, 1971), as a superintendent; and Catweazle, "The Ghost Hunters" (LWT, 1971), incompetently tracking Geoffrey Bayldon as the bewhiskered magical loon. In yet another police role, as the bluff Inspector Hook, he co-starred with Arthur Lowe and Richard Hurndall in a splendidly-titled comedy-thriller series, It's Murder But Is It Art? (BBC, 191972). But, sadly and unexpectedly, he committed suicide in early 1973. After buying the video of "Dressed to Kill" and very much enjoying it, I thought it was a shame that Leonard Rossiter, a great favourite of mine, never got to play one of the mad villains in the series. David's comments about Mr. Goat (from "Something Nasty in the Nursery") being not quite diabolical enough, and Foster being virtually the only "straight" actor in this cast, I can't help feeling that if Rossiter had played Goat, it might have been better all round.

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This bio Copyright © 1999-2008 Gavin Gaughan.
Page last modified 18 July 2002.