Guest Actor Biography
Page 73 of 127

   

Philip Locke

Moxon, The Frighteners
Roy Hopkins, Mandrake
Dr. Henry Primble, From Venus With Love

by Pete Stampede

Always good value as a nervy villain, Philip Locke could be spotted as a eunuch-like baddie in dark glasses in Thunderball (1965), in the obligatory dark glasses and black polo-neck jumper—"Vargas does not drink, does not smoke, does not make love." Born in London on 29 March 1928, the tall, pale, balding and loose-limbed Locke is yet another RADA graduate. His main reputation has been in the theatre—in the 50's he was part of the ensemble at the Royal Court, where some groundbreaking work was done under George Devine. In John Osborne's second autobiography, Almost A Gentleman, he described Locke as one of the Royal Court actors who was "special and reliable;" this really is high praise, as for the rest of the book, the playwright seemed incapable of saying a good word about anyone (especially his many ex-wives)!

The occasion was The World Of Paul Slickey (1959), a doomed musical which turned out to be Osborne's first real disaster—taking journalists and gossip columnists as his targets, he could hardly have been surprised to be roasted by their critical fellows. He considered that "the high—or low—point was a scene in which Philip Locke as Father Evilgreene led a satanic dance which would, we were assured by Hickey and Tanfield"—real-life gossip columnists—"enrage the most agnostic sensibilities." At the opening night in the West End, the show was sniggered at by the audience, and at the end, received boos from Noel Coward (who described it in his published diaries as "never in all my theatrical experience have I seen anything so appalling") and Sir John Gielgud; its creator claimed that he was lucky to make it out of the theatre in one piece, considering "I must be the only playwright this century to have been pursued up a London street by an angry mob." (Reading Almost A Gentleman, you somehow get the impression that Osborne rather enjoyed all this; he was, of course, safely writing in retrospect.) Locke's more successful stage appearances included Tony Richardson's (another Royal Court prime mover) 1964 staging of Chekhov's The Sea Gull, at the Queen's Theatre, starring Peggy Ashcroft, Peter Finch, Vanessa Redgrave and (acting this time) George Devine, and Peter Brook's 1970 interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

On TV, Locke's first traceable credit was as "Second Sailor" in Jan At The Blue Fox, "Day of the Wreck" (BBC, 1952), a serial from the single-channel days. Along with his Avengers appearances, he did so many Armchair Theatre plays for ABC that he really ought to have had shares in the company. Notably as part of the latter, he played a cocky workmate, with much head-tilting and subtle bullying, of Tom Bell's in Harold Pinter's "A Night Out" (ABC, 1960); incredible to think now that a "serious" play, by a writer like Pinter, could be number one in the week's ratings, but it was. Madge Ryan played Bell's droning mother, while Pinter appeared himself as another workmate; actually, Locke's dialogue with Ryan in "Mandrake" about what each of his eyes signifies sounds almost Pinteresque itself. Others in the same strand included the charmingly titled "Roll On Bloomin' Death" (ABC, 1961), which saw him co-starring with Harry H. Corbett, then a year off from becoming Harold Steptoe, and Simon Oates, later to play Steed on stage, "Always Something Hot" (ABC, 1962) and "Girl" (ABC, 1967). Locke played Chester Coote in a serial of H. G. Wells' Kipps (Granada, 1960), also with William Gaunt, seen in "Traitor in Zebra" and later one of The Champions; for the same company, Locke was in Saki (Granada, 1962), one of leading writer-producer Philip Mackie's elegant series adaptations of already elegant short stories (as here, they were always named after the chosen author), directed by future Avengers helmer Gordon Flemyng. The Poisoned Earth (ATV, 1961), another single play, reflected real-life protests against nuclear weapons (which several of the Royal Court personnel had famously been arrested for taking part in), with Locke, Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor and James Maxwell supporting Michael Gough (soon to be qv). Locke appeared with Ian Hendry again in Peter Nichols' social comedy "Ben Again" (Granada, 1963) in the Television Playhouse strand, a follow-up to the previous year's "Ben Spray", with Hendry reprising the title role of a teacher with a disastrous social life. Then, Locke donned a goatee beard to play a typically camp and excitable Osric in the 24-carat cast Hamlet At Elsinore (BBC, 1964), produced for Shakespeare's quarter-centenary, alongside Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine, Robert Shaw, Donald Sutherland, Steven Berkoff, Roy Kinnear and Bill Wallis. Stage productions of the same play have variously seen him as Horatio, the Ghost, and the Player King. The Crossfire (Anglia, 1967), set against the war in Algiers, was a prestige one-off with Locke supporting the under-rated Eric Portman and, intriguingly for Avengerphiles, Ian Hendry and Peter Wyngarde; The Hellfire Club site has a picture from this, of these two very different, but both key 60's actors together. Returning to modern drama, Locke was in the eyebrow-raising Thirty-Minute Theatre, "Boa Constrictor" (BBC, 1967), as Johnny Three, with Ronald Lacey as Frankie Three; all the characters in this, bar one, were called Frankie or Johnny. Don't ask why, just remember it was the 60's.

He was hardly absent from series episodes either, turning up in John Thaw's series Redcap, "The Pride of the Regiment" (ABC, 1966), yet again for ABC and a series which a lot of Avengers guest actors (not to mention Thaw himself) understandably appeared in. Then, The Baron, "Countdown" (ATV/ITC, 1966), written by Terry Nation, with Edward Woodward also guesting; The Champions, "The Bodysnatchers" (ATV/ITC, 1968), as a cloth-capped villain in a typically daft episode set in Wales but with everyone speaking Standard English, plus a bad-tempered performance as chief heavy from Bernard Lee, who gave every impression of just doing this in between visits to either M's office or the studio bar; and Department S, "The Perfect Operation" (ATV/ITC, 1969), also with Avengers spymaster/villain Ronald Radd, a favourite co-star of Peter Wyngarde's, and a pre-Upstairs Downstairs Jean Marsh. The Saint; The Fiction Makers (ATV/ITC, 1968) was a two-part Roger Moore entry (shown in cinemas in some countries), which entertainingly bordered on self-parody, not just of the action genre but of writer-creators like Leslie Charteris; Locke was one of a loon's gallery which also included Kenneth J. Warren and Nicholas Smith. A little later, he was in an episode of an anthology series, The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes, "The Mystery of the Amber Beads" (Thames, 1973), with Sara Kestelman, seen in "Sleeper", as a spirited gypsy detective besting Scotland Yard.

Locke's films have always been as support actor, and as with Thunderball, not too different from his small-screen roles. His first was a Rank B-movie, Cloak Without Dagger (1955), then he was repeatedly cast in a dodgily devious mode in several of the popular Edgar Wallace programmers (not to be confused with a German series of Wallace adaptations at the same time); Incident At Midnight (1963) with Warren Mitchell in the cast, On The Run (1963) and Face Of A Stranger (1964). The latter utilised the old chestnut about a man (in this case a convict) trying to fool a blind woman into thinking he is in fact her husband. Father Came Too! (1963) is the kind of British comedy that you watch to spot familiar faces every few minutes, rather than finding it particularly funny; and giving Stanley Baxter, the deeply camp and highly versatile Scottish mimic, a straight romantic lead was a mistake, as was not keeping on Julie Christie, who'd been in the film's predecessor The Fast Lady. Nonetheless, Avengers faces populated this one; Locke, with flat cap on and cigarette constantly in mouth, was a dopey builder, alongside Ronnie Barker, Kenneth Cope and Timothy Bateson (both soon to be qv), while at the film's end, the fire brigade invades the village pageant, whose participants included all the above plus Patrick Newell, John Bluthal and Peter Jones, with Cardew Robinson as a fireman. Director Peter Graham Scott was an Avengers hand as well. Later, Locke worked with Barker again in the film version of Porridge (1979), in which Fulton Mackay and Brian Wilde also reprised their TV roles; no favourite show of mine has ever had a satisfactory big-screen version (I won't mention the obvious example!), but this had some nice moments, including Locke, as one of the inmates, resignedly commenting that as he went to a top public school, he's used to the kind of food they serve in prison.

Moving into the 70's, Locke continued to show up well in TV drama. He was one of a disparate group on a cycling trip in Yorkshire, just before WW1, in Alan Bennett's A Day Out (1972). Barring Bennett's sketch show On The Margin (BBC, 1966), this was his first original script for television, and his first collaboration with director Stephen Frears; although colour television was now the norm, Bennett and Frears pressed for this to be made in black and white, which helped the atmosphere no end. In his bestselling prose collection Writing Home, Bennett included his diary entries covering the location shooting; when Locke made a complaint to the manageress of a hotel in Ripon, who "regards the BBC as a subversive organisation", her reply was, "No one has ever complained about the bed before—no one of normal size, that is." He was Agrippa in the TV transfer of Trevor Nunn's celebrated Royal Shakespeare Company production of Antony And Cleopatra (ATV, 1974), with Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman in the leads, and lower down the cast, Ben Kingsley and (in his former life as an RSC regular) Patrick Stewart. Locke supported again in She Fell Among Thieves (BBC, 1978), one of a brief run of filmed versions of vintage derring-do novels (another was Rogue Male (BBC, 1976) starring Peter O'Toole); this one, adapted (curiously, by comic novelist Tom Sharpe) from a Dornford Yates yarn, starred Malcolm McDowell and, although it was shown under the Play Of The Week banner, would be classed as a TV movie if made today.

He was a farmer in the last episode of Dennis Potter's Pennies From Heaven (BBC, 1978), in one of the scenes reflecting Potter's own love-hate relationship with his birthplace, the Forest of Dean. Continuing the cast of "Mandrake"'s habit of repeatedly working with each other, An Honourable Retirement (Southern, 1979), another made-on-film drama, saw John LeMesurier perfectly cast as an absent-minded, retired civil servant, dropped into spying shenanigans when Locke and other villains mistake him for an agent; Beryl Reid, one of LeMesurier's favourite people on and off screen, played his equally unsuspecting landlady. Locke next did an episode of The Omega Factor, "Double Vision" (BBC, 1979), a vaguely remembered series of the Doctor Who-for-adults type (cf. Doomwatch). Armchair Thriller was a belated spin-off from Armchair Theatre, TV fans recall its opening title sequence as particularly unsettling; Locke was in one of its serials, "Dead Man's Kit" (Southern, 1980). Grey-bearded now, he was an unsympathetic mystery man called John Doll in Codename Icarus (BBC, 1981), a children's thriller series, made on film, which I just about remember. Then he was the grasping undertaker Sowerberry in a US TV version of Oliver Twist (1982), with George C. Scott as Fagin, given a limited cinema release in Britain, where it was made. Purely for the big screen, he was the Prime Minister on board a doomed ship, one of a choice British cast headed by Freddie Jones, in Federico Fellini's E La Nave Va/And The Ship Sailed On... (1983).

Locke was also a magical sage called Arnold of Todi, exiled to an island after a skirmish with fellow magician Cole Hawlings (a comfortable role for Patrick Troughton), in the well-regarded children's series The Box Of Delights (BBC, 1984), having had a similar role on Troughton's previous patch in Doctor Who, "Four to Doomsday" (BBC, 1982), also with Stratford Johns. I still recall, as a kiddie viewer, being unnerved by the ending to one of the episodes, in which Locke reveals he is an android by producing his inner circuitry; "This is me. This artificial compound is not me." Reflecting the breadth of his TV career, he was in one of the last of the once-constant TV adaptations of stage plays, Theatre Night's "Trelawny of the Wells" (BBC, 1985), Sir Arthur Wing Pinero's tale of a ham actor and a nervous bride. He had a cameo, as a bemused surgeon with a fondness for disembodied limbs, in the pre-title sequence of "Mr Jolly Lives Next Door" (C4, 1987), an episode of The Comic Strip Presents that was also shown in some London cinemas; Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson did their usual thing with OTT aplomb as a couple of loons representing "Dreamy Time Escorts", with guest stars Peter Cook, disturbingly funny as the grouchy assassin of the title, "Just because my second name happens to be Jolly, doesn't mean I have to be jolly all the f—-ing time!", and Nicholas Parsons, playing Nicholas Parsons as only Nicholas Parsons can. Surprisingly perhaps, Stephen Frears again directed. A couple of contrasting filmed dramas for TV were Virtuoso (Screen Two; BBC, 1989) with the fine character actor (now lost to Hollywood) Alfred Molina, then going through a run of playing real-life characters, as troubled concert pianist John Ogdon, and Jekyll And Hyde (LWT, 1990) with Michael Caine in the title roles and Locke as a newspaper editor; despite the rarity of Caine doing TV, this failed in the ratings in Britain ("not many people watched Caine as Mr Hyde" sneered the rotten Sun tabloid) and didn't get much of a showing in the US, despite being obviously aimed at the crowd who still think London is full of fog.

Locke's guest appearances in crime dramas have continued, including Poirot, "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" (LWT, 1989), with David Suchet as Agatha Christie's Belgian sleuth; Bergerac, "When Did You Last See Your Father?" (BBC, 1989), with John Nettles and Avengers doppelganger Terence Alexander; Van Der Valk, "Dr. Hoffman's Children" (Thames, 1991), a short-lived return for Barry Foster's Dutch detective, which proved that the Americans don't have a monopoly on failed revivals of 70's shows; and Inspector Morse, "Who Killed Harry Field?" (Central, 1991), which saw John Thaw investigating a murder in bohemian circles, with Freddie Jones also present. He was very funny in Minder, "The Roof of All Evil" (Thames, 1993), as a crook with the splendid name Fingers Rossetti, now living in splendour from his ill-gotten gains, but talked into one more job by Arthur Daley (George Cole); then he was Sir Roderick Glossop, father of Bertie Wooster's even more imbecilic chum Tuppy Glossop, in Jeeves And Wooster, "Honoria Glossop Turns Up" (Granada, 1993), with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the title roles. He turned up twice, as different characters, in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, "A Case of Coincidence" (Meridian, 1996) and "Going Wrong" (1998).

As well as playing Kent in King Lear at the National Theatre, his association with the RSC has successfully continued, including playing Lindquist in August Strinberg's Easter, and Caiaphas in the stage version of Dennis Potter's Son Of Man (1995), with Joseph Fiennes as Jesus and John Standing—seen in "School for Traitors" as Pontius Pilate. Inevitably for a British actor, his film roles have recently been in the far too prevalent literary adaptation-costume genre mode (a far cry from his Edgar Wallace films, more respectable—but I know which of the two I'd rather watch!); Tom And Viv (1994), Wilde (1997) and Othello (1995). In the latter, he was "First Senator"—I think he'd still make a great Iago.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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