Guest Actor Biography
by Pete Stampede
Ronald Radd was not the tallest of people, and on first sighting not the most instantly menacing, with a round, balding head atop a somewhat pudgy body. Yet, as his TV roles in the 60s and early 70s testify, he generally conveyed an air of being imposing and uncompromising. Although he displayed a leaning for comedy in his early stage work, once the camera discovered Radd's crater-faced physiognomy, he was swiftly placed in the espionage genre, as either a British Intelligence chief or a Cold War villain; his Avengers roles reflect both of these, though with a touch of the comic eccentricity not present in his time as a regular in another key British spy series, Callan. Born on 22nd January 1929, in Durham, in the north-east of England, Radd nonetheless never played a Geordie; apart from the aforementioned spying characters, his other specialities included voluble, worldly 'foreigners', and the occasional dodgy showbiz agent.
Radd's stage experience included an early 50s spell in repertory in Birmingham, at the city's Alexandra Theatre (still open), along with the likes of Leslie Sands, seen in "Lobster Quadrille" and later a Z Cars regular, and the urbane Edward Mulhare, unfortunately best recalled as the boss man in the very silly Knight Rider. By the middle of the decade, Radd had certainly graduated to the West End, where he was a most unlikely co-star to the unique but troubled comedy great Kenneth Williams—twice. The Buccaneer, which after touring the country landed at the Apollo Theatre in February 1956, was an unbelievably camp sounding musical by Sandy Wilson, who had previously hatched the believably camp The Boy Friend. The title of this one referred to a newspaper started by a group of children, all played by adults and led by Williams; the sight of the latter, then pushing thirty, dressed in short trousers and declaiming a song which went, "I'm not craving to start shaving, every morning at eight/That's for adults only, and I can wait... When you're over sixteen life seems so bewilderin'/So no wonder it's unsuitable for children..." must have been unforgettable, for all the wrong reasons. (I deeply regret losing a tape of the soundtrack to this.) In his infamous diaries, Williams described it as "the most blithering rubbish I've ever had to appear in", but that's actually quite complimentary by his standards. Radd, not surprisingly, was cast as one of the grown-ups. Within a couple of months, he was again with the great Ken in a revival (at the Winter Garden) of Feydeau's Hotel Paradiso, rather forgotten now but viewed then as one of the great farces (the genre itself is out of fashion now); however, here the star billing went not to Williams but, understandably, Alec Guinness, who made a film of it years later, but not with Radd or Williams. The latter was again cast in a role younger than his real age, as what was then termed the juvenile lead, with a genuinely young Billie Whitelaw also in the cast.
Breaking into television, Radd was one of the dastardly French in Ordeal By Fire (1957), a single play costume piece involving Joan of Arc (played by Elizabeth Sellars, seen in "Take-Over"), with Peter Wyngarde, a serious and versatile TV actor in that pre-Jason King period, and the ubiquitous Patrick Troughton, both of whom Radd would repeatedly work with, as he did in a Sunday classic serial of A Tale Of Two Cities (BBC, 1958), in which Wyngarde starred as Sydney Carton. Radd's next few TV credits actually took place across the Atlantic; this was less unusual then than now, with many of the American networks' studios still being located in New York, where many British actors were working in the theatre, and as a result people like Denholm Elliott were in innumerable Hallmark Hall Of Fame presentations. Radd was in an incongruous regular on The Shari Lewis Show (CBC, 1960-63), supporting the twee ventriloquist (later much on British TV herself), then was more in character for a production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh (CBS, 1960); directed by Sidney Lumet, the cast included a very young Robert Redford, Radd as The Captain, and Jason Robards dominating as Hickey, as he had done in the play's Broadway run four years earlier. Later, when Lumet had graduated to the cinema, he would loyally use Radd again in a powerfully cast version of another play, The Sea Gull (1968), with James Mason and Simone Signoret, and in a small role in the tough police drama The Offence (1973), virtually a two-hander for Sean Connery and Ian Bannen. Then, for the aforementioned Hallmark Hall Of Fame strand of specials, The Tempest (NBC, 1960); made in fuzzy early colour, with the text shortened and simplified, and sets that would remind British viewers of the children's series Play School, this nonetheless remains a fascinating oddity. Lee Remick played Miranda and Prospero was Maurice Evans, star of many Hallmark productions and regarded by Americans for decades as a supreme Great British Actor; tellingly, he became less visible once the genuine Great British Actors stepped up their film and TV work rate. Here, Evans was upstaged by Richard Burton's quite unrestrained Caliban, never letting go of the viewers' attention despite bearing every sign of having been recorded after lunch. The sense of camp lurking inside many of Roddy McDowall's adult roles was shamelessly unleashed here, under heavy and laughable make-up as Ariel, while Radd as the boozy servant Stefano was paired with American comedian Tom Poston as the melancholy jester Trinculo—"strange bedfellows" indeed.
Back in Britain, Radd was in an episode of the Leonard White-produced SF anthology series, hosted by Boris Karloff, no less, Out Of This World, "Divided We Fall" (ABC, 1962), set in the then far-off future of 2003, also with Gerald Harper. Again with Peter Wyngarde, he did an Armchair Theatre, "Night Conspirators" (ABC, 1962) by Robert Muller, about a crowd of elderly Germans awaiting a visitor, who turns out be a revived Hitler, played by Peter Arne; the following year, he and Wyngarde repeated their roles in a stage adaptation, with Patrick Troughton (again) replacing Arne. Radd then did one of his combustible Mittel-European types opposite Roger Moore as The Saint, "Starring the Saint" (ATV/ITC, 1962), an episode so early in that show's run that Ivor Dean, later a fully-fledged co-star as the grouchy Inspector Teal, hadn't yet been cast in that role and here played a totally different character. Also in this one were Paul Whitsun-Jones, Alfred Burke (seen in "Dragonsfield," "The Mauritius Penny" and "The Girl from Auntie"), Alexander Davion and Jackie Collins, who played a starlet and soon gave up the sibling rivalry of trying to be one in real life. Radd later did a couple more Saintly capers; "Simon and Delilah" (1966), like the previous episode was set in the film business, here supposedly in Rome, with a good cast including Lois Maxwell, Suzanne Lloyd and Leon Greene required to pretend to be either American or Italian (the latter in Radd's case). "The Ex-King of Diamonds" (1968) is viewed by TV action scholars as a sort of pilot for The Persuaders, and cheesy as that series turned out to be, Tony Curtis was a distinct improvement on Moore's partner here, American-in-Britain plank actor Stuart Damon (seen in "Trap"). Radd, as a gambler, and Isla Blair from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station" were wasted in the usual Elstree-on-the-Riviera shenanigans. He was a regular as Chief Petty Officer Banyard, a bit of a wideboy, in H.M.S Paradise (Rediffusion, 1964-65), a sitcom from Laurie Wyman, the man behind the long-running radio show The Navy Lark, and mining the same vein. Then, in the first of three with Patrick McGoohan, Radd was in Danger Man/Secret Agent, "A Date with Doris" (ATV/ITC, 1964), supposedly in the Caribbean, with the heavenly Jane Merrow, who would also be in "Mission... Highly Improbable," and James Maxwell. Later the same season, "Sting in the Tail" (1965), directed by Peter Yates, gave Radd top guest billing as a jovial Greek named Alexandros, running a cafe in Beirut, and making himself useful in the final scene by throwing a knife at slimy villain Derren Nesbitt (the scene in this where Nesbitt, smoking a huge cigar, enters a nightclub while the resident chanteuse is warbling the Zombies' "She's Not There" in French, is a great moment of camp, intentionally or otherwise). Finally, one of the best remembered episodes of The Prisoner, "Checkmate" (ATV/ITC, 1967), had Radd in a striped jumper as the unfortunate Rook in the famous game of live action chess; unusually for one of the normally docile Villagers, he forms an alliance and escaping committee with Number Six, but at the end, the latter's sheer single-mindedness leads the Rook to accuse him of working for the Village, to the glee of that week's Number Two (Peter Wyngarde, yet again).
In films, Radd had been in the sensationalistic, but now forgotten, Hammer item The Camp On Blood Island (1958), a supposedly shocking expose of brutality in a Japanese prison camp in WW2; the only thing that would shock anyone about this now is the downright racist portrayal of the Japanese, who were mainly played by made-up Caucasians, including Radd I'm afraid. Others wasted in this included Andre Morell, seen in "Death of a Batman" and "Death at Bargain Prices" and a Hammer regular, and Michael Goodliffe, who would, ironically, later take over Radd's continuing role on Callan. Radd had a minor role as one of Anthony Newley's dodgy associates, along with Warren Mitchell and Kenneth J. Warren in The Small World Of Sammy Lee (1962), a tale of Cockney low life expanded from a one-man play Newley had done on live TV (and later performed on stage by Maurice Kaufmann). He later had the bad luck to be in Newley's fiasco as writer-director-star-whining singer, Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness? (1969), memorably described by Mark Lewisohn as "best watched under substance influence or when asleep", it possibly damaged the career of its moody, self-involved star and certainly didn't help his marriage to Joan Collins any. Echoing many of his TV roles, Radd was more happily cast in the likes of Where The Spies Are (1965), starring David Niven, with John LeMesurier in a self-styled role as 'Mr MI5', and The Double Man (1967), with Yul Brynner and Clive Revill; due to alphabetical order, he had prominent billing in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter (1970), and while the somewhat unfocused result was hardly among that great director's best, at least Radd got to share scenes with Orson Welles, both cast as Soviet apparatchiks. Radd's last film was as a Pole in Operation Daybreak (1976), a rather old-fashioned WW2 tale from the rather old-fashioned director Lewis Gilbert, with Martin Shaw, seen in "Obsession" and then Doyle in Brian Clemens' The Professionals, in a lead role.
Continuing with TV guest spots, Sherlock Holmes, "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" (BBC, 1965), had Douglas Wilmer, seen in "The Danger Makers," as the Great Detective, Joss Ackland, Roger Delgado, Radd as Dr Shlessinger, and genuine location shooting in France. The good news is that unlike most BBC shows of this period, only one episode has since been wiped; the bad news is, this is the one. Then, Radd did another Armchair Theatre, "A Magnum for Schneider" (ABC, 1967), which turned out to be the pilot for Callan; it's tempting to say that this cynical and realistically violent series was the perfect flipside to The Avengers, beginning as that series became an (adnittedly wonderful) glossy fantasy representation of espionage, and as it turned out, surviving the loss of ABC's franchise to continue successfully into the early seventies. More to the point, the production personnel (not to mention Radd himself) were chiefly people who'd been left behind as Clemens and co. moved on to film; James Mitchell, who'd contributed Avengers scripts as far back as Season One, had created Callan, originally in novel form, while Leonard White and Bill Bain respectively produced and directed A Magnum For Schneider.
Looking again at this pilot, the key phrase was clearly enforced minimalism: there are no location shots of any kind, very little music except for Jack Trombey's sombre theme (later given the title "A Man Alone") and sets that give the impression that Callan's flat, his workplace, and the home of the unfortunate Herr Schneider are all in the same building. But the performances more than keep it going. Edward Woodward's moody, understated rendering of Callan—resigned, suggesting a constant sense of guilt, but also a kind of corrupted honesty—is quite the best thing he's done IMHO. With many an impassive expression in close-up, Radd played Colonel Hunter, head of The Section, who calls in the expert but reluctant assassin (boasting previous form in the army and in prison) for one more mission; early on, after Callan talks of how much he hates his boring current job, Hunter points out that Callan's expertise as a killer officially only makes him an unskilled manual worker. "I'd be better off robbing a mail van", Woodward replies sarcastically, before dryly adding, "Joke." Callan is also well aware of Hunter's colour-coded filing system, with suspects placed in one file "if he joins the wrong party" and a red file if termination is required. As the plot unfolds, Callan becomes friendly with the intended target Schneider (who shares a fondness for re-enacting military battles with model soldiers), in a manner somewhat anticipating Columbo; there is, however, no such amiability displayed by Hunter, or upper-class aide Meres (Peter Bowles) towards Callan or his reptilian Cockney minion Lonely (an impressive accent job from Russell Hunter, who's actually Scottish). On forcing himself to carry out his task and killing Schneider, Callan realises Hunter's plot was to alert the police and have him arrested for the arms dealer's murder; he then knocks out Meres and leaves the latter to be found by the police, before informing Hunter, in a typically clipped, dry-mouthed phone conversation, that he has no intention of working for him again: "Because I rather liked Schneider. And I hate you." As Trombey's theme music starts and the credits roll, Hunter's secretary, on his orders, places Callan's details in a red file...
Following the critical and popular success of this one-shot, ABC quickly ordered six episodes of a series of Callan, all but one written by James Mitchell himself, starting with "The Good Guys Are All Dead" (1967), and sporting a memorable title sequence depicting a swinging light bulb against a brick wall, suggesting rough-edged interrogation. Radd returned as Hunter, continuing the character's highly antagonistic relationship with Callan, but Peter Bowles, who did not, at that time, want to do a TV series as a regular, was replaced as Meres by Anthony Valentine, seen in "The Bird Who Knew Too Much" and "Killer." However, by the time of the second season, prepared in 1968 for airing in early 1969 (right in the middle of the changeover between ABC and the new network Thames), other commitments prevented Radd from continuing with the series; the role was recast with Michael Goodliffe, and it was explained at this point that Hunter is actually a code name, automatically given to Callan's superior, in a manner rather akin to the different Number Twos in The Prisoner. Indeed, Callan briefly became Hunter himself during the 1972 season. Now, here's where things get complicated: one of Radd's episodes as Hunter, "Nice People Die At Home", had been held back for inclusion in the second season, but would obviously create a continuity problem due to his presence, added to which Michael Goodliffe had left the series by this point, and the aptly-named Derek Bond (a 40s film star and occasional presenter on 50s TV) had taken over as yet another Hunter. However, Radd was able to make a guest appearance at the beginning and end of "The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw", which preceded the held-over episode in the running order; it's explained here that Radd's Hunter is really called Colonel Leslie, and that he is temporarily returning to his post while Bond's Hunter is in Moscow. The whole season was broadcast in 1969 as planned, and amazingly, an unedited tape of "The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw", running at around 70 minutes, complete with unscheduled guest appearances by the boom mike and actors fluffing their lines, but no opening titles or network logo due to complications from the ABC/Thames switchover, still exists (and weirder still, the version changing hands among collectors is a conversion from the American NTSC format!). Radd later made another, very brief return to the show in "That'll Be The Day" (Thames, 1972), in which Callan's death is faked while he's being held by Soviet interrogators, including Julian Glover; bearded and with no dialogue, Radd is seen at Callan's supposed funeral, and listed on the end credits as 'Previous Hunter'. The inevitable film version of Callan, in 1974, was actually a remake of A Magnum For Schneider, fairly faithful in terms of dialogue but with added violence, and Eric Porter instead of Radd; confusingly, Mitchell's original novel of it would later be reissued under the title A Red File For Callan.
Getting back to guest roles, Mr. Rose, "The Naked Emperor" (Granada, 1967) was a series starring comic actor William Mervyn as an avuncular detective, here called in by newspaper magnate (and Lord) Radd to investigate death threats; the latter was also in The Jazz Age, "Majesty" (BBC, 1968), one of an anthology series of plays set in the 20s, and shown in colour on BBC2, here adapted by playwright Peter Nichols from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, with American actress Shirley Knight and David Bauer in the cast. The Champions, "Get Me Out Of Here!" (ATV/ITC, 1968), was a typically daft episode of that series, set in a Latin American dictatorship about as convincing as similar ones on Mission Impossible (i.e., not very); Radd overacted, maybe the best thing under the circumstances, as El Commandante, with Frances Cuka (the original stage lead in A Taste Of Honey), Philip Madoc and Richard Montez also wasted. Journey To The Unknown, "Stranger in the Family" (ABC/Fox/Hammer, 1968), in Hammer's anthology series for American TV, starred Maurice Kaufmann as a dodgy promoter who plans to exploit a young man with paranormal powers; Radd was an equally disreputable agent persuaded by Kaufmann to attend a demonstration, which turns disastrous when the boy is heckled and takes revenge. A lot of people get this series mixed up with the BBC's contemporary series Out Of The Unknown, understandably in the case of this episode as it was a remake of a 1965 OOTU, with the same title. Then there were two more runarounds with Peter Wyngarde, now lurking behind the facial hair of Jason King; Department S, "The Perfect Operation" (ATV/ITC, 1969), with Jean Marsh and Philip Locke, and yet another episode of that series involving suspicious goings-on in hospitals, followed by Jason King, "Chapter One: The Company I Keep" (ATV/ITC, 1971), with Radd as a blinking, Northern-accented showbiz fixer called Alfred Thistle, sharing one scene with fellow Avengers superior/villain Paul Whitsun-Jones, plus Stephanie Beacham as that week's lust interest. In Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased), "Just For The Record" (ATV/ITC, 1969), the live Randall and the ghostly Hopkirk, supposedly hired to protect an international collection of beauty contestants, stumble into a plot led by a bearded Radd, with the aid of a very small robot he sends to steal secret documents, to prove he is the rightful King of England; not the most original or convincing plotline, not much to think about afterwards, but really, highly enjoyable to watch. Just perfect for starting or ending a weekend with, and done with the kind of lightness of touch that the recent BBC remake missed completely. As in "Mission... Highly Improbable," the great 'Nosher' Powell was one of Radd's henchmen.
Radd had been a loyal and enthusiastic contributor to the ITC series, but they were starting to run out of steam now, as shown by the lacklustre The Adventurer, "Make It A Million" (ATV/ITC, 1972), with Gene Barry, Paul Eddington and Paul Hardwick, and his next two credits showed that other companies were getting on the transatlantic bandwagon. Again supporting Richard Burton in a rare TV foray, Divorce His, Divorce Hers (HTV, 1973) was a daft, two-part TV movie in which Burton tempted fate by having himself and Elizabeth Taylor play a warring couple; it may have been made by HTV (Harlech Television), the network for Burton's native Wales, but as a typically snide Clive James noted in his review for The Observer, it had been filmed "in those well-known Welsh mining communities Munich and Rome." Along with James Maxwell, Radd was in Orson Welles' Great Mysteries, "The Ingenious Reporter" (Anglia, 1973), an anthology series that was a sort of forerunner to the same company's Tales Of The Unexpected; Welles didn't take part in any of the stories himself, and I'm prepared to be corrected here, but recall reading that his intros (shot by his one-man camera crew, Gary Graver) were actually taped in Paris. Next, Radd was in Gerry Anderson's The Protectors, "Decoy" (ATV/ITC, 1973), partly filmed in Italy, with spaghetti western star Mark Damon also guesting, and pretty routine despite a script by Brian Clemens; Special Branch, "Stand and Deliver" (Thames/Euston, 1974), as one of a family of villains who make off with an untested laser weapon, another of whom was Dennis Waterman, just prior to doing The Sweeney for the same company; and Hunter's Walk, "Digger" (ATV, 1974), as the nominal Digger Davies, in a kind of ITV equivalent of Dixon Of Dock Green, from the same creator, Ted (later Lord) Willis.
Ronald Radd died in Toronto, Canada on 23 April 1976 of a stroke suffered after coming off stage during the tour of the musical version of Great Expectations starring John Mills.
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