Guest Actor Biography
by Pete Stampede
Booming, bald-headed John Savident is, at the time of writing, enjoying his highest public profile in a long career. He's currently the best reason to watch the ever-popular, ever-running Coronation Street (Granada, 1960- ), with his hilariously over the top performance as a nosey, self-important butcher called Fred Elliott, constantly seeking to reinforce his social standing while casting lubricious glances at available women of a certain age, and ordering a "scotch and thret" (no, I don't know what that is, either!) in the Rovers Return pub. The high-pitched, upper-class accent he uses in "My Wildest Dream" is guaranteed to provoke guffaws from today's audiences; as Fred, he uses an outrageously exaggerated, drawling North of England tone, capped off with a vocal tic borrowed from Foghorn Leghorn, "Ah'll not stand for it! Ah say, not stand for it!" More than one reviewer has made the inevitable, if funny comment that this butcher has a ready-stocked supply of ham.
Born 1930 and a former policeman (!), one of Savident's first TV roles was carried out entirely while lying down, as a cigar-smoking "hood" called Joe Gulliver in Man In A Suitcase, "Web With Four Spiders" (ATV/ITC, 1967); it was set in Manchester, but he was practically the only actor in it with a Northern accent. The Saint, "Where the Money Is" (ATV/ITC, 1968), Department S, "The Double Death of Charlie Crippen" (ATV/ITC, 1969), in which the title referred to an unfortunate ventriloquists' dummy, and The Adventurer, "Poor Little Rich Girl" (ATV/ITC, 1972) all followed for ITC, while he also did Callan's first episode under new management, "Red Knight, White Knight" (Thames, 1969), Edward Woodward's loner agent having survived the handover from ABC to Thames - unlike The Avengers, alas.
He was then a hypochondriac power broker in Tightrope (ATV, 1970), a children's thriller series that nobody remembers. In a similarly powerfully pompous mode, there were a couple of appearances in the "science-fact" series (once termed "Doctor Who for adults") Doomwatch, "Burial at Sea" (BBC, 1970), written by Dennis Spooner, in which toxic waste results in some pop stars on board a cruise ship winding up very dead, and "The Web of Fear" (1971); Savident played The Minister, a role usually taken in this series by John "I didn't get where I am today by not being in "A Sense of History"" Barron. Sticking with this characterization, he was The Chief in Spyder's Web, "Spyder Secures A Main Strand" and "Nobody's Strawberry Fool" (ATV, 1972); this spy series was apparently somewhat Avengers-ish, and had Anthony Ainley, seen in "Noon Doomsday" and later The Master in Doctor Who, playing a character not unlike Steed, but it's never been revived, perhaps as it was made on videotape rather than film (at least some of it may well have been wiped). He was yet another officious Man from the Ministry, called Mr Plum, in The Professionals, "Servant of Two Masters" (LWT/Avengers Mark 1, 79), claiming to have evidence that Cowley (*Gordon Jackson*) has been double-dealing.
Clad in a nasty pullover that doesn't do the, er, fuller figure any favours, he can be spotted in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), as a fellow conspirator of Patrick Magee (soon to be *qv*); in terms of scope and quality of directors, it's a bit of a jump from the uncompromising vision of Kubrick to the world of Good Old British Chap Bryan Forbes, but Forbes' The Raging Moon (1971) starred Malcolm McDowell as well, plus Savident again in another minor role. Other films include Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982) and Christine Edzard's Little Dorrit (1988). He is credited as playing an anaesthetist in the mini-series Q.B. VII (Screen Gems, 1974), but I haven't been able to spot him in it (admittedly, I've only seen the edited video version).
Both The Truth About Verity (ATV, 1975) and THE COMMON LOT (ATV, 1977) were sitcom pilots that didn't go to series; he was Sir Frederick, understandably if unflatteringly nicknamed Jumbo, spluttering at Paul Eddington in the first series of Yes Minister (BBC, 1980), and was then a bishop in a forgotten sitcom, Father Charlie (Central, 1982), with another treasurable over-actor, Lionel Jeffries, in the title role. Savident popped up in the sci-fi genre next, with Bake's 7, "Trial" (BBC, 1979) and "Orbit" (1981) and Doctor Who, "The Visitation" (BBC, 1982). On stage, his several musicals include the original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom Of The Opera. He was on his best pompously affronted form in an episode of Jeeves And Wooster (Granada, 1992), as a peer appalled by his son's lifestyle in New York, but who ends up—courtesy of Stephen Fry's Jeeves—getting suckered into being displayed to a group of visiting hayseeds, who, overawed at meeting a real English nobleman, repeatedly yell "Boost for Birdsburg!"
Both the soppy TV movie Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris (1992), with Angela Lansbury, and The Fortunes And Misfortunes Of Moll Flanders (Granada, 1996), saw him in the same production as Diana Rigg. Still in the costume drama category, he was the rascally Sir John Raffles in George Eliot's Middlemarch (BBC, 1994), whose unwelcome return prompts the discovery of the unpleasant origins of the wealth of the banker Bulstrode, played by the late Peter Jeffrey, some way from diabolical masterminding. Savident started playing Fred in 1994; a hilarious recent plotline had him complaining of a bad back and accepting a customer's offer of a massage, only to end up being arrested when she turned out to be offering rather more, er, intimate favours. At the moment he's become aghast on finding his son has become a vegetarian.
A couple of unrealised projects act as footnotes to Savident's career. The original pilot episode of The Black Adder (BBC, 1983), never publicly shown, featured him as Rowan Atkinson's bellowingly boisterous father, not Brian Blessed as in the subsequent first series (the legendary smelly servant Baldrick was played in this by a different actor, too). In 1992, Savident was to have had the title role in Maxwell - The Musical, a West End show satirising the notorious corrupt publisher, who had died in bizarre, still unexplained circumstances the previous year, and was then exposed as having helped himself to his employees' pensions in order to keep his businesses going. At the last minute, Robert Maxwell's sons obtained a legal injunction (the fat fraud was no stranger to using the law to fight his corner when alive), claiming that their forthcoming trial would be "prejudiced" by their father being depicted as a thumping great crook (as if!), and as a result, the show was never staged.
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