Guest Actor Biography
Page 112 of 127


Peter Swanwick

Oppenheimer, Legacy of Death

by Pete Stampede

Peter Swanwick is instantly recognisable to addicts of The Prisoner (ATV/ITC, 67-1968) as the bald-headed Control Room Supervisor, constantly announcing the start of an Orange Alert; he was in almost as many episodes as Patrick McGoohan. In "Hammer Into Anvil" (1967), Patrick Cargill's paranoid Number Two actually had him fired; unsurprisingly, though, he was back for the series' famous two-part conclusion. Looking like the stereotypical image of a mad scientist, with bald head and ever-present spectacles, Swanwick seems to have slipped through the net of most film guides, despite a regular run of (admittedly small) roles in the 50s and early 60s, in which he was often cast as Germans—the British cinema was, at this time, still very much fighting WW2. Following a minor appearance for John Huston in The African Queen (1951), more efforts in this vein included two prison camp tales, Albert R.N. (1953), about a dummy passed off as a P.O.W., and the self-explanatory The Colditz Story (1955), and the more comic Invasion Quartet (1961), one of several unsuccessful vehicles for Spike Milligan, also with John LeMesurier. He also supported, as a German policeman, in the lively horror Circus Of Horrors (1960), credited as being produced by Avengers man Julian Wintle (though, to tell the truth, he rather distanced himself from the whole thing), as well as several of the endless second-feature thrillers made then, such as Kill Me Tomorrow (1957) with Tommy Steele (!) and Lois Maxwell, and Life In Danger (1959), from "The Great Great Britain Crime"'s director Vernon Sewell.

On TV, Swanwick dated right back to an episode of the first filmed crime series on British TV, Fabian Of Scotland Yard, "The Executioner" (BBC, 1954), now, unfortunately, unintentionally hilarious. It was followed by William Tell, "The Unwelcome Stranger", (ATV/ITC, 1957) with "Silent Dust"'s Conrad Phillips as Tell, and Nigel Green as his aide The Bear; O.S.S., "Operation Tulip" (ATV/ITC, 1957), which saw ITC going slightly more up-to-date with this WW2-set entry; the reputedly very tatty White Hunter, "The General" (ATV/ITC, 1958), apparently playing an American; and, much later, The Prisoner's stablemate, Man In A Suitcase, "Night Flight to Andorra" (ATV/ITC, 1967), as a butler. Along with Ray Barrett, he was a deeply unlikely stooge to ventriloquist Peter Brough and dummy Archie Andrews, in the TV transfer of the highly successful radio show Educating Archie (A-R, 1958-59). He was, obviously, familiar to Patrick McGoohan from Danger Man, "The Key" (ATV/ITC, 1960), with a phony American accent and killed off in the teaser; and, following the show's change to an hourly length and US retitling as Secret Agent (man), returned in "The Paper Chase" (1966), losing a card game to Kenneth J. Warren in an episode directed by McGoohan, featuring Ferdy Mayne and Aubrey Morris.

Swanwick underwent a succession of major operations in the early 60s, losing a lot of weight in the process, and was left with a short time to live. He crammed as many roles as he could into what time he had left. The last year of his life alone saw him as a regular in an oddball swashbuckler, Virgin Of The Secret Service (ATV, 1968), as an insane Germanic foe of the nominal Captain Virgin; created by Ted Willis, when an episode of this was shown by the National Film Theatre, in a double bill of 60s TV with "Don't Look Behind You," the programme notes described it as "a sort of Carry On Bond Up the Jungle... something of an acquired taste." Plus, unbilled but still with a German accent, Swanwick was a Satanist in Hammer's The Devil Rides Out/The Devil's Bride (1968) with Christopher Lee, Paul Eddington and Leon Greene. In an odd coincidence, he died in November 1968, the same month that "Legacy of Death" was shown in the US, and in some UK regions. An unfortunately titled episode of Out Of The Unknown, "Immortality Inc." (BBC, 1969) starring Charles Tingwell, and the John Le Carre film The Looking Glass War (1970), were shown posthumously.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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