Guest Actor Biography
by Pete Stampede with David K. Smith
Born 13 June 1927 in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, Brian Wilde grew up in Hertfordshire and trained at Rada. Wilde has a typical role in "The Fear Merchants": he always looks and sounds slightly worried (although I agree with David about him being miscast as a youthful, ruthless tycoon). With the occasional break, he has spent over two decades as Foggy Dewhurst, one of a trio of old codgers in Yorkshire in the laid-back, long-running BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine (1973 to present). He could also be seen in characteristically timorous form in Porridge (BBC, 1973-77), as an ineffectual prison officer called Barraclough, the yin to Fulton Mackay's officious, paranoid yang at Slade Prison. Neither of them ever got the better of Ronnie Barker as the optimistic, incorrigible jailbird Fletcher, though. A nice moment from the above-average film version, in 1979, was when Fletch notices Barraclough seems down, and asks if anything's wrong, "Mrs. Barraclough left you?" "Regrettably... no," is the reply.
Quite outside Wilde's usual image was a turn as a possessed loon in Jacques Tourneur's cult horror film Night Of The Demon (1957); one of his first TV roles, in The Scarlet Pimpernel, "The Sword of Justice" (ATV/ITC, 1956), starring Marius Goring as Sir Percy, sounds equally unlikely, but I shouldn't think Wilde did any swashbuckling. Wilde's first sitcom as a regular was The Love Of Mike (A-R, 1960), a spin-off from The Army Game, with Michael Medwin, endlessly seen as a chirpy Cockney in British war movies, as a chancer with a frantic love life. Trivia for TV buffs is that after seven episodes of this, as Medwin's Northern flatmate, Wilde quit and the part was taken over by Bernard Fox, who was then often cast as people from Up North, but once he got into American TV, was only ever allowed to play stuffy upper-class stereotypes (as in both Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman's episodes of Columbo). Going into more serious roles, Wilde was in episodes of; Jango, "Treacle on Three Fingers" (A-R, 1961), a semi-comic detective series created by and starring Robert Urquhart, which here saw Wilde, intriguingly, guesting along with future Last Of The Summer Wine co-star Peter Sallis; The Protectors, "Happy is the Loser", (ABC, 1964) nothing to do with the later ITC series of that name, but a domestic sleuther with the late Andrew Faulds (later an MP), here guest-starring Wilde, as the presumably ironically named Happy Dwyer, and Gerald Harper; and three episodes, as different characters, of The Man In Room 17 (Granada, 65-1966), in which one of the intellectual crime-busters was, originally, another Summer Wine imbiber, Michael Aldridge, then Denholm Elliott in his only starring series. Wilde was in "Hello, Lazarus" (1965); "A Minor Operation", as a doctor, also with Carol Cleveland; and "How to Rob a Bank—And Get Away With It" (1966), with the great Eurovillain Vladek Sheybal, seen in "Cat Amongst the Pigeons", and Mike Pratt, later the first half of Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased).
Wilde's films, always in supporting roles, included one of the Edgar Wallace series of second features, On The Run (1963), prophetically cast as a Chief Warden, also with Philip Locke; The Bargee (1964), an unsuccessful attempt to launch Harry H. Corbett as a film star, despite a script from Steptoe creators Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, plus Ronnie Barker and Eric Sykes co-starring; and Darling (1965) with Julie Christie, in evening dress at one of Laurence Harvey's swinging parties. The sight of Wilde as a Russian, in Hammer's melodramatic Rasputin—The Mad Monk (1966), starring Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley, has often, in its many late night TV screenings, reduced viewers just back from the pub to unintentional giggles. He was more in character in a nervous cameo in Carry On Doctor (1967), bewildered and eventually sent packing by the goings-on in Fosdick Ward.
Getting back to TV, a guest role in Tony Hancock's first ITV sitcom, Hancock, "The Craftsman" (ATV, 1963) must have sounded good on paper; but off screen, the production was chaos as scripts failed to arrive on time, while Hancock's drinking increased as his personal life went into freefall, and comedy expert Roger Wilmut wrote of this episode (in his book Tony Hancock, Artiste) that "the standard of the show is now down to that of a very average situation comedy". Room At The Bottom (BBC, 66-1967), with Wilde, as a factory's personnel officer, and Patrick Newell as regular supports to Carry On-er Kenneth Connor, possibly was a very average situation comedy. Wilde was an art dealer in The Baron, "Portrait of Louisa" (ATV/ITC, 1966), actually a recycled script (by Terry Nation) from an episode of The Saint. His next sitcom as a regular was The Dustbinmen (Granada, 1970), loathed by critics and never re-run, but a ratings-topper; as Bloody Delilah, a cleanliness-crazed inspector from the council, he took over from Frank Windsor in the 1968 pilot and John Woodvine in the first, 1969 series, while Trevor Bannister went through all three series.
A real change from that was as one of Glenda Jackson's courtiers in Elizabeth R (BBC, 1971), then he turned up, with an equally oddly cast Geoffrey Palmer, in one of the last episodes of the fantasy anthology Out Of The Unknown, "The Uninvited" (BBC, 1971), now verging on horror. Still in the fantasy genre, he was surprisingly effective in Ace Of Wands, "Peacock Pie" (Thames, 1972), a fondly recalled series in which the main character Tarot (Michael Mackenzie) came over like an amalgam of Doctor Who, Jonathan Creek and Jason King; Wilde played Mr Peacock, seemingly a loner living in a bed sit, but actually a malevolent telepath, with many close-ups of him glaring into the camera, and an ending leaving him stranded in oblivion (courtesy of a blue-screen backdrop). Back in comedy, he was a militaristic loon, marking strategies on a blackboard and flinging his chalk at Warren Mitchell, in Michael Palin and Terry Jones' once lost black comedy Secrets (BBC, 1973).
One of the funniest (and least violent) episodes of The Sweeney, "Thin Ice" (Thames, 1975), had Wilde as a nervous accountant to gangster Alfred Marks, eventually joining him in France, where Marks is holed up, without his beloved dog, but with John Thaw and a guesting Peter Jeffrey on the trail. The Loner, "Dawson's Complaint" (YTV, 1975), was a deliberately short-run comedy-drama, with no laugh track, for Les Dawson, as the recluse of the title, created by playwright Alan Plater to exploit the mournfully comedic aspect of Dawson's persona, here with Wilde guesting as a petty official. After Wilde had become established in Porridge, he was added to the cast of Last Of The Summer Wine from 1976 onwards, following the death of Michael Bates (who had starred in the original West End production of Joe Orton's Loot, but was unfortunately best-known for his browned-up role as an Indian in the racist sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum). As Foggy, Wilde was writer Roy Clarke's replacement for Bates' officious character Blamire, joining Bill Owen as the tramp-like, rebellious Compo, and Peter Sallis—seen in "The Wringer"—as the meek and modest Cleggy, on their leisurely paced escapades, filmed in the Yorkshire town of Holmfirth. With glasses, flat cap and moustache, Wilde was at his most endearingly hesitant; Foggy had previously been in the army and it stayed with him, the enduring memory being of him saying, "Right, now synchronise your watches..."
Wilde's other roles in the interim included a classic serial of Wuthering Heights (BBC, 1978), as the crabby servant Joseph; The Seven Dials Mystery (LWT, 1981), an opulent Agatha Christie adaptation, with a top-heavy cast including Sir John Gielgud; and another sitcom as a regular, The Kit Curran Radio Show (Thames, 1984), a now-forgotten entry about an egotistical DJ (the endlessly under-rated Denis Lawson), with Wilde as the unimpressed head of his radio station. He also did voices, along with David Jason, for a cartoon series, Alias The Jester (Thames/Cosgrove Hall, 1984), while I remember him lending his concerned tones to several public safety infomercials, warning kiddies that flying frisbees near to power stations can, amazingly enough, lead to being electrocuted. After the 1985 run of Summer Wine, amid rumours that off screen, he didn't get on as well with the others as on, Wilde left the series, and the aforementioned Michael Aldridge took his place, as a daft inventor called Seymour Utterthwaite. But Wyatt's Watchdogs (BBC, 1988), a deeply lame sitcom with Wilde as the retired Major of the title, setting up a neighbourhood watch group with Trevor Bannister (again), only went to one series. When Aldridge, in turn, left Last Of The Summer Wine to care for his critically ill wife (and died himself not long afterwards), Wilde, unsurprisingly, decided to return, from the 1990 series on (the first hint of this was when Compo and Clegg received one of Foggy's beloved decorated eggs through the post), and the show continued as before (not that it's ever changed much).
However, he later had another, extended leave of absence from the show, beginning in 1997; Frank Thornton, seen in "Death on the Slipway" and "House of Cards," and another good trouper, but best known as Captain Peacock in the dreadful Are You Being Served?, was drafted in to take his place, as a retired policeman called Truly. At the time, it was stated that Wilde would eventually return, but there's been no news yet on whether he will. Bill Owen died in 1999, the show's diehard fans have not warmed to the replacement character played by his real-life son, and another crucial element, Kathy Staff, who played grumpy housewife Nora Batty, has just left too (for the long-threatened revival of the tacky soap Crossroads); frankly, among non-fans like myself, the feeling is that when Owen passed on, Last Of The Summer Wine should have been laid to rest with him.
Brian passed away in Ware, Hertfordshire on 20 March 2008 of undisclosed causes, and is survived by his wife, actress Eva Stuart, and their son and daughter. Obits: Times Online | The Independent | Scotsman
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