Guest Actor Biography
Page 126 of 127


Frank Windsor

Tobin, Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?

by Pete Stampede

Considering that the Tara King episodes perhaps saw The Avengers' furthest departures from its monochrome, studio-based, realistic origins, it's a little ironic that as regards casting, what with Frank Windsor in this episode and reappearances by Brian Blessed and Stratford Johns, the show seemed to be working its way through the mainstays of one of the most successful series of its former mode, Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78). Joss Ackland, Dudley Foster, John Woodvine and Donald Gee, all regulars on that series for shorter periods, turned up as well during this season; British viewers at the time must have been seriously wondering whether they'd tuned into the right programme. (Were Colin Welland and James Ellis out when Brian Clemens phoned?)

One of Windsor's earliest TV appearances was playing several roles, as several of the large company of players including Julian Glover, in the Shakespeare marathon An Age of Kings (BBC, 1960); he noticeably fluffed a few of his lines, but it was live, after all. He was next in the classic sci-fi series A For Andromeda (BBC, 1961); millions of middle-aged men have extremely fond memories of discovering Julie Christie in this series, in which she played the beautiful android of the title, but today, all that exists of it is the last fifteen minutes of the last episode. Windsor then landed the role of Sergeant John Watt in Z Cars, a rather stolid cop with marital problems at home, and always following the lead of Johns' flamboyant, authoritative Superintendent Barlow at work, in the fictional Northern town of Newtown. Creator Troy Kennedy Martin got the idea for the series after being ill in bed, playing with a short-wave radio, and accidentally picking up police messages.

After its huge success, Windsor, like Johns, crossed over to a follow-up series, Softly Softly (BBC, 1966-76), still as Barlow and Watt; the title derives from an old saying employed by Barlow as his attitude to crime-fighting, "softly softly, catchee monkey". From 1970 onwards, the title was slightly changed to Softly Softly; Task Force. Yet more spin-offs, but somewhat unusual, were Jack The Ripper (BBC, 1973) and Second Verdict (BBC, 1976), in which the pair looked at how famous unsolved cases might have been tackled by modern-day investigative methods; they played not just Barlow and Watt, but the characters' historical equivalents as well. The findings of the former series were later published in a book, The Ripper Files, by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd, and the theories presented were used as the basis for the Sherlock Holmes vs. the Ripper film Murder By Decree (1978), with Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson (unsurprisingly perhaps, that film's screenwriter John Hopkins had also written for Z Cars in its early years).

In between, Windsor did a TV movie, There's A Hole In Your Dustbin, Delilah (Granada, 1968), as a refuse collector with the charming sobriquet Bloody Delilah, also with Jack MacGowran; considering this turned out to be the pilot for the lowbrow sitcom The Dustbinmen (with Brian Wilde and Trevor Bannister, but not Windsor or MacGowran), it's odd that it was directed by the respected Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, The World Is Not Enough and the classic, ongoing documentary series 7 UP). Occasional guest roles in other series included the pilot episode of Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased), "My Late, Lamented Friend and Partner" (ATV/ITC, 1969), as the chief villain; after murdering his wife, he has the snooping Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope, soon to be *qv*) killed, unwittingly precipitating the latter's return as a ghost. Very few films include a dentist in Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life (1963), Assassin (1973), a B-movie with an A-grade performance from Ian Hendry in the title role, and a one-shot appearance as George Washington in the disastrous Revolution (1985).

Windsor made a notorious late 70's appearance on This Is Your Life; someone had the idea of presenting the Big Red Book to him at a police dinner at which he was the guest speaker. Unfortunately, by that stage in the evening he was in a somewhat, shall we say, relaxed mood from the refreshment offered, and flummoxed presenter Eamonn Andrews by telling off-colour jokes, visibly sliding down in his chair, and ending the show by repeatedly shouting "rubbish!". The number of edits the show required before transmission set a record for the time; the producer's instructions to the VT editor included, "scrub as many reaction shots as possible of subjects", "Cut out Dad's gag because of Frank's reaction to it", "Scrub his "Who was that?" remark after meeting Gordon Gostelow" and "Edit out all his references to "It's all rehearsed, folks!"".

He was one of many lovely people in cameos, among them Joanna Lumley, Bernard Cribbins, Frankie Howerd, Diana Dors, Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Hyde White, in Eric Sykes' rather below average TV remake of his 1967 silent comedy The Plank (Thames, 1979). A couple of interchangeable guest roles had him at the time of the Great Fire of London in Into The Labyrinth (HTV, 1982) an ambitious but very low-budget children's fantasy series, with Ron Moody as one of a pair of battling wizards, and Doctor Who, "The King's Demons" (BBC, 1983), in which the Master is in league with bad King John (well, a robot duplicate actually); Windsor was here required to come out with lines like "Vile demon! He hath slain Sir Geoffrey!" His next starring series was Flying Lady (YTV, 1984-85), a not terrifically gripping series in which he was a worker who blows his redundancy money on the vintage car of the title; he later did a one-series mystery, The Real Eddy English (C4, 1988), as a black youngster's adoptive father.

His latter-day guest spots have continued, most recently on the leisurely paced detective series Midsomer Murders, "Strangler's Wood" (ITV/Bentley, 1999), and he has recently had some roles at the National Theatre. However, in an unfortunate transatlantic echo of what happens to stars of popular 60's TV series, just as Robert Vaughn, once the super-cool Napoleon Solo, ended up informing American viewers of the benefits of hair restorers, so Windsor is probably most familiar to today's audiences from an annoying series of commercials for insurance (they always seem to come on during televised horse racing, for some reason). As a result, watching him tinkering around with George in this episode, you keep expecting him to tell the computer to apply now and receive an attractive alarm clock absolutely free.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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