Thursday 22 February 2024

Shelagh Fraser (Dorothy Pummery in Baby)


Shelagh Fraser was born as Sheila Mary Fraser on 25th November 1920 in Purley, Surrey. Fraser’s father, John Newton Mappin Fraser, worked for the jewellers Mappin and Webb and her younger sister was Moyra Fraser, a ballet dancer and actor who was best known for her role as Penny in the sitcom As Time Goes By. Despite a career which spanned over six decades Shelagh Fraser is best known for her role as Beru Lars, the doomed aunt of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977).

As a child Shelagh contracted spinal tuberculosis and was forced to lie flat in a specially extended invalid carriage for long periods of time in order to recover. She attended St Christopher’s School in Kingswood, Surrey, and earned a scholarship to a drama school attached to Croydon repertory theatre. It whilst at drama school that she made her first stage appearance in 1938. On graduating she undertook work at various theatre repertory companies throughout the country during the Second World War. She also made her mark as a dependable radio performer with a distinctive voice highly suited for audio drama. She was a valued member of the BBC Repertory Company, which under the direction of Val Gielgud, provided a pool of vocal talent for radio drama. She also wrote several plays for the stage and radio including Always Afternoon (1950) co-authored with Dido Milroy.

She made her West End debut in January 1944 in the role of Effie in The Dark Potential at the Q Theatre. The Stage noted “Shelagh Fraser, a most attractive Effie, offers youthful innocence with skill.[1]” Following her debut in March 1944 she played the role of the maid in the melodrama This Was a Woman at the Comedy Theatre. As a member of the Overture Players she then appeared in The Palm of Your Hand at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing during September 1944 whilst November and December saw her in the cast of a touring production of So Brief the Spring. This was followed with the role of Mabel Crumm in a touring production of Terence Rattigan’s While the Sun Shines in 1945 taking over from Brenda Bruce. Also in the cast was the actor Peter Cushing. For the remainder of the decade she was in constant demand and notched up credits which included Call Home the Heart at St James’s Theatre during April 1947. The Stage review singled out her performance: “Shelagh Fraser also gives a brilliantly assured little study[2]”.

Her screen debut came in 1944 with the small role of Millie in the film Welcome, Mr Washington (1944) and this was followed by a small supporting role as a girl in a guard’s van in the wartime drama I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945). More substantial, and her television debut, was the character Leila Arden in a BBC television adaptation of the Patrick Hamilton play Rope (5th January 1947). Just over a year later Alfred Hitchcock would make his own film version of the play starring James Stewart. Further film appearances for 1947 included an uncredited role in Meet Me at Dawn (1947) and the period drama The Master of Bankdam (1947) in the larger role of Alice France (credited as Shelagh Frazer).

She played Penelope MacRae in the short film Death in the Hand (1948), a horror tinged drama which sees a pianist reading the palms of passengers on a train and predicting their deaths. Soon the deaths start to actually happen. For the BBC she portrayed Miss Hooper in the feature length single drama London Wall (18th September 1948), a version of the play by John Van Druten. In cinemas she could be seen in the Victorian era drama Esther Waters AKA Sin of Esther Waters (1948) in the small role of Margaret. Fraser found herself front page news on 2nd August 1948 when the Daily Mirror newspaper carried a story regarding her pet dog, Lucius O’Grady, who strayed off the platform at Sloane Square underground station[3]. The dog caused chaos by holding up trains for an hour before it was coaxed out of the tunnels by underground staff.

Stage work was still her major form of employment as the decade ended. She appeared in the comedy thriller Madeline at the Q Theatre throughout January 1949 and followed this with productions at the New Lindsey Theatre including A Son of Heaven during May 1949 and S.S. Tenacity during June 1949. She also appeared in the play Judith, which she also wrote, at the Royal Artillery, Woolwich during September 1949. December saw her return to the Q Theatre in the play Call Home the Heart. Her only screen appearance for 1949 was for the film adaptation of H G Wells’ The History of Mr Polly (1949) in the role of Minnie Larkins. She had two film roles the following year – Ellen Foster in the thriller Your Witness AKA Eye Witness (1950), and an uncredited appearance in portmanteau drama Trio (1950). On TV she appeared in a BBC production of Rope (8th January 1950) recreating her role as Leila Arden. Always Afternoon, written by Dido Milroy from a story by Fraser, was produced at Theatre Royal, Brighton during July 1950. The play presented the dilemma of a woman who seeks refuge in marriage with an elderly man until her safety is threatened. The lead players were Ernest Thesiger and Margaret Johnston.

During summer 1952 Fraser played Lady Orreyed in The Second Mrs Tanqueray in a provincial theatre tour and, later, at the Haymarket Theatre in London’s West End. She would later reprise this role in the 1952 film version. Later in the year she co-wrote, along with Victor Becker, the play Home or Away as well as starring in the presented production at the New Theatre, Bromley. During August and September 1952 she was a cast member of the comedy The Wedding Ring. Back at the BBC she was cast as Kitty in the one-off drama Two For A Pair (9th October 1951) and appeared in 'Coming Out Party' (8th December 1951), the opening episode of the second season of The Inch Man, a forgotten BBC drama series featuring the adventures of a house detective in a London hotel. This was followed by the BBC Sunday Night Theatre production of 'No Smoking'” (16th March 1952) playing Sylvia. Her 1952 cinema roles included Myra Lorne in Salute the Toff AKA Brighthaven Express (1952) and the aforementioned The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1952). On television she appeared in the single BBC drama If This Be Error (11th November 1952) with a cast that also included Peter Cushing and Dandy Nichols.

Theatre work, such as portraying Hermione in The Private Life of Helen in a touring presentation during April / May 1953 and Drama at Inish during October / November 1953, occupied her time and she made no film or television appearances during this period. Along with Billy Thatcher she wrote Tai Lu Flies Abroad, which detailed the adventures of a magic Siamese cat, for Hullo There!, a weekly radio magazine programme for young listeners. Dorothy Gordon narrated the cat’s adventures and they proved so popular that the adventures also featured in their own children’s television series broadcast by the BBC between 1952 and 1954. Fraser, Thatcher and Dorothy Gordon narrated the tales with illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone and musical accompaniment by Donald Swann. A series of books based on the feline’s adventures were published from 1955 onwards with Fraser and Thatcher adapting their own tales. Fraser returned to television in 1955 with the role of Emma Horton in the 'Fabian of Scotland Yard' episode The Lover’s Knot (27th April 1955) and a headlining role as Mary Kent opposite Kenneth More, as her husband Tony, in the comedy film Raising A Riot (1955).

The production company responsible for Fabian of Scotland Yard also produced The Adventures of the Big Man, a series based on the exploits of a public relations officer in a large London shop. Fraser appears as Ethel Henton in the episode 'Lady Killer' (30th July 1956). The Last Man to Hang? (1956) was a crime drama directed by Terence Fisher with Fraser seen as Mrs Bracket. Further up the cast list is future Beasts actor Elizabeth Sellars. Fraser also appeared in the BBC drama anthology series Television Playwright in the episode 'The Maitland Scandal' (13th May 1958) as Mrs Rigby. She followed this with the role as Constance in the film Son of Robin Hood (1958).

During 1959 she had a couple of television appearances which included her final BBC Sunday Night Theatre production 'The Gentle Goddess' (30th August 1959) and Mario (15th December 1959), a BBC version of the Thomas Mann book of the same name. Fraser appeared as Mary Hogan. She also guest starred in a Probation Officer instalment (1959) which featured future Doctor Who William Hartnell in the cast. She guest starred in the Knight Errant adventure series playing Margaret in the episode 'Something in the City' (14th June 1960) before undertaking the recurring role of Brownie Bevan in a nine episode run of Emergency Ward Ten (8th November to 20th December 1960). Her only onscreen role for 1961 was the short film Wings of Death playing Diane Parker opposite Harry H Corbett as a detective, Superintendent Hammond. Meanwhile her stage presence was going from strength to strength with a notable credit as one of the lead cast in Three, a trilogy of one-act plays by Pinter, Simpson and Mortimer at the Nottingham Playhouse during May and June 1961. In her personal life Fraser married screenwriter and director Anthony Squire in 1961.

The year of 1962 bought two television roles – Mary Duckworth in the Z Cars story 'Person Unknown' (14th November 1962) and Ruth Kindred in the ITV Play of the Week episode 'A Matter of Principle' (11th September 1962). The following saw year a pair of ITV Play of the Week productions featuring Fraser. First was the original screenplay 'Girl with a Difference' (14th May 1963) followed by the John Bowen scripted 'The Truth about Alan' (4th June 1963) which also featured Anthony Bate who would later appear in 'During Barty’s Party'. Towards the end of the year Fraser made her first guest appearance in an episode of Dr Finlay’s Casebook when she took the role of Jean Docherty in 'Odds on Johnny' (1st November 1963). The year ended with Fraser appearing as Claire Jusserand in the Maigret story 'Maigret’s Little Joke' (24th December 1963).

Fraser made no film or TV appearances during 1964 and instead seemed to concentrate on stage roles. She was back in front of the cameras the following year though with a guest slot in the Public Eye episode 'Have It on the House' (1st May 1965) in the role of Mrs Willis. She also appeared in the ITV Play of the Week production 'Summertime Ends Tonight' (18th October 1965) playing Hilda Villiers. 1966 was a busy year with roles in The Wednesday Play production 'A Game, Like, Only A Game' (16th February 1966), the Gideon’s Way instalment 'Morna' as the aristocratic Lady Copthorne, her final role in an ITV Play of the Week production – portraying Mrs Black in the episode 'The Climbers' (8th August 1966) and her debut Armchair Theatre production – 'Barrett Keller: His Mark' (17th September 1966) as part of cast that included Bernard Bresslaw as a wrestler who becomes involved in the world of modern art. Fraser played an American antiques dealer. She also dipped her toe in comedy waters with her role of Lillian in the George and the Dragon episode 'Merry Christmas' (24th December 1966).

Her most noteworthy job for the year was in the film The Witches (1966). This would be the first time Fraser worked on a Nigel Kneale script, with a small turn as Mrs Creek, in the black magic thriller based on the novel by Norah Lofts. 1967’s resume included a second Dr Finlay’s Casebook, 'Under the Hammer' (15th January 1967) and a second Armchair Theatre, 'The Girl' (26th August 1967), which also starred Joss Ackland and Janina Faye. She also undertook a recurring role in a series playing Mrs Blake-Clanton in the Southern Television produced drama Mystery Hall (28th September – 2nd November 1967).

A Man of Our Times was a George Cole starring series in which he played a harassed man who is dismissed from his managerial job and finds himself in marital turmoil at the same time. Fraser popped up in one episode of the series – 'Never Mind How We Got Here, Where Are We?' (14th March 1968) - in the role of Mrs Manson. The cast also included Bruce Robinson in the role of her son Rex. Robinson later found a cult following as the writer and director of the sublime Withnail And I (1987). On the big screen Fraser could be seen in the movie version of Till Death Do Us Part (1968). The following year saw Fraser make a couple of TV appearances; Daphne in the ITV Sunday Night Theatre production 'The Piano Tuner' (8th March 1969), as Mrs Evesby in the First Lady episode 'All In A Good Cause' (19th June 1969) and for the BBC’s Wednesday Play slot she played Mrs Grayson in 'The Last Train Through Harecastle Tunnel' (1st October 1969). The majority of her onscreen appearances for the year were in cinema. She could be seen as Mrs Thatcher in the low budget British science fiction film The Bodysnatchers (1969), had an uncredited role as Miss Gurnsey in Waris Hussein’s drama A Touch of Love (1969) and another small role in the comedy Staircase (1969). She also had another role as a mother, this time to Judy Geeson’s character, in the film Two Gentlemen Sharing (1969).

Between 1970 and 1971 she would appear in the TV drama A Family at War in another matriarchal role as Jean Ashton. This role not only made her a recognisable face with the general public, but also kept her in regular employment which curtailed her chance to appear in other programmes. She did find time to make one guest appearance in one other series during this period with the character Joan Prentice in the Doomwatch episode 'The Islanders' (4th January 1971). The following year she was cast in the Doomwatch (1972) movie playing a different character, Betty Straker, in a poorly developed adaptation of the television episode. Following her exit from A Family at War Fraser guest starred in the Follyfoot episode 'Out-of-the-Blue Horse' (13th August 1972) in the role of Vera Berwick. 

1973 would bring the role of Mrs Alison in the criminally ignored British horror film Nothing But The Night (1973) as well as television work in the form of TV movie And No One Could Save Her (21st February 1973) and BBC Play of the Month episode 'The Common' (21st October 1973). On stage she appeared in Schellenbrack at the King’s Head Theatre Club during April and May 1973 opposite Wolfe Morris, who would later feature in the Beasts episode 'Buddyboy'. Further stage work the following year took in her final appearance in a West End play as Mrs Dunning in the David Hare play Knuckle at the Comedy Theatre, although she continued to be involved in regional theatre in Liverpool, Windsor and Edinburgh. On the screen she was in 'Paperwork' (6th November 1974), an episode of Softly Softly: Task Force which featured Fraser in the role of Marjorie Allen. On the big screen she featured in Persecution (1974), another ignored British horror thriller, with a sterling cast including Lana Turner, Trevor Howard and Ralph Bates. Fraser appears as Mrs Banks.

In the year prior to her role in Beasts Fraser played Lady Bassinger in the Wodehouse Playhouse episode 'Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court' (14th May 1975) and Mrs Heath in the Armchair Cinema production 'In Sickness and In Health' (21st May 1975). Her role as Dorothy Pummery, the wife of TP Mckenna’s character Dick, in 'Baby' was next. Her final TV role was in an episode of the children’s horror anthology series Shadows, 'Brief Encounter' (18th August 1976), written by Susan Cooper. 

Post-Beasts Fraser made a small appearance in a film that would change cinema and thus enshrine her with cinematic immortality. She was cast as Aunt Beru, the mother figure who encourages Luke Skywalker to join the Academy, in the very first Star Wars film now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). It would become her most watched and famous role. Her last screen appearances for the decade included 'Sleeping on Grass' (20th November 1978), an episode of the BBC business drama Tycoon, and roles in two episodes of The Professionals – season one story 'When The Heat Cools Off' (24th February 1978) and season two’s 'A Stirring of Dust' (25th November 1978) both of which featured Beasts cohort Martin Shaw. 

Her first screen role of the 1980s was as Diana Price in the BBC drama The Old Men at the Zoo (15th September – 13th October 1983). From now on her screen roles became sporadic and she was not seen again until a tiny role as a CND supporter in the BBC Screen Two drama 'Frankie and Johnnie' (2nd February 1986) directed by Martin Campbell who had overseen her appearances in The Professionals. Her final film role came with another “cough and spit” role as a Women’s Volunteer Service member in John Boorman’s Hope and Glory (1987). She then made an appearance as a lost shopper in the comedy short film Work Experience (1989) which also starred Lenny Henry and Kathy Burke

Redundancy drama 'The Merrihill Millionaires' (29th September 1993) was a Screenplay production. Fraser featured in the cast as Mrs Wilson. 'House Calls' (16th February 1997) was an instalment of the detective series A Touch of Frost. Fraser appeared in the role of Mrs Hinckley. Following this she could be seen as Sarah Thorpe in the Heartbeat episode 'Local Knowledge' (25th January 1998). Her penultimate screen role was as Edith in the short film Edith’s Finger (2000). Edith is an elderly lady who has suffered a stroke and is only able to communicate by tapping her finger. The production won the Welsh Bafta award for best short film.

Fraser’s final screen role was as Jane Rochelle in the Midsommer Murders episode 'Judgement Day' (29th January 2000). Her final role was made even more notable by the fact that the episode marked Fraser appearing alongside fellow 'Baby' cast member Jane Wymark, who played the regular role of Joyce Barnaby.

During the 1980s Fraser turned her attention to writing radio dramas, having appeared in hundreds of radio plays during her acting career as a member of the BBC Repertory Company from 1942 onwards. For Radio 4 she adapted The World My Wilderness by Rose Macauley and The Salt of the Earth by Rebecca West. She also wrote an original radio play, The Maid’s Room. Fraser passed away on 29th August, 2000 in London at the age of 79. Her obituary in the newspaper The Guardian noted that “Fraser remained a strikingly pretty woman, whose appearance was marked with a characteristic expression in which humour and tenderness were equally mixed, and which reflected her warm and constant gift for friendship.[4]

[1] The Stage, Thursday 27th January 1944, page 1

[2] The Stage, Thursday 17th April 1947, page 7

[3] “Lucius – Almost A Corgi – Knew When A Dog Had Had His Day”, The Daily Mirror, Monday 2nd August, Page 1
[4] Obituary by Derek Granger, The Guardian, 20th September 2000

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Norman Jones (Stan Biddick in Baby)


Norman Jones was born on 16th June 1932 in Donnington, near Telford in Shropshire, the son of a miner. After education at Adams’ Grammar School in Newport he was employed as a clerk at the Lilleshall Company, an engineering firm which specialised in mining equipment, and later at Sankey’s, an aerospace components company. During this period Jones was actively involved in amateur dramatics which eventually lead to him abandoning his administrative job and pursue an acting career. For a while he worked with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, but he would primarily be known for his TV roles in a career which spanned three decades.

From April 1959 Jones appeared in a variety of stage productions as a member of the Touring Theatre Company including versions of Bell, Book and Candle, The Seven Year Itch, I Am A Camera and A Murder Has Been Arranged. As a new decade dawned Jones established himself as a dependable stage actor notching up credits in a variety of plays in an array of venues such as The Keep at the Royal Court under the direction of Graham Crowden in August 1960 and the musical Wildest Dreams at the Vaudeville theatre.

He made his screen debut in 1962, the year he turned thirty, when he appeared in 'Botany Bay' (28th July 1962) in a small role as the character Monroe. This was an episode of the early science fiction anthology series Out Of This World which was written by Terry Nation and also starred 'During Barty’s Party’s' Anthony Bate. Jones returned to the stage for a few years before his next screen role and was attached to the Lincoln Theatre Company for the majority of this period. Roles included playing the father in a production of Billy Liar during November 1962, a pantomime dame in Humpty Dumpty during the 1962 Festive period and Nick Scroggins in the musical Nutmeg and Ginger. During December 1963 and January 1964 he appeared in a production of Toad of Toad Hall at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Here he would play a role which was to become a staple of his repertoire, the policeman.

When he undertook the role of milkman Ralph Palmer in the daily daytime soap opera Crossroads, in 1964, he became a household name thanks to a controversial storyline which saw him marrying the unmarried mother Christine Fuller. Jones also popped in a small role as Dave in the Dixon of Dock Green episode 'Fair Means or Foul' (3rd October 1964). He would make an annual appearance in the series for the next few years. Also during October 1964 Jones appeared in a production of Henry IV (Part 1) at the Library Theatre in Manchester. Trade paper The Stage enjoyed Jones appearance commenting “There is a fire-eating Hotspur from Mr Jones with a flashing eye accompanying the fighting words.[1]

Jones then moved on to the part of Renko in the six-part thriller series Curtain of Fear (28th October – 2nd December 1964) before making a second Dixon of Dock Green appearance in the episode 'Forsaking All Others' (6th March 1965). Jones continued to have a flourishing stage career and it would be another year before he reappeared on the goggle box with the role of Lucas in the Dixon of Dock Green episode 'Manhunt' (30th April 1966). Jones ended the year at the Library Theatre in Manchester appearing a production of As You Like It. 1967 saw Jones in small screen roles portraying Pete in The Saint episode 'Island of Chance' (7th April 1967) and one of the ill-fated American astronauts seen at the start of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967). More substantial roles included his first appearance in an episode of Z Cars in the two-part story 'Ever Seen a Happy Cop' (13th & 14th March 1967) playing the role of Joe Connors. For the BBC he was cast as George Fitzwilliam in the BBC period drama The Queen’s Traitor (28th August – 25th September 1967) which depicted a conspiracy to depose Queen Elizabeth I. Five days later Jones made his first appearance in Doctor Who with the role of Khrisong in the Patrick Troughton era adventure 'The Abominable Snowmen' (30th September – 4th November 1967). Television work for the year was topped with his annual Dixon of Dock Green appearance was as Alan Glass in the episode 'The Witness' (4th November 1967).

The following year started with the BBC Play of the Month production 'The Parachute' (21st January 1968) which featured Jones as a German army sergeant in a play by David Mercer set in Nazi Germany. Having made appearances every year since 1964 in Dixon of Dock Green Jones essayed his final character for the series, Michael Collins, in the episode 'Double Jeopardy' (19th October 1968). Cinema wise Jones appeared in a small role as a Scottish soldier in the satirical film Oh! What a Lovely War (1969). He took the role of Heiden in The Champions episode 'The Final Countdown' (16th April 1969) and appeared as Cooper in the Public Eye story 'Divide and Conquer' (6th August 1969). One of his more notable stage works for the year was The Contractor, a new play by David Storey, which opened the English Stage Company’s Winter season at the Royal Court Theatre in October 1969. The play was directed by Lindsay Anderson and featured Bill Owen in the title role. Jones was part of a trio of Beasts actors appearing in the production including Martin Shaw and 'Baby' colleague T P McKenna. His final screen role for the year was a BBC production of Thomas Hardy short story The Distracted Preacher (26th December 1969) playing Jim Owlett.

His onscreen roles for 1970 included Davis in the Amicus science fiction film The Mind of Mr Soames (1970) and as Johnny Kennedy in 'It’s Got To Be Local' (6th March 1970), an episode of the police drama series Parkin’s Patch. He made his second Doctor Who appearance with the role of Major Baker in the Jon Pertwee era storyline 'The Silurians' (31st January – 28th February 1970). The following year would see Jones appear in a variety of television series; Softly Softly Task Force episode 'Held for Questioning' (24th February 1971), Public Eye episode 'Ward of Court' (8th September 1971) and the Justice instalment 'No Flowers, By Request' (19th November 1971). He also found time to appear in the cult horror film The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971) as Sergeant Tom Schenley. 

The year of 1972 saw Jones make fewer TV appearances; as police constable Shaw in the Six Days of Justice episode 'Suddenly…You’re In It' (17th April 1972) and on the other side of law as George Bowen in the New Scotland Yard episode 'Point of Impact' (22nd April 1972). He played another policeman, Sergeant Wallis, in the film All Coppers Are… (1972) and appeared alongside future Beasts alumni Michael Kitchen in the Play for Today drama 'The Reporters' (9th October 1972). Stage work included a production of Beckett’s Endgame presented by the Young Vic during April 1972 and a production of Sean O’Casey’s Shadow of a Gunman at the Young Vic during July 1972. This was immediately followed by a production of Julius Caesar at the same venue during August 1972. 

Achilles Heel (18th March 1973) was a London Weekend Television production directed by Alan Clarke and starring Jones along with future 'Buddyboy' cast member Martin Shaw. Previous to this Jones could be seen opposite Diana Dors in the Yorkshire Television comedy series All Our Saturdays (14th February – 21st March 1973. He guest starred as Captain Dwyer in the Special Branch story 'Red Herring' (8th May 1973). He had a small role as a printer in the ITV Sunday Night Theatre instalment 'Katapult' (28th October 1973). Three days later Jones appeared in the Play for Today production 'Jack Point' (1st November 1973) as Taffy in a script written by Colin Welland. 1974 saw Jones appear as Jake Thorne in the Hunter’s Walk story 'Lost Sheep' (20th May 1974) which also featured 'Murrain' cast member David Simeon. Next was the Yorkshire Television production South Riding (16th September – 9th December 1974) with Jones appearing as Joe Astell. The cast also featured future Beasts cast member Clive Swift.

Jones made his first appearance in a Crown Court case playing Philip Shepherd in the storyline 'No Questions Asked' (21st January – 23rd January 1976). His third, and final, Doctor Who role was as Hieronymous in the Tom Baker era adventure 'The Masque of the Mandragora' (4th – 25th September 1976). Shortly before he appeared in Beasts Jones could be seen in The Sweeney episode 'Bad Apple' (11th October 1976) as Detective Inspector Perraut. Post-Beasts Jones could once more seen alongside his 'Baby' co-star Mark Dignam when he appeared in three episodes of the crime thriller The XYY Man. Filmwise Jones played a policeman in the David Soul starring film The Stick Up (1977).

Jones demonstrated he was equally at home in comedy with guest appearances the first episode of the Porridge spin-off Going Straight playing Mr Tanner in 'Going Home' (24th February 1978) and the role of Mr Warner in the Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em episode 'Scottish Dancing' (25th November 1978). He could also be seen as Major Chadwick in 'Truth or Consequence' (12th August 1978), an episode of the mystery anthology series Scorpion Tales. After a lapse of 21 years Jones made a second appearance in Z Cars with the episode 'Deserter' (23rd August 1978) in the role of Detective Inspector Parry.

He started the year of 1979 with a string of guest roles taking in the BBC drama Telford’s Change (14th January 1979) and an episode of the Victorian detective series Cribb. He made a third Crown Court appearance playing Eddie Wilbraham in 'Heart to Heart' (15th May 1979). 1980 was also a busy year with the regular role of Hilditch in the Birmingham car factory based drama Bull Week (1st May – 5th June 1980). Other credits includes the ITV Playhouse drama 'Hands' (20th August 1980) alongside Rosemary Leach. The play depicted the events that happened after a young daughter gives her mother a book on female sexuality. Rosemary Leach played the mother and Jones was cast as her husband. He then had a small role as a secret policeman in the Granada one-off comedy drama Tiny Revolutions (22nd September 1981), before undertaking the higher profile role of British prime minister Clement Atlee in an episode of the Robert Hardy starring series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years – 'A Menace in the House' (27th September 1981). His final television role for the year was as Cardinal Piccolomini in the ninth episode (9th December 1981) of ambitious, but flawed, BBC period drama The Borgias. Jones then made his penultimate appearance in Crown Court with the role of Arthur Jenkins in the case 'Window Shopping' (18th – 20th May 1982).

The year 1983 would see several guest roles as well recurring roles. His guest roles for the year included Le Fresnais in the Bergerac instalment 'A Message for the Rich' (9th January 1983) and Philip Snowden in 'Underdog' (20th February 1983), an episode of drama series Number 10. His final Crown Court role, Mr Owen, came with the story 'Mother’s Boy' (15th March 1983). His recurring roles for the year took in three episodes of Jemima Shore Investigates as Pompey along with two seasons the Tyne Tees drama production Andy Robson. Jones final screen work for 1983 was for two episodes of the medical soap opera Angels (10th and 15th November 1983) as a patient called Arthur Verner. Charlie is a neglected Central Television drama headlined by David Warner. Jones has a part in two episodes – 'In Union Is Strength' (2nd April 1984) and 'If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem' (4th April 1984) – in the role of Ray Prothero. His remaining television credits for 1984 consisted of a couple of guest roles – appearing as Henry Wood in 'The Crooked Man' (22nd May 1984), an episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett in the role of the famous detective, and as DCI Jenkins in the Travelling Man episode 'The Watcher' (21st November 1984). This role marked a string of television policemen for next few years starting with Inspector Hanson in the third episode (26th February 1985) of BBC drama Inside Out and continuing with Detective Inspector Pierce in the Boon episode 'Full Circle' (8th April 1986) and Chief Superintendent Bell in two episodes of Inspector Morse – 'The Dead of Jericho' (6th January 1987) and 'Service of All The Dead' (20th January 1987).

Interspaced between these policemen roles were appearances in Screen Two productions starting with 'Poppyland' (13th January 1985), the second episode of the feature length single dramas. This was followed by 'The Burston Rebellion' (24th February 1985) and 'Frankie and Johnny' (2nd February 1986), a contemporary thriller starring Hywel Bennett investigating a political cover up. His final appearance in a Screen Two production was 'Border' (7th February 1988) in a small role as a guide. His final screen role was in the low budget British film The Assassinator (1992) which bypassed a cinema release and went straight to video.

Jones passed away following a heart attack at the Prince Royal Hospital in Telford on 23rd April 2013. He was aged 80. He was cremated at Telford Crematorium. Many of his obituaries made particular note of his roles in Doctor Who.

[1] The Stage, Thursday 8th October 1964, page 16

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Mark Dignam (Arthur Grace in Baby)

Mark Dignam was born in London on 20th March 1909 as Cuthbert Mark Dignam and grew up in Sheffield due to his father’s career as a steel salesman. He was educated at Mount St Mary’s College, a private school situated at Sprinkhill, Derbyshire. Here he had an early taste of treading the boards when he appeared in college stage productions of Shakespeare. After training and working for a short period as a journalist for the Sheffield Telegraph Dignam was promoted to the position of the theatre critic for the newspaper. This prompted an interest in acting and he found work as an amateur actor with the Sheffield Repertory Company. Dignam then toured Britain and America with impresario Sir Philip Barling Greet’s Shakespeare Company from 1929 at the age of just twenty one. 

His older brother, Basil Dignam, was also an actor of considerable merit and had a lengthy career playing authority figures such as policemen, doctors and military men. Notable appearances include the Hammer film The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and The Prisoner episode 'Checkmate'.

By the 1930s Mark Dignam was a popular actor in West End theatre productions after making his London theatre debut in 1930 in a production of Lonely House. He would go on to carve a niche specialising in playing roles older than his actual years. Following the establishment of the actor’s union Equity in 1930 Dignam was one of the very first actors to become a member. Soon afterwards Dignam he also joined the Communist Party and he would remain a member of both organisations until his death.

Dignam made hundreds of stage appearances during the 1930s. Highlights for this period included the dual roles of the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Clarence for a production of King Henry V during January and February 1934 at The Alhambra theatre, London. In January 1936 he took part in the first English language presentation of the Iblsen play Catiline for Croydon Rep. Further productions for Croydon Repertory took in Too Famous For Words over February, the comedic play The Rabbit Roared during March 1936, playing Nicholas Dalziel in Rain Before Seven in April and Sir John Chester in The Honourable Mr Tawnish in July 1936.

Dignam’s earliest television appearance was in a BBC production live from Alexander Palace, Two Diminutive Dramas (14th July 1937), written by Maurice Baring. The twenty five minute programme presented two short drama pieces, “The Rehearsal” and “Medea Goes Shopping”, with Dignam appearing in both. Next was The Marvellous History of St Bernard (17th April 1938), playing the character Richard de Menthon, and then followed by the half hour drama Bardell Against Pickwick (6th July 1938) with Dignam portraying Mr Skimpin. Next was the short drama In the Dentist’s Chair (30th July 1938). 1939 would bring two further television credits starting with the play The Fame of Grace Darling (9th July 1939), which saw Wendy Hillier playing Grace Darling, and Dignam supporting as her husband William.

Just over a week later was the play The Parnell Commission (18th July 1939), with Dignam taking the titular role of Mr Parnell, followed by a staging of Dusty Ermine alongside his wife Georgia later in July 1939. December saw Dignam perform the role of Bill Walker in a revival of the Bernard Shaw play Major Barbara at the Westminster Theatre. Dignam made his film debut with Who Killed Jack Robins? (1940) and this would be his last movie role before undertaking time in the army during World War Two. During 1941 Dignam appeared in A Month in the Country (11th January 1941), a specially adapted for television production of the Ivan Turgenev play, which also starred Peggy Ashcroft.

During the Second World War Dignam served with the 67th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery for three years until he was invalided out of the army in 1944 following injuries sustained during the Battle of Anzio. On demob Dignam subsequently joined the Arts Theatre Group and was also a keen supporter of the Unity Theatre[1] in Liverpool. The organisation gathered a reputation for staging classics alongside contemporary left wing productions with an aim to make theatre accessible to the working class. Towards the end of 1947 Dignam took up a residency with The Old Vic Theatre Company in a series of productions staged at the New Theatre in London. From November 1947 until January 1948 he acted in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Later, during January 1948, he was a cast member of a new production of Saint Joan. Further productions during this period included The Government Inspector during February and March, Coriolanus in April and Doctor Faustus in October. Dignam was also back on the relaunched BBC television service playing the role of Abraham Johnson in The Words upon the Window Pane (26th July 1946), adapted from the play by W B Yeats. This was followed by The Rose and Crown (27th August 1946), a version of the play by J B Priestley.

Next was a two-part adaptation of Eugene O’Niell’s 1931 play Mourning Becomes Electra (30th May and 10th April 1947) with Dignam starring as one of the central characters, Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon. His remaining television work for the year included the Ibsen play Rosmersholm (17th July 1947) and Jim the Penman (August 1947) where Dignam appeared as the central character James T Saward. His only onscreen credit for 1948 was a BBC adaptation of the Ben Johnson play Volpone (27th June 1948), with Dignam undertaking the role of Voltore, the Vulture. Dignam was more active treading the boards as a member of the Old Vic Theatre Company led by Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Dame Edith Evans. Other company members included Peter Copley, Harry Andrews. Productions included Twelfth Night, Dr Faustus, The Way of the World and The Cherry Orchard during the winter of 1948.

The following year’s screen roles started with a two-part television production of Macbeth (20th and 24th February 1949). Dignman played Macduff with the cast including such luminaries as Patrick Macnee, Stephen Murray, Kenneth More and Patrick Troughton. Dignam's other television role for the year was playing Leonarda Da Vinci in the BBC play Behold the Man (17th April 1949). His sophomore film appearance was the interesting portmanteau drama film Train of Events (1949) which tells the story of a train accident from the different perspectives of the people involved. His next film role was in another British film with a cult following, Murder in the Cathedral (1951), which was based on the 1935 TS Eliot play and turned into a screenplay by Eliot himself. Dignam appears as one of the knights[2] in the production which details the struggles against temptation experienced by Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, before his murder. Whilst making these appearances on television and in films Dignam was also busy with stage work for the Old Vic Theatre Company between 1950 and 1951. During January 1950 he appeared in a production of The Miser at the Old Vic before moving on to play Claudius in Hamlet at the New Theatre during February. He stayed at the Old Vic during March in a version of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

May 1950 saw Dignam as a cast member of a new version of Hamlet at the Opera House Theatre in Manchester. He then featured in a version of Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair during December 1950. At the Old Vic he played the Duke of Exeter in a version of King Henry V during January and February 1951. Still with the Old Vic Company Dignam then starred in a production of Bernard Shaw’s Captain Brassbound’s Conversion at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow during March 1951. June saw him cast in The Merry Wives of Windsor during June 1951 with Dignam took the role of Sir Hugh Evans. During October and November 1951 he could then be seen in the play His Excellency top billed as H E The Governor.  The play was written by Dorothy and Campbell Christie. 

Dignam was also cast as the pharaoh Seti the Second in a production of Christopher Fry’s play The Firstborn at the start of February 1952 at the Winter Garden theatre in London. After a break of a couple of years Dignam returned to work for the BBC when he appeared in The Star Maiden (13th March 1952), a short single drama, which also starred Erik Chitty as a character called Horned Owl. Dignam was seen as Chief Gentle Thunder. Just over a fortnight later he was back in front of BBC viewers with the role of Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon in 'Mourning Becomes Electra' (30th March 1952), his first appearance in a BBC Sunday Night Theatre production. He would return to the series several times over the coming years. Happy and Glorious was a BBC series based on the life and times of Queen Victoria, played by Renee Asherson, and Prince Albert played by Michael Aldridge. Dignam appeared in the episode '1837' (13th September 1952), the first of six episodes, in the role of the King of Hanover. Rudolph Cartier, who the following year would team up with Nigel Kneale to produce the first Quatermass television series, produced and directed The Dybbuk (21st October 1952) based on the 1914 play by Sholom Ansky. This was a tale of the supernatural which featured a young bride possessed by a malicious spirit – a dybbuk. Dignam appeared as Rabbi Azrael of Miropol. The cast also included Donald Pleasence, Peter Wyngarde and Yvonne Micthell.

Dignam was first elected as member of the Equity’s council in June 1953 and would remain active in the association’s running throughout the rest of his life. The year would also bring two television appearances, both in single play productions, starting with a version of the Margery Sharp play The Foolish Gentlewoman (21st April 1953), which featured Dignam in the role of Simon Brocken, and A Time To Be Born (24th December 1953), a version of the Nativity written by P D Cummins. Dignam was cast as a shepherd. 1954 would be Dignam’s most active year in cinema so far with several credits including the Ealing Studios comedy The Maggie (1954) as a Scottish laird, a small cameo in Doctor in the House (1954) and the more substantial role of Mr Burke in the MGM film Beau Brummell (1954) starring Stewart Granger in the eponymous role. This streak of film roles continued with the Robert Donat Ealing Studios vehicle Lease of Life (1954) as Mr Black, crime drama The Passing Stranger (1954), which saw Dignam undertake the first of many policeman roles, and the popular David Niven starring film Carrington VC (1954), which cast Dignam as a lawyer. His television work for the same period encompassed another episode of BBC Sunday Night Theatre – 'Rebecca' (10th October 1954) which once more saw Dignam paired with producer/director Rudolf Cartier. Dignam appeared in the role of Colonel Julyan in the production.

Dignam continued to be a popular choice in cinema with a run of character roles during 1955. The Prisoner (1955) was a controversial for his its time film and starred Alec Guiness as a cardinal who is imprisoned for crimes against the state. All the characters have no names and instead are identified by their roles and jobs with Dignam playing the prison governor along with Jack Hawkins as the interrogator. Cold War comedy Escapade (1955) featured John Mills as pacifist. Dignam had a small role as the character Sykes. For the second time in a year Dignam played a prison governor this time for director Val Guest’s crime thriller They Can’t Hang Me (1955). Dignam also appeared in the MGM production Quentin Durward (1955), a swashbuckling historical romp. Dignam has an uncredited cameo as an innkeeper. During the year Dignam had three roles on television including 'Cruel Test' (11th March 1955), an episode of crime drama The Vise, and 'The Apollo of Bellac' (12th August 1955), an episode of BBC drama anthology series Appointment with Drama. Some filmographies for Dignam include the cinema release Three Cornered Fate (1955), but this is actually a compendium of three episodes of The Vise edited together to form a feature. His third role for the year was another instalment of the BBC Sunday Night Theatre. Dignam played Doctor Harvester in 'The Sacred Flame' (10th July 1955) which was adapted from the W Somerset Maugham play.

Dignam appears to have made no film or television appearances during 1956 and instead found himself still much in demand on the stage. A highlight of his theatre work during the year included Love’s Labour’s Lost directed by Peter Hall at Stratford-Upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Memorial Theatre during June and July 1956. Also in the cast was Patrick Wymark, father of Jane Wymark who was the central star of the Beasts episode 'Baby'. This was followed during August by a production of Measure for Measure with Dignam in the role of Provost. During January 1957 Dignam was much once again cast alongside Patrick Wymark in a stage production of Toad of Toad Hole. Dignam played Badger whilst Wymark was seen as Toad. April 1957 saw Dignam take roles in the theatre productions King John and As You Like It from the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon. Later roles with the proto-Royal Shakespeare Company took in Pisanio in a version of Cymbeline during July 1957. 

Dignam returned to the screen in the role of Councillor Albert Parker in the BBC production of When We Are Married (25th December 1957), a version of the comedy play by J B Priestley. This was followed by another BBC adaptation of a popular playwright with a version of George Bernard Shaw’s 'Heartbreak House' (2nd February 1958), an episode of the drama anthology series Television World Theatre. During June Dignam played Claudius in Hamlet as part of a cast that also included Michael Redgrave, Googie Withers, and Edward Woodward. The Stage felt that “Mark Dignam is miscast as Claudius, a part he plays with far too little vocal variation.[3]” July saw Dignam playing Simonides in Pericles for the director Tony Richardson. Later in the year, as part of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company, he made a month long tour of Russia during December 1958 with performances in Leningrad and Moscow.


Back on television Dignam was cast as Douglas Marmion, QC the counsel for defence in the BBC single drama Result of an Accident (22nd January 1959). This was followed by 'Walk on the Grass' (26th March 1959) an episode of the BBC drama anthology Television Playwright. His fourth, and final, appearance in a BBC Sunday Night Theatre production was next. 'The Fortrose Incident' (10th May 1959) was written by J B Priestley and saw Dignam reunited with his old colleague Michael Aldridge in a cast that also included Beasts cohort Elizabeth Sellers. Dignam was then cast as the grandfather in a six-part version of Heidi (19th May – 9th June 1959) adapted and directed by Joy Harington. This was followed by playing Canon Ronder, opposite Donald Wolfit’s Archdeacon Brandon, in the Saturday Playhouse instalment 'The Cathedral' (15th August 1959), based on the 1922 novel by Hugh Walpole. His final television role for the year was a guest slot in the Four Just Men story 'Their Man in London' (26th November 1959). Also during November Dignam could be seen in a revival of the Ibsen play Rosmersholm presented by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court. Future Beasts actor Patrick Magee also featured in the cast.

As a new decade dawned Dignam continued to be a popular character actor on stage, television and film. 1960 saw him pop up in the classic war film Sink the Bismarck! (1960) as a naval captain, play another lawyer in The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960) and appear in the quota quickie Conscience Bay (1960). His television work for the year took in Twentieth Century Theatre: Justice (3rd January 1960), 'The Dennison Case' (13th March 1960), an episode of the independently produced crime drama series International Detective, and playing the High Priest in the first episode of the BBC’s Paul of Tarsus – 'The Feast of Pentecost' (16th October 1960). The episode was directed by Joy Harington who cast Dignam on the strength of his role in her previous project Heidi. A highlight of his stage work for the year was portraying Auda Abu Tayi, an Arab chieftan, in Terence Rattigan’s play Ross at the Royal Court theatre in Liverpool during April and May 1960. The play examined the life of the enigmatic Lawrence of Arabia.

Dignam had an uncredited cameo in the film No Love for Johnnie (1961) and was cast as yet another lawyer in the film Four Winds Island (1961). On the small screen he could be seen as Nutkins in 'Pickwick’s Dilemma' (24th December 1961), an episode of the independently produced anthology series Tales from Dickens. His biggest role for the year was playing Claudius in ATV’s ambitious retelling of Hamlet (14th September – 30th November 1961). Man of the World was an early ITC adventure series which starred Craig Stevens as a globetrotting photo journalist. Dignam was featured in the first episode of the series – 'Death of a Conference' (29th September 1962). His biggest TV role for the year was in the BBC science fiction series The Monsters (8th – 29th November 1962) which saw him play the recurring character Hopkins. His only film role for the year was a small cameo as a rich man at a party in In Search of the Castaways (1962).

Dignam’s most active year yet on the television screen kept him busy during 1963. Roles included a guest slot as Sir Godfrey in The Human Jungle episode 'The Vacant Chair' (30th March 1963), 'Sea of Doubt' (30th March 1963) - an episode of the forgotten ABC comedy drama Jezebel and playing Mr Brocklehurst in the first episode of a BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre (7th April 1963). The run of television appearances continued with a turn as Sir Henry Melrose on the Sergeant Cork episode 'The Case of the Sleeping Coachman' (24th August 1963), the role of Captain Adams in 'The Hurricane' (18th October 1963), an episode of the legal drama Boyd QC, and a guest role as Sir Leonard de Braie in the No Hiding Place episode 'Formula For Death' (30th December 1963). 

Dignam was also proving to be a popular character actor in cinema with several notable appearances throughout the year including playing both King Arthur and Merlin in the same year, though in different movies. The year started with swashbuckler Sword of Lancelot (1963) with Dignam playing Merlin and continued with director Tiny Richardson cast Dignam as an army lieutenant in his period romp Tom Jones (1963), King Arthur in historical adventure film Siege of the Saxons (1963) and playing a bishop in the Walt Disney adventure movie Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1963).

During March 1964 Dignam appeared in The Seagull at the Queen’s Theatre for the English Stage Company, under the direction of Tony Richardson, and he appeared in a revival of Bertolt Brecht’s play Saint Joan of the Stockyards at the Queen’s Theatre during June 1964. He then played Edgar in the theatre production A Scent of Flowers at the Duke of York’s Theatre over September and October 1964. A Jolly Bad Fellow AKA They All Died Laughing (1964) was a British comedy film that starred Leo McKern as a professor who thinks the world is overcrowded and invents a gas that will kill off the population. Dignam appears alongside a plethora of character actors. For the mystery thriller The Eyes of Annie Jones (1964) Dignam has a small role as an orphanage director. Clash by Night (1964) featured Dignam as the character Sydney Selwyn. Television appearances for the year included featuring as General Burgoyne in the Espionage episode 'The Frantick Rebel' (12th February 1964) and playing Captain Haggerty in 'Three Piece Suite' (7th April 1964), the opening episode of the second season of romantic drama anthology series Love Story.

1965 would be another busy year for Dignam starting with the first of two Theatre 625 productions appearances. 'The Minister' (3rd January 1965) featured Dignam as Ormston in cast that also included Michael Gough and Barbara Jefford. Audiences then saw him in the role of Mr Deane in a four part BBC version of Mill on the Floss (21st February – 14th March 1965). Next was a quick turn as a British ambassador in the Danger Man episode 'A Room in the Basement' (10th April 1965). Dignam also popped up as an attorney general in the Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre episode 'Game for Three Losers' (April 1965). His second Theatre 625 credit for the year came with the episode 'Rosmersholm' (16th May 1965), an adaptation of an Ibsen play, in which Dignam played Professor Kroll. The day after transmission Dignam could also be seen in an ITV Play of the Week – 'The Edwardians: Olive Latimer’s Husband' (17th May 1965) in the authority role of Colonel Mapleson-Finch. He then went on to appear as Raoul Roguin in the four part BBC drama The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau (13th June – 4th July 1965). Running concurrently with this series, and also transmitted by the BBC, was the espionage drama The Mind of the Enemy (14th June 1965 – 12th July 1965) which featured Mike Pratt as a secret service agent assigned to investigate who is leaking state secrets to foreign governments. Dignam could be seen as the character Fortescue.

Many of his screen roles during 1965 consisted of Dignam playing dignitaries or similar authority figures, demonstrating how he had carved out a career as a dependable character actor for these type of roles. After The 'Mind of the Enemy' he took on the role of Sir Edward Clarke, Counsel for the Plaintiff in the Jury Room instalment 'The Baccarat Scandal' (26th September 1965). Three days later audiences could enjoy Dignam dabbling in comedy with his appearance in 'Class' (29th September 1965), an episode of the Roy Kinnear starring BBC comedy A Slight Case Of… Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls was adapted by the BBC for transmission during the winter and Dignam featured as the character El Sordo in episodes two, 'The Moon of May' (9th October 1965), and three, 'Verdict on Pablo' (16th October 1965). Dignam finished a very busy year with a second ITV Play of the Week role playing Fekete in the comedy drama 'Solo For The Banker' (20th December 1965), and the role of the Grandet of Saumur in a BBC adaptation of Honore de Balzac’s 1833 novel Eugenie Grandet (18th December 1965 – 1st January 1966) which straddled the Christmas and New Year TV schedules with the second episode going out on Christmas Day. The Stage was not a fan of the series describing it as “melodramatic stodge” and “frogs legs with Yorkshire Pudding.” The review did however highlight Dignam’s performance as a plus “Dignam in the part of old Grandet, managed to wring individuality from what could have been a stock miser.[4]

The following year was considerably quieter. February 1966 saw Dignam guest star in an episode of the BBC espionage series The Spies alongside future Beasts cohort Simon Oates. Dignam appeared as the character Vassilias in the instalment 'Your Own Hand Strikes You Dead' (12th February 1966). A week later audiences viewing ITV could also catch Dignam in 'The Open Door' (19th February 1966), a production of the Mrs Oliphant short story made as part of the first season of the influential horror anthology series Mystery and Imagination. In the theatre January 1967 saw him appear in She Stoops to Conquer at the Oxford Playhouse in the role of Mr Hardcastle. This was followed by work in Jean Genet’s play The Balcony at the Oxford Playhouse during March 1967. He had a handful of television roles during 1967 which included an episode of the ITC adventure series The Baron – 'You Can’t Win Them All' (1st February 1967), The Armchair Theatre play 'Reason For Sale' (4th March 1967) and the Dr Finlay’s Casebook episode 'The Greatest Burden' (19th February 1967).

Film wise Dignam had a cameo as Sir John in the East German film production Die gefrorenen Blitze (Frozen Flashes) (1967) and graced the more high profile films The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1967). Franco Zefffirelli directed Shrew with a heavyweight cast that included Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Light Brigade was handled by Tony Richardson who cast Dignam as General Airey. His most unusual role of the year was in the world of pop music. Dignam’s voice can be heard on the fade out of The Beatle’s song 'I Am The Walrus' which sampled a 1967 BBC radio production of King Lear in which Dignam portrayed the Duke of Gloucester.

The next year, 1968, bought the usual mix of stage and screen roles. Dignam made a second appearance in an episode of Armchair Theatre with the production 'The Ballad of the Artificial Marsh' (27th July 1968). More work for ITC followed with the role of Major Carter in The Saint episode 'The Organisation Man' (27th October 1968) and his debut in an ITV Playhouse drama presentation – 'Inventory For The Summer' (25th November 1968) which was a murder mystery following an investigation at a seaside resort when a young girl is found strangled. His film work for the year was limited to an uncredited cameo in Karel Reisz’s Isadora (1968), a biographical drama based on the life of dancer Isadora Duncan.

Screen appearances for the last year of the 1960s took in The Mind of J G Reeder episode 'The Treasure Hunt' (23rd April 1969) with Dignam portraying Sir James Tithermite who murders his wife. Director Tony Richardson once again recruited Dignam to his current film project, a version of Hamlet (1969) starring Nicol Williamson, Judy Parfitt and Anthony Hopkins. Dignam featured as Polonius. His most important appearance for the year came with an episode of Plays of Today, a BBC a series of six single dramas. Dignam took the central role of The Father in 'A Voyage Round My Father' (16th October 1969) which also featured Ian Richardson and Arthur Lowe in the cast. The Stage was impressed with the actor's performance “Mark Dignam brought across the personality of the father with such force, that for me at any rate, he became the man. It was as good as that. As the play progressed, and he became older, he seemed to become more and more real.[5]” 

During February 1970 Dignam could be seen in a theatre presentation of The Hallelujah Boy based at the Duchess theatre. July 1970 he was amongst over twenty actors who recorded their dialogue for a production at London’s The Little Angel Theatre, a permanent puppet theatre, which mounted a production of The Story of Cupid and Psyche. On screen he had a guest role in a second episode of Dr Finlay’s Casebook, 'The Builders' (4th October 1970), followed by the Play For Today instalment 'The Lie' (29th October 1970), before moving onto play Dennis Pringle in the opening episode of the second season of A Family At War – 'The Other Side of the Hill' (11th November 1970). Less than a fortnight later Dignam entertained audiences with a guest role in 'The Marriage Vow' (21st November 1970), an episode of the ATV drama anthology Happy Ever After.

On the big screen Dignam had an uncredited cameo as a guest at wedding reception in the Peter Sellers vehicle There’s A Girl in My Soup (1970). Dignam could also be seen as the character Reichwein in three episodes of the World War adventure series Manhunt and this was followed by a Thirty Minute Theatre production, 'Twenty-Six Efforts at Pornography' (23rd May 1970), with Dignam playing the character Sullivan. Dignam also played the role of Abe Brown in three episodes of Man At The Top which straddled the Christmas and New Year schedules. Further roles during 1971 saw Dignam make his debut in a BBC Play of the Month production with the role of Haakon Werle in a version of the Henrik Ibsen play 'The Wild Duck' (21st March 1971). He was back in a dog collar for a supporting role as the Vicar of Shaston in To Shaston (24th October 1971), an episode of the BBC adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel which starred Robert Powell. Dignam’s second guest role in an episode of The Mind of J G Reeder cast him as another member of the aristocracy. This time he played Lord Nettleford in the episode 'The Fatal Engagement' (24th May 1971). 

Dignam was once more cast as a man of the cloth with the role of Reverend John Wilkinson in the Thirty Minute Theatre production 'Said The Preacher' (6th March 1972). This appears to have been his only film or television appearance for 1972. He was far more productive in theatre during the year which included a Royal Shakespeare Theatre production of Titus Andronicus with Janet Suzman and Colin Blakely during October and November 1972. Also appeared for the same company during the same season in productions of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar all under the direction of Trevor Nunn. His portrayal of Julius Caesar was singled out for praise in The Stage “Mark Dignam playing with an almost melodramatic touch, looks every inch a Caesar who has thought hard, worked hard and fought hard[6]”. Also in the cast was Gerald James who would later appear in the Beasts episode 'What Big Eyes'. The production was directed by Trevor Nunn. 

The year of 1973 would see Dignam appear in the Anglia television single drama production The Man in the Wood (14th May 1973) and he would make a brief appearance as a surgeon in the biographical drama John Keats: His Life and Death (1973), which starred John Stride in the role of Keats. His other television work during 1973 took in guest roles in established series; Doctor Marcus in the Owen MD episode 'An Officially Hot Day' (20th May 1973) and as Mr Houghton in the Six Days of Justice episode 'Excuse Me, Madam' (22nd May 1973). Joyce Heron played a respectable schoolteacher charged with shoplifting and Dignam played the defending counsel. He also made his first appearance in the popular daytime drama series Crown Court playing the character of John Cross QC in the case of 'The Gilded Cage' (19th April 1973). 

Between December 1974 and January 1976 Dignam acted in the Repertoire Season for the National Theatre at the Old Vic Theatre, London. Productions included Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman, Peter Shaffer's play Equus, Harold Pinter's No Man's Land, Beckett's Happy Days, Moliere's The Misanthrope, Comedians, Phaedra Brittanica, The Playboy of the Western World, Shakespeare's Hamlet and Joseph Campbell's play Judgement. Dignam continued to be busy on screen as well. Masquerade was a half-hour BBC drama anthology series with the linking theme of all the stories being set at a party. Dignam appeared alongside Leonard Rossitter and his future Beasts acting cohort Thorley Walters in the episode 'Mutzen ab!' (6th May 1974). Director Tony Richardson called upon Dignam’s services once again with the role of a seedy bookie, Clifford Tudor, in his latest film, Dead Cert (1974), based on the book by Dick Francis. 

The following year, 1975, was another quiet year on the screen with Dignam making an appearance as Ludicrus Sextus in Further Up Pompeii (31st March 1975), a one-off special that followed on from the popular sitcom Up Pompeii. A few days previous to this he appeared in the Crown Court case 'Contempt of Court' (26th March 1975), though not as his recurring character John Cross, but as a different character called Edgar Davies. He then played Lord Rumeblow in 'Romance at Droigate Spa' (30th April 1975), an episode of the BBC’s Wodehouse Playhouse. He returned to the role of John Cross, QC for the Crown Court storyline 'An Evil Influence' (15th October 1975). A month later Dignam was back on the screen as John Cross for a further Crown Court case called 'Dicing' (17th December 1975).

1976 would be a busy year and prior to his appearance as Arthur Grace in the Beasts episode 'Baby' Dignam appeared in the sitcom Yes, Honestly playing Tommy in the episode 'It Nearly Happened One Night' (20th February 1976) and undertook the role of Sir Frank Pierce in the Hadleigh story 'God Save Us From Moralists' (12th March 1976). He was heard, but not seen, as the voice of artist Paul Nash in the Omnibus documentary 'The Spirit of the Land' (8th April 1976). He then turned up with a handful of other British character actors to perk up proceedings of the American television movie The Story of David (9th April 1976), an account of the life of the second king of Israel. This was quickly followed with the BBC 2 play Zigger, Zagger (30th April 1976) appearing alongside Martin Jarvis.

Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor had their own spin-off show from Softly Softly in the form of Second Verdict, where the fictional policemen reopened famous real-life cases to give them a thorough examination using modern detective techniques. Dignam appeared as Sir Sidney Rowan-Hamilton in the episode 'Murder on the 10.27' (17th June 1976) which investigated the case of John Alexander Dickman who was hanged for murdering a man on a train in 1910. Dignam’s second BBC Play of the Month production was 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (19th September 1976) with Dignam cast as Lord Fermor. Dignam made his final appearance as John Cross in Crown Court with 'Stranger in the Night' (6th October 1976). His only other appearance for 1976 came shortly after his role in Beasts with the part of Mr Marchant in 'Newsworthy: The Girl Who Saw A Tiger' (18th November 1976), an episode of the educational series Scene. Dignam began his 1977 screen work with 'Married Love' (2nd February 1977) an episode of BBC drama The Velvet Glove playing a professor. He featured in the first episode of Granada Television production Here I Stand, Margaret Clitheroe (31st July 1977) in the authority role of Judge Clench. His biggest screen role for the period was the Granada Television crime drama The XXY Man which saw Dignam play the recurring role of Fairfax in eight episodes across two seasons between July 1976 and August 1977. Dignam made his final BBC Play of the Month appearance with the role of Evens in the original teleplay 'The Sea' (5th March 1978). He was involved in more legal drama with his next role, Justice Prescold, in the Rumpole of the Bailey instalment 'Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade' (15th May 1978). A decade after his first appearance in an ITV Playhouse production Dignam returned with the role of Lord Simon in 'Hess' (30th September 1978), a biographical drama based on the life of Nazi Rudolph Hess. During May and June 1979 he appeared with his fellow 'Baby' actor T P McKenna in the play The Wild Duck at the Hexagon theatre in Reading. His only on screen credit for the year was in Suez 1956 (25th November 1979), a feature length BBC drama based around the political events which led to the downfall of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (played by Michael Gough). Dignam played another military type, General Sir Gerald Templer.

He was attached to another Repertoire Season for the British National Theatre between January and April 1980. He was then attached to them for another six months between June and December 1980. Productions during this period included Athol Fugard's play A Lesson From Aloes, Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, Shakespeare's plays As You Like It, Othello and Richard III; Arthur Miller's plays, Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Terence Rattigan's plays Harlequinade and The Browning Version, Eugene O'Neill's plays Hughie, The Iceman Cometh and The Long Voyage Home; Alan Ayckbourn's Sisterly Feelings, Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck, Howard Brenton's play The Romans in Britain, Bertolt Brecht's play The Life of Galileo, Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, Tom Stoppard's Undiscovered Country and J.B. Priestley's play When We Are Married.

During February and March 1981 Dignam was a cast member of the Harold Pinter play Night Voices at the Lyttelton theatre. Amongst the cast was Michael Kitchen who had appeared in the Beasts episode 'What Big Eyes'. The Stage review of the play commented “As for Mark Dignam he is the ideal player to bring sepulchral and ominously paternal tones to a part, no matter how small.[7]” As Dignam entered his seventies the screen roles started to slow down. He had a small role as a newsvendor in the film Memoirs of a Survivor (1981), played Duncan in a BBC version of Macbeth (5th November 1983) and had small roles in the television films Squaring The Circle (31st May 1984) and The Biko Inquest (1st November 1984) as a magistrate chairing the inquest. He took role of a priest and exorcist in a production of The Devils by the RSC at The Pit theatre during August and September 1984. The RSC also produced the first revival for over fifty years of the play Waste, written by Harley Granville – Barker. The play had run in to trouble with the censor when first performed in 1907. The production featured Dignam alongside Daniel Massey, Judi Dench and Maria Aitken in the presentation at The Pit theatre during January 1985. On television Dignam played Ambrose in the Jack Rosenthal TV play The Chain (1985), could be seen as Sir Reginald Smith in the final episode of the adventure series The Last Place on Earth and had a cameo role as a bank customer in the television movie Robbery (1985). His penultimate screen role was in the series Lord Mountbatten – The Last Viceroy appearing in the first episode (1986) and credited simply as older man. His final screen role was the Reverend Latimer in On the Black Hill (1988) a British film which depicted the lives of identical twins in rural Wales as they live through wars, love and everyday dramas.

Dignam was married three times, divorced twice. His first marriage was to Canadian actress Georgia McKinnon followed by actress Helen Christie. Both these marriages ended in divorce. His final marriage was to Virginia Kirby from 1954 up until his death in 1989. Kirby was also known as the novelist and poet Ginny Lewis and was a long running film critic for the newspaper The Morning Star. Dignam passed away on 29th September 1989, aged 80, in London. He was outlived by his wife Virginia who eventually passed away in 2012. 

[1] More than likely he met and worked alongside Una Brandon Jones, who had appeared in 'Murrain', as she was heavily associated with the theatre.

[2] Dignam is credited as First Knight. Michael Aldridge is credited as Second Knight and Leo McKern as Third Knight.

[3] “Michael Redgrave Takes Hamlet at Snail’s Pace” by EJ, The Stage, 5th June 1958, page 12

[4] “Players are Forced into False Characterisations” by Kari Anderson, The Stage and Television Today, 30th December 1965, page 10

[5] “Superb Piece by Mortimer” by Josephine Haworth, The Stage and Television Today, 23rd October 1969, page 14

 [6] “A Splendid Julius Caesar at Stratford-upon-Avon” by R B Marriott, The Stage and Television Today, 11th May 1972, page 15

[7] Review by R B Marriott, The Stage and Television Today, 26th February 1981, page11