Peter Stephens (actor)

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Peter Stephens
Born Peter Stephens
(1920-01-03)3 January 1920
England, UK
Died 17 September 1972(1972-09-17) (aged 52)
England, UK
Occupation actor

Peter Stephens (3 January 1920 – 17 September 1972[1]) was an English stage, film and television supporting actor, notable for his portrayal of the Bunteresque character Cyril in the Doctor Who serial The Celestial Toymaker. He was also the director of one film during his career.

Career[edit]

Stephens first appeared in films playing Major Lench in the 1956 John Boulting offering, Private's Progress, which starred Richard Attenborough as an innocent young recruit who gets involved with a gang of Army spivs.[2] In the same year, he also made his first major television appearance as Hassan Ben Ali in "Albania", an episode of the ITC Entertainment adventure serial The Count of Monte Cristo.[3] He took a lesser role in the ITV "Television Playhouse" production of Skipper Next to God, portraying a Dutch officer.[4]

In 1957, he switched to the BBC, playing Monte in No Shepherds Watched, the story of a bungling criminal family headed by Warren Mitchell, whose plans for a robbery are foiled by a café owner, played by Mitchell's future Till Death Us Do Part wife, Dandy Nichols.[5]

His only film appearance that year was in the Columbia Pictures British black-and-white film, Kill Her Gently, directed by Charles Saunders but with no star names appearing in the main roles of a man, his wife, and his chance encounter with two known prison escapees, who he then tries to employ to murder his spouse.[6]

He appeared in two TV series in 1958 – the 6-part "demob" saga from the BBC called Fair Game, and the popular police programme Dixon of Dock Green (playing Todd in "The Key of the Nick").[7]

Directing one film[edit]

Peter Stephens' only film as a director, Mustang!,[8] was released through United Artists in 1959. It was based on the book Capture of the Golden Stallion by Rutherford Montgomery,[9] and tells of the attempts by occupants of a ranch first to kill a troublesome wild mustang horse, and then to capture and tame it. He had been approached by film producers Robert Franklyn and Sam Abarbanel to make the Western in the early 1950s, and shooting took place in California and Oklahoma, with the final edit ready by 1955. Unfortunately, the picture quality was poor, reputedly because it had been shot with 16mm film and then enlarged to 35mm.[10]

Returning to acting[edit]

He returned to Dixon of Dock Green once more in 1959, though playing an entirely different character, Chapman, in "Over and Out".[11] He also took the role of Mr Lirriper in "The Runaways", part of the Tales from Dickens presentations by Fredric March.[12]

His work in the early 1960s included regular appearances in some well-known productions for television, such as Maigret (1960), Danger Man (1961 and 1966) and the 1962 mini-series of Oliver Twist (featuring a very young Melvyn Hayes as the Artful Dodger) when Stephens played Mr Limbkins. He also played a councillor in Sir Francis Drake in 1962,[13] after which he took time out to appear on the stage.

On 6 August 1964, Stephens opened at the New Arts Theatre in the London premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's play Mr Whatnot, portraying Herbert the Butler, amongst a cast which included Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Stevens and Judy Cornwell.[14] He did find time to play two characters on television that year, Mr Dawson in "My Late Dear Husband", an episode in the popular Scottish series Dr Finlay's Casebook,[15] and Mr Jinkins in the BBC's 13 part serial Martin Chuzzlewit, adapted from Charles Dickens' novel.[16]

1965 saw a brief return to the cinema for him, portraying Sir Giles Redman in the 30-minute "Scales of Justice" featurette The Hidden Face.[17] In television that year, he made appearances in single episodes of more anthology-style series, namely The Man in Room 17, Out of the Unknown, An Enemy of the State, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.[13]

Doctor Who and "Cyril"[edit]

Perhaps Stephens' best-remembered performances were in three episodes of season 3 of Doctor Who, the long-running British sci-fi series featuring a time-travelling Time Lord played in this series by William Hartnell. In the storyline popularly known as The Celestial Toymaker, he played both Cyril the kitchen boy and the animated playing card the Knave of Hearts.[18] The producers subsequently received complaints from lawyers acting on behalf of the deceased author Charles Hamilton's estate. The character Cyril was said to bear a remarkable resemblance to William George Bunter, who Hamilton wrote many books about under the pen name Frank Richards. The BBC finally issued a disclaimer, saying that Cyril was merely "Bunter-like".[19]

Stephens would portray a completely different character, Lolem, during episodes one and three of the 1967 serial The Underwater Menace while Patrick Troughton was playing the Doctor[20]

Final years[edit]

Stephens made further 1967 television appearances in Adam Adamant Lives!, Dr Finlay's Casebook (for the second time, but as a different character), and played Felix Delmer in one episode of the BBC drama Champion House.[21]

He continued his film career in 1967 by appearing in a 38-minute short film called Money-Go-Round, based on dealings at the Stock Exchange, and in which he played a tycoon.[22] He followed this in the same year with a more prominent role as Farson in the full-length film Herostratus, whose plot involves issues on suicide,[23] and featured minor roles for a young Helen Mirren and Malcolm Muggeridge, who played himself.[24]

In the Wednesday Play series, he appeared as Captain Carruthers in the final part of Alan Plater's 1968 trilogy, To See How Far It Is, about a "humble pen-pusher in a cardboard factory" who, in his attempts to brighten up his life, ends up surrounded by "a little feminine company" on a cruise ship.[25] He could also be seen on TV in that year in another anthology series, "ITV Playhouse", playing Mr Morrow alongside Nicky Henson and Ronald Fraser in Peter Wildeblood's play Rogues' Gallery: The Lives and Crimes of Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard.[26]

Stephens' only cinema appearance of 1969 was as the Abbott of St Mary's in the Hammer/LWT co-production Wolfshead.[27] He was very busy on the small screen however. He took the parts of Bellchamber in "Love All", an episode of the quirky ITV series The Avengers,[28] Quintin Blythe in one episode of Yorkshire Television's The Flaxton Boys serial,[29] and Sir Timothy Grange in "When did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?", from the offbeat ghost-related television series Randall and Hopkirk.[30] He also played Mr Bailey in seven instalments of the TV series Mr Digby Darling, which starred Peter Jones and Sheila Hancock.[31]

After portraying Don Gutierre in the BBC's epic historical drama The Six Wives of Henry VIII,[32] he made a cinema film alongside Jean Simmons called Say Hello to Yesterday, in which he played a businessman.[33]

1971 saw many television appearances from Stephens. The list included Doctor in the House, Brett, Z-Cars,[34] and portraying Beppo Bowles in Eyeless in Gaza.[35]

He made a major film in 1971 with Pier Paolo Pasolini, I Racconti di Canterbury, an Italian language adaptation of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, playing Justinus.[36] He had previously appeared as a friar in the BBC's bawdy 1969 TV version. The friar turned up in episode 5, entitled "The Wife of Bath's Tale/The Clerk's Tale".[37]

In late 1971 another film, Hammer Films' Twins of Evil, was released, starring Peter Cushing, and in which Stephens supported as a member of the Brotherhood, a fictional sect which fought vampirism in Central Europe in the 19th century.[38]

In the final year of his life, he secured a regular role as the chairman of the board of St. Swithin's Hospital in four episodes of Doctor in Charge, the ITV comedy series based on Richard Gordon's books, and starring Robin Nedwell, George Layton, Geoffrey Davies and Richard O'Sullivan.[39]

His last ever film was Go for a Take, an inward-looking treatment satirising the film industry, in which he took the part of a film director who has to contend with two men 'on the run' invading a set, pretending to be film extras.[40]

Peter Stephens died on 17 September 1972; however, one further appearance occurred posthumously — his portrayal of Amlodd in HTV's historical adventure series Arthur of the Britons. The episode he had completed before his death, "In Common Cause", was not broadcast until 24 October 1973.[41]

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Birth and death dates: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  2. ^ Private's Progress (1956 film), as Major Lench: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  3. ^ The Count of Monte Cristo (1956 TV serial), one episode, as Hassan Ben Ali: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  4. ^ Skipper Next to God (1956 TV play), Television Playhouse: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  5. ^ No Shepherds Watched (1957 TV film), as Monte: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  6. ^ Kill Her Gently (1957 film), as the Bank Manager: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  7. ^ TV appearances, 1958: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  8. ^ Mustang! (1959 film), director: TCM film database at their website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  9. ^ Screenplay info, Mustang!: TCM film database at their website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  10. ^ Production notes for Mustang!: TCM movie database at their website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  11. ^ Dixon of Dock Green (1958 TV episode), playing Chapman in "Over and Out": IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  12. ^ Tales from Dickens (1959 TV episode), Mr Lirriper in "The Runaways": BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  13. ^ a b TV work in the 1960s: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  14. ^ Mr Whatnot (1964 stage play), London premiere, playing Herbert the Butler: Alan Ayckbourn's website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  15. ^ Dr Finlay's Casebook (1964 TV series), playing Mr Dawson in "My Late Dear Husband": IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  16. ^ Martin Chuzzlewit (1964 TV series), playing Mr Jinkins: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  17. ^ The Hidden Face (1965 'featurette') ("Scales of Justice") playing Sir Giles Redman: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  18. ^ Playing the characters of Cyril and the Knave of Hearts, three episodes of Doctor Who, 1966: BBC.co.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  19. '^ Cyril or Billy? The resemblance causes allegations of plagiarism against Doctor Whos producers, the BBC: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 25 February 2008.
  20. ^ Doctor Who (1967 TV series), playing Lolem in The Underwater Menace: BBC.co.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  21. ^ TV appearances, 1967: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  22. ^ Money-Go-Round (1967 short film), as a tycoon: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  23. ^ Plotline – Herostratus (1967 film), involving suicide: Allmovie.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  24. ^ Herostratus, as Farson: Allmovie.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  25. ^ "The Wednesday Play" (1968 TV anthology series), To See How Far It Is (trilogy, part three), as Captain Carruthers: The Wednesday Play section at the Startrader.co.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  26. ^ "ITV Playhouse (1968 TV anthology series), Rogues' Gallery: The Lives and Crimes of Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard (play), as Mr Morrow: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  27. ^ Wolfshead (1968 film), as the Abbott: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  28. ^ The Avengers (1969 TV series, "Love All" (episode), as Bellchamber: The Avengers Forever! website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  29. ^ The Flaxton Boys (1969 TV series), "1854: The Tutor" (episode), as Quintin Blythe: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  30. ^ Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969 TV series), "When did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?" (episode), as Sir Timothy Grange: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  31. ^ Mr Digby Darling (1969 TV series), seven episodes, as Mr Bailey: EPGuides.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  32. ^ The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970 TV series), as Don Gutierre: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  33. ^ Say Hello to Yesterday (1970 film), playing a businessman: Allmovie.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  34. ^ List of appearances in 1971: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  35. ^ Eyeless in Gaza (1971 TV series), as Beppo Bowles: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  36. ^ I Racconti di Canterbury (1971 Italian film), based on Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, playing Justinus: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  37. ^ The Canterbury Tales (1969 TV series), episode 5, playing a friar: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  38. ^ Twins of Evil (1971 film), playing a member of the Brotherhood: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  39. ^ Doctor in Charge (1972 TV series), 4 episodes, as the chairman of the board: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  40. ^ Go for a Take (1972 film), portraying a film director: BFI.org.uk website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.
  41. ^ Arthur of the Britons (1973 TV series), "In Common Cause" (episode), posthumous appearance as Amlodd: IMDB.com website. Retrieved on 23 February 2008.

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