John Levene

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John Levene
John Levene (cropped).jpg
John Levene at a Doctor Who convention in 2014
John Anthony Woods

(1941-12-24) 24 December 1941 (age 81)
Other namesJohn Anthony Blake
Years active1965–present
OrganizationGenesis Communications
TelevisionDoctor Who
  • Diana Wade
    (m. 1966; div. 1983)
  • Jennifer Wegner
    (m. 1992; div. 2011)

John Anthony Woods (born 24 December 1941), known professionally as John Levene, is an English actor, producer, entertainer and singer. Although he has appeared in a large number of films and television series, Levene's best-known role is that of Sergeant Benton, of UNIT in the science-fiction television series Doctor Who, a role he played from 1968 to 1975.

Early life[edit]

Levene was born as John Anthony Woods in Salisbury, Wiltshire on Christmas Eve 1941, the eldest child of Austin and Vera Woods (née Blake); he has a younger brother called Michael. Levene was born breeched, jaundiced and was dead for the first couple of minutes of his life after he suffocated from a piece of afterbirth being stuck in his airways and his heart stopped beating for two minutes until the doctor removed the blockage.[1][page needed] Levene's father was a sergeant in the army and was on board the SS Empire Baffin; upon his return he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal by King George VI.[1][page needed] Shortly after being temporarily blinded in one eye from falling onto a pen knife, Levene was left bed-ridden for two years after contracting a severe blood infection; he had to have a blood transfusion although the blood he was given was contaminated which made his condition worse giving him severe hallucinations.[1][page needed] Levene attended St. Thomas's school in Salisbury although missing two years of school due to his illness, being dyslexic and being bullied resulted in him failing his eleven-plus exams.[1][page needed]

After leaving school, Levene's first job was being a car mechanic at a garage during the day and then being a nurse at the local hospital in the evenings. Other jobs that Levene had later on included being a tallyman, a window cleaner and a cement mixer at a building site at Boscombe Down.[1][page needed] Wanting to leave Wiltshire due to having no work prospects and a bad relationship with his father, Levene moved to Jersey and became a menswear salesman in the biggest shop on the island, Noel and Porter. Levene got his girlfriend pregnant with a daughter, Samantha, so they married and relocated to London where they had a son, Jason. The family lived next door to Anthony Hopkins before he became famous. Levene would often help the actor learn his lines.[1][page needed]

Levene began working in Hope Brothers, a men's clothing store on Regent Street in London when Telly Savalas came to the store and encouraged him to sign up as an actor for The Dirty Dozen (1967). Although he failed to secure a part in the film, since he was not a union member, he became interested in acting. Upon joining Equity, he adopted the professional name John Levene to avoid confusion with another John Woods who was already registered with the union.


Levene's first acting role was in the television series Adam Adamant Lives! in 1967 and shortly after secured a regular role as the desk sergeant in Z Cars. Levene formed a good working relationship with the director Douglas Camfield who made roles for Levene in his other television series. Other TV roles included episodes of The Newcomers (1966), UFO (1970), Callan (1972), The Adventurer (1972) and Carry On Laughing (1975). Levene also featured in the opening titles of the television series Paul Temple as the man running down the corridor; there is a moment when the man turns around that he can be easily identified as Levene.[1][page needed]

Levene's first film part was due to be in The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) with Roger Moore, a film about two versions appearing of the same man, played by Moore. Levene was to play the double when Moore's character is in shot with Levene's back to the camera. After winning the part and getting on well with Moore, the producers told Levene shortly after that he would no longer star in the film as Moore was concerned that Levene was smarter than he was.[1][page needed] Despite this, Levene went on to appear in the films When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), Zeppelin (1971), Go for a Take (1972), Psychomania (1973), The Blockhouse (1973), Dark Places (1974) and Permission to Kill (1975).

Doctor Who[edit]

Levene made his first appearances in Doctor Who as an uncredited Cyberman due to his tall stature in the 1967 serial The Moonbase and as a Yeti in The Web of Fear,[2] before appearing in The Invasion (1968), again as a Cyberman, in the iconic scene where the Cybermen march down the steps in front of St. Paul's Cathedral.[1][page needed] Levene also made his first appearance as then-Corporal Benton of UNIT in the same episode after the original actor was sacked for being late; Levene was hired instead at the insistence of Douglas Camfield.[1][page needed] UNIT were featured heavily in early-1970s Doctor Who, and the promoted Sergeant Benton also became a regular, appearing in a total of 67 episodes. Levene struck up a rapport with his co-stars Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates) and Roger Delgado (the Master). Fans of Doctor Who often refer to these characters as the UNIT family, and as this era as a 'golden age' of the show. Levene's last regular appearance was in the Fourth Doctor serial The Android Invasion in 1975.[3]

After Doctor Who[edit]

In 1977, following his final appearance on Doctor Who, Levene gave up acting as a career to set up his own audio-visual company, Genesis Communications. He has since directed more than 45 audio-visuals and live events for various clients including the Ford Motor Company, British Airways, KFC, Amway and Revlon.

In 1983 Levene turned down the opportunity to reprise the role of Benton for the 20th-anniversary Doctor Who special The Five Doctors.[4] Five years later he did return to the role for the 1988 Reeltime Pictures video production Wartime.

Levene has worked as an entertainer on cruise liners and has also lived in the United States,[5] where he returned to acting under the name John Anthony Blake. ("Blake" was the maiden name of Levene's mother, and as he informed the writers Steve Lyons and Christopher Howarth, he had had a much better relationship with her than with his father.)[6] He has also performed voice-over work for Disney and The Queen Mary Hotel, among other companies.

Levene's most recent acting work was in an independent film titled Satan Hates You. He has also appeared in an episode of Big Bad Beetleborgs and industrial videos. In 2008, Levene co-starred with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred in Twice Upon a Timelord, a video production in which the Seventh Doctor and Ace attend Benton's wedding.

Levene's music album The Ballads of Sergeant Benton was released in September 2012. The same year, he returned to the UK to promote himself and his album at a number of Doctor Who events. In 2015 he recorded vocals for an audio adaptation of the Doctor Who charity novel Time's Champion.[7]

In September 2017, he joined other Doctor Who stars, including showrunner Steven Moffat, in recording audio contributions for the YouTube anniversary video of mutimedia artist Stuart Humphryes.[8] Levene has also reprised the character of Sergeant Benton for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio series in Council of War (2013), UNIT: Assembled (2017) The Scream of Ghosts (2019) and Poison of the Daleks (2020).

In 2019, Levene published his autobiography, entitled Run the Shadows, Walk the Sun.[1] In 2021, Levene took part in a special documentary in which he and Doctor Who co-star Katy Manning revisit the village of Aldbourne where they filmed an episode of Doctor Who fifty years previously.



Year Title Role Notes
1970 When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth Minor Role
1971 Zeppelin British Soldier
1972 Go for a Take Assistant Director
1973 Psychomania Constable
The Blockhouse Soldier
1974 Dark Places Doctor
1975 Permission to Kill Adams
1987 Wartime John Benton Direct to video film
2002 CanniBallistic! Bernie Shanks
2005 Planetfall Videophone Alien
2006 Automatons Communications Captain
2010 Satan Hates You Reverend Bernie Shanks


Year Title Role Notes
1965 Undermind Man in Club Episode: "Waves of Sound"
1966 The Newcomers Man Episode: #1.125
1967 Doctor Who Cyberman Serial: "The Moonbase"
1967 Adam Adamant Lives! S.S. Guard Episode: "A Sinister Sort of Service"
1967 Z Cars Constable 13 episodes
1967 Les Misérables Prisoner Episode: "Release"
1967 The First Freedom Soviet Guard TV film
1968 Doctor Who Yeti Serial: "The Web of Fear"
1968 Detective Detective Episode: "Crime of Passion"
1968-1975 Doctor Who Sergeant Benton 66 episodes
1969 Softly, Softly Youth Episode: "A Quantity of Gelignite"
1969 The Expert Prison Officer Episode: "A Question of Guilt"
1969 ITV Playhouse Taraxan Episode: "The Friendly Persuaders"
1969 A Handful of Thieves Police Constable Episode: "The Fireworks Party"
1969 Special Branch Special Branch Man Episode: "A New Face"
1969 Coronation Street Drinker in Rover's Return Episode: #1.939
1970 Germinal Miner Episode: "Mob Rule"
1970 ITV Sunday Night Theatre Ernie Episode: "Lay Down Your Arms"
1970 Paul Temple Paul Temple Opening titles; 13 episodes
1970 The Troubleshooters Man Episode: "The Order of the Good Time"
1970 The Doctors Det. Insp. Coates Episode: #1.82
1970 UFO Interceptor Pilot Episode: "Close Up"
1971 The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Constable Episode: "The Affair of the Tortoise"
1972 The Regiment Corporal Challoner Episode: "The Fortunes of Peace"
1972 Callan Harold Episode: "I Never Wanted the Job"
1972 The Pathfinders RAF Sergeant Episode: "Our Daffodils Are Better Than Your Daffodils"
1973 The Adventurer Tony Episode: "I'll Get There Sometime"
1973 Whoops Baghdad Cassan Episode: "Genie of the Bottle"
1973 The Jensen Code Military Policeman 2 episodes
1975 Carry On Laughing Soldier Episode: "The Baron Outlook"
1975 The Growing Pains of P.C. Penrose Motorist Episode: "The Peeper"
1997 Big Bad Beetleborgs Lord T. N. Crumpets Episode: "The Curse of Mums' Tomb"


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Levene, John (2019). Run the Shadows, Walk the Sun. Fantom Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78196-320-3.
  2. ^ "John Levene (1985) | Doctor Who Interview Archive".
  3. ^ "The Android Invasion ★★ - Radio Times".
  4. ^ "John Levene Interview". Doctor Who Magazine. 1985. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  5. ^ Tegeltija, Sam (13 January 2015). "Doctor Who actor John Levene meets fans at Rhondda sci-fi and comic shop". WalesOnline.
  6. ^ Lyons, Steve; Howarth, Chris (27 September 1995). "The Good Soldier". Doctor Who Magazine. No. 230. Marvel Comics UK Ltd. p. 44.
  7. ^ Bates, Phillip. "John Levene's Benton Returns in Time's Champion Audiobook!". Archived from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  8. ^ "John Levene on Babelcolour's 11th Anniversary video". YouTube. Retrieved 22 January 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

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