Thursday, March 17, 2011

Michael Gough - Another Giant

Yer Keith Telly Topping is sad to report, dear blog reader, that we lost yet another giant of the industry this week. The veteran character actor Michael Gough has died at the age of ninety four. The actor had not been well for the past year and died at home on Thursday morning surrounded by his family, his agent said. 'We've lost a very treasured and beloved friend and somebody who made a magnificent contribution to the world of theatre and films,' she added. Michael appeared in a wide range of roles on stage, television and movies in a career that spanned seven decades. He is probably best know to younger dear blog readers for his appearances in four Batman movies in the role of the butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Michael was usually said to have been born in November 1916 in Kuala Lumpur, although there is some doubt about this and many sources list his actual year of birth as 1917. As he told The Times in 1997: 'There was some indecision as to when I was born. My sister said it was 1916. I'd lost my birth certificate.' Gough's fourth wife, Henrietta, subsequently confirmed that 1916 was her husband's birth year in 2010. He was the son of British diplomatic service parents Frances Atkins (née Bailie) and Francis Berkeley Gough and was educated at the Rose Hill school in Tunbridge Wells and, later, at Durham College. 'Probably the reason I'm an actor is that you don't have to pass examinations,' he said in 1988. 'I was hopeless in school, I never passed a single exam.' He studied acting at the Old Vic in London making his first stage appearance in 1936. A year later, Michael made his Broadway début in Love Of Women. Like many young actors of his generation, his career was halted by the war - during which he served in the Non-Combatant Corps. He made the first of over eighty movies in 1947's Anna Karenina followed by role in Blanche Fury later the same year. His TV career had begun earlier, with a BBC adaptation of Androcles & The Lion in 1946. Between 1947 and 2000, he appeared in at least one film a year, often many more, in addition to a busy TV and stage career, which included tours with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Michael appeared in The Man In The White Suit, The Sword & The Rose, as one of the murderers who kill the Duke of Clarence in Olivier's Richard III, Reach For The Sky and The Horse's Mouth. He was also in two of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger's seminal films The Small Back Room (1949) and Ill Met By Moonlight (1957). He has something of a cult status among British horror fans because of his frequent appearances in movies such as Hammer's Dracula (1958) and The Phantom Of The Opera (1962), Amicus's schlock classic Dr Terror's House Of Horrors (1964) and The Skull (1965), Tigon's Curse Of The Crimson Alter (1968), Anglo-Amalgamated's Horrors Of The Black Museum (1960), The Legend Of Hell House (1973) and Norman J Warren's stockbroker-satanism piece Satan's Slave (1976). Horrors Of The Black Museum's director, Herman Cohen, once reportedly described Michael as 'a cheaper version of Vincent Price,' but that's a crass example of damning with faint praise. One of his most astonishing performances came in the now virtually forgotten 1970 creeper The Corpse (also known as The Velvet House and Crucible Of Horror) as a sadistic and tyrannical father whose wife and daughter decide to do away with. Has there ever been a more genuinely believable screen villain than Gough's performance in this movie? A character of terrifying malevolence and mediocrity in equal doses far removed for the kind of supernatural monsters which traditionally occupy the horror genre but, who is guaranteed to make the flesh creep every bit as much, if not more, than any vampire or werewolf. Michael's urbane, stylish presence and deep resonant voice meant that in his career he was able to move somewhat effortlessly through a spectrum of different genres: He appeared in movies as diverse as Black Zoo, Konga, Berserk!, Trog, They Came From Beyond Space, the Oscar-winning Women In Love, Savage Messiah, The Go-Between, The Boys From Brazil, The Dresser, Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, Out Of Africa (as Lord Delamere), Let Him Have It, Martin Scorsese's The Age Of Innocence and Wittgenstein. He could even do comedy, as seen in 1961's What A Carve Up! He considered himself lucky to have always been a supporting actor. 'It's the best way to be,' he said. 'You don't have the responsibility of a star, you're not as expensive as a star, and you get lovely parts. And you don't have to worry about status or pecking order.' Michael also appeared extensively on British television. He was twice a guest villain on Doctor Who, memorably as the eponymous Celestial Toymaker opposite William Hartnell in 1966 and then, playing the Time Lord, Hedin, in the Peter Davison serial Arc Of Infinity (1983). He had been due to reprise his original role as the Toymaker opposite Colin Baker in 1985 but Doctor Who was put on hiatus by Michael Grade shortly before production of The Nightmare Fair was due to begin. Michael also played the automation-obsessed, wheelchair-bound Doctor Armstrong in The Cybernauts, one of the most well-remembered episodes of The Avengers. In the Ian Curteis 1979 TV play Suez 1956 he played the Prime minister Anthony Eden. His other TV roles included appearances in The Adventures Of Robin Hood, The Count Of Monte Christo, The Saint, The Champions, Orlando, The Protectors, Blake's 7, Brideshead Revisited, Colditz, Smiley's People, Sleepers, Inspector Morse, Campion, A Game For Three Losers, Dancers In Mourning, The Girl Who Loved Robots, The Search For The Nile and Cariani & The Courtesans among many others. Michael won Broadway's 1979 Tony Award as Best Actor for Bedroom Farce. He was also nominated in the same category in 1988 for Breaking The Code. He won a BAFTA TV Award in 1957 and was nominated for a BAFTA Film Award in 1972 for his work in The Go-Between. 'I'm essentially a jobbing actor,' he once noted. 'If I'm out of work, I'll be the back end of a donkey.' In the late 1980s his movie career was revived when he was cast in the role of Alfred, in the Batman film franchise appearing in Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Tim Burton, who directed the first two Batman movies was, of course, a huge fan of Hammer and the British horror genre in general and reportedly exclaimed when Michael's name was mentioned as a possible Alfred 'I know that man! He's been in some terrible films!' Burton noted, on his commentary on the Sleepy Hollow DVD that Michael, like Christopher Lee and many other actors who had essayed great villains over the years was, in fact, one of the nicest people imaginable. Michael worked with Burton again in 1999's loving recreation of Hammer's Gothic world Sleepy Hollow and then on 2005's Corpse Bride. He also, briefly, reprised his Alfred role in six 2001 US television commercials for the OnStar automobile tracking system, informing Bruce Wayne about the system's installation in the Batmobile. In 2010, he came out of retirement once again to appear in Burton's Alice In Wonderland as the voice of the Dodo. Michael was married four times, to Diane Graves, Anne Leon, Anneke Willis (whom he met whilst co-starring with her in Candidate For Murder) and Henrietta Lawrence. Wills, who remain a close friend of Michael after their divorce, said: 'As his body was deteriorating this week, he said that he wanted to hang on for St Patrick's Day. And he did, just. In the end there is only love.' Michael leaves his current wife Henrietta, his daughter Emma and sons Simon and Jasper. (Simon and his wife, Sharon Gurney, played his character's son and daughter in The Corpse.) He was also stepfather to Wills and Tony Newley's daughter, the late Polly. His grandchildren Samuel and Daisy are also actors.

1 comment:

Crom said...

Very sad to read about Michael Gough. He was great in both his Who appearances, but he'll always be Alfred Pennyworth to me.

Best wishes to his loved ones.