Philip Madoc obituary

The actor Philip Madoc, who has died aged 77 after a short illness, became one of Wales’s best-known faces through playing villains and officers on television for half a century. His rich, sonorous voice was heard to marvellous effect when he took the role of King Lear in a 2007 BBC radio broadcast: it was as ideal for Shakespeare as it was for light comedy or reciting the prose of Dylan Thomas, at which he was masterly.


 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Philip Madoc obituary” was written by Michael Coveney, for The Guardian on Monday 5th March 2012 22.24 UTC

The actor Philip Madoc, who has died aged 77 after a short illness, became one of Wales’s best-known faces through playing villains and officers on television for half a century. His rich, sonorous voice was heard to marvellous effect when he took the role of King Lear in a 2007 BBC radio broadcast: it was as ideal for Shakespeare as it was for light comedy or reciting the prose of Dylan Thomas, at which he was masterly.

His television work brought him four different roles in Doctor Who, but he really made his name as the vicious Huron warrior Magua in the 1971 BBC series The Last of the Mohicans. He swaggered dangerously, semi-naked, in a dark body make-up, and a shaven hairstyle with Mohican brush that pre-empted punk by several years.

Accepting with good grace that his dark eyes and deep voice would rule him out for romantic leads, he set about playing, for instance, the SS officer in Manhunt (1970) – the LWT second world war series that set him up for stardom – with relish and great skill. He never descended into caricature.

Well, almost never. He himself said his grave would carry an inscription referring to his captured German U-boat captain in a 1973 episode of Dad’s Army. The episode features on every comedy highlights programme as, superciliously interrogated by Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring, Madoc’s tame Nazi, in peaked cap and white polo-necked sweater, whips out a notebook to make a list of his captors’ names.

Ian Lavender’s callow Private Pike makes a witless but insolent remark from across the room. Madoc, enraged: “Your name vil also go on zee list. Vot is eet?” Lowe: “Don’t tell ‘im, Pike.” Madoc, immediately: “Pike!” (writes name on list). Although the joke comes from the old formula, “Who wrote Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony?” it is doubly hilarious because in the previous few minutes Mainwaring has, as usual, been reasserting his complete control of the situation.

Madoc was born in Merthyr Tydfil, where he attended Cyfarthfa Castle grammar school and went on to read classics and modern languages at Cardiff University. A natural linguist, he then went to the University of Vienna to train as an interpreter, becoming proficient in Russian – the most beautiful of languages, apart from Welsh, he always thought – German and even Albanian.

But his passion for drama diverted him to Rada, where he was an older than usual student at the age of 24. This no doubt contributed to those natural assets – voice, imposing physical presence, a certain gravitas – that already marked him out for senior and authoritarian roles. Starting in rep in 1959 on a salary of £8 a week, he quickly moved into television, making his screen debut in the 1961 BBC Sunday Night play Cross of Iron – as a German officer, natürlich.

A string of early 1960s television roles called on his classical talents: Von Koren in Chekhov’s The Duel; Lord Byron in Tennessee Williams’s Camino Real (adapted by Hugh Leonard) with Pamela Brown and Diane Cilento; and man-about-town Charles Lomax, or “Cholly,” in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, with Judi Dench and Brewster Mason. His run as a star turn in Doctor Who started with a physically unrecognisable warlord in 1969 and the Frankenstein-like Solon, creator of a monstrous “thing”, in 1976. Madoc possessed a remarkable ability to transform his appearance; indeed this may account for the fact that, although well known, you might not always put his name to the face he had adopted, not even in Dad’s Army.

And of course he could play almost any nationality – notably his own, in the title role of Elaine Morgan’s The Life and Times of Lloyd George (1981). He was also seen as Leon Trotsky in a film about Trotsky’s daughter, Zina (1986); another German, Freddi von Flugel, in Fortunes of War (1987) with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson; and Pierre D’Armacourt in a television series of The Bourne Identity (1988) before it became a Hollywood blockbuster. One of Madoc’s most interesting characters was DCI Noel Bain in A Mind to Kill, a television detective series made simultaneously in Welsh and English between 1994 and 2002.

His stage career came back into impressive focus, too, when he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Professor Raat in The Blue Angel and the Duke in Measure for Measure. These productions, both directed by Trevor Nunn, opened the new Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1991, a comfortable brick building replacing the old tin shack without losing the old atmosphere.

Both plays explored the tragic effects of awakening sexual obsession in a moral climate of distorted respectability; Madoc’s humiliated professor was a beautifully modulated performance of a pathetic creature, while his “duke of dark corners” launched a long-range, cunning assault on Claire Skinner’s sweet but innately priggish Isabella before coming clean with his immodest proposal.

Always fit and physically adventurous, Madoc went walking in the Himalayas, camel-trekking in the Gobi desert and motor-cycling in south-east Asia. His first marriage, to the actor Ruth Madoc, ended in divorce in 1981. He is survived by his second wife, Diane, an interior designer; by the two children, Rhys and Lowri, from his first marriage; and by a younger sister.

Philip Madoc, actor, born 5 July 1934; died 5 March 2012

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