Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old actor who played sailor, emperor and inspector called George Baker

George Baker, actor and writer, best known as 'Inspector Wexford' in the TV versions of Ruth Rendell's detective stories, has died at the age of 80.

What you possibly didn't know about George, that he :

* was born in 1931 in Varna, Bulgaria, where his Yorkshire-born father who had been sent as a diplomat during the First World War, stayed on to run an import-export business and married an Irish nurse 28 years his junior, who had come to Varna to help treat cholera victims in the 1926 epidemic.

* at the age of 8, when the Second World War broke out, was taken with his sister and three brothers by his mother, through Nazi-occupied Europe and didn't again see his father, who died in Cairo in 1942.

* once in England, went to school at Lancing College in Sussex, which he hated and where, standing at 6 feet 2 inches at the age of 12, the headmaster would cane him for the slightest transgression on the grounds that he was : "big enough to know better".

* ran away at the age of 15, getting a job as a clerk in a job where a colleague, on hearing of his ambitions to perform on stage, offered him the advice : "If you want to be an actor, what are you doing here?", appeared in repertory theatre in Deal after adding three years to his age and quickly progressed from walk on roles to leading parts.

* appeared on screen for the first time in 1953 in 'The Intruder', about soldiers returning to civilian life and later recalled that during his screen test: "No one ever looked so scared on screen. You could not only see me shaking, you could hear me."

* found the critics raved about his appearance, was described as 'the new Gary Grant' and promoted as 'tougher than Rock Hudson and better looking than Roger Moore' and won his share of female fans, among them Brigitte Bardot of whom he later said : "Bardot, the world's number one sex bomb at the time, in a clinch with me, George Baker, jobbing actor. I was completely dazzled."

* in 1955 at the age of 24 appeared in the film where he first made his name, 'The Dam Busters', then starred in 'The Ship That Died of Shame' and the swashbuckler, 'The Moonraker' in 1958.
The Ship That Died of Shame :

* saw his film career grind to a halt and later recalled : "The scene shifted. Working class lads made it and matinee-idols like myself were on the shelf. I was 'pre-kitchen sink'." and during the next 10 years he made only one film, the embarrassing, 'Curse of the Fly' in 1963.

* concentrated on theatrical roles where his voice and assurance began to make the critics take notice once again, appeared in 1959 opposite Vivien Leigh on Broadway in 'Look After Lulu', joined the Old Vic Company, toured Russia and performed on the West End and had a major success in 'The Glass Menagerie' in 1965.

* was a 'sympathetic actor' who knew how to 'seem to listen' to the others and started to make his way on television and was the second actor to play 'Number Two' in the series 'The Prisoner'.

* in 1976, played the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in 'I Claudius' portraying him from the age of 20 to his eventual death from syphilis at 80, gluing cornflakes to his face to create his pockmarked complexion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxI2OymYRok

With Patrick Stewart playing Sejanus :

* in the late 1970s, he starred as Inspector Roderick Alleyn in adaptations of the mystery novels of Ngaio Marsh with New Zealand settings.

* in 1980 wrote the tv play, 'Fatal Spring', dealing with lives of First World War poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves which won him a United Nations peace award.

* from 1988 to 2000, he played Inspector Reg Wexford in adaptations of mysteries by Ruth Rendell.
A clip which gives the flavour of the character :

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