Guest Actor Biography
Page 34 of 127

   

Paul Eddington

Richard Marling, Immortal Clay
Lord William Beaumont, Something Nasty in the Nursery

by Pete Stampede

A staple of British television and a still much-missed presence, Paul Eddington had an uncharacteristic entry into the medium in one of the most repeated bits of early TV ever, an episode of the plodding (in all senses of the word) early cop opera Dixon of Dock Green, "The Rotten Apple" (1955). The unintentionally funny sight of him, as a crooked constable with a strange West Country accent, being ordered by Jack Warner's Dixon to remove his jacket so that he can be arrested as a civilian—"There's nothing in the world worse than a rotten copper! It's the lowest thing on Gawd's earth!" splutters Warner—has often turned up in clip shows. He then played all sorts of minor roles in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-59), eventually getting to play Will Scarlett; he stayed with ITC as it moved into contemporary action, appearing with Sheffield Rep colleague Patrick McGoohan in both Danger Man/Secret Agent, "I'm Afraid You Have The Wrong Number" (1965), and the first episode of The Prisoner, "Arrival" (1967), plus The Champions, "Autokill" (1968) written by Brian Clemens. Putting his Roman nose to good use, he was in The Spread of the Eagle with Peter Cushing. There were regular support roles in Hine (1971) which he described as "a distinctly unthrilling thriller" and Special Branch (1971-74), a standard police series in which he was, to quote Dave Rogers, "a high-powered, toffee-nosed civil servant" called Strand—the series was, basically, to The Sweeny what Police Surgeon was to The Avengers. As he said in his autobiography So Far, So Good (1995), the shape of his career at this time was serious roles on TV, and comic roles on stage; what he really wanted was the other way round.

Slowly, he got what he was aiming for. In 1968, he was in the original production of Alan Bennett's Forty Years On, with Sir John Gielgud and Bennett himself; he took over Gielgud's role in a well-praised 1984 revival (which my dad was lucky enough to see). Then, The Good Life (BBC, 1975-78, with Penelope Keith), initially meant as a star vehicle for Richard Briers, became popular because of the ensemble playing of the cast, including Eddington's enjoyably snobbish neighbour. (It was retitled Good Neighbors—note spelling—in the US because of another sitcom called The Good Life, with Larry Hagman.) Then, Eddington was well-meaning, gormless politico Jim Hacker, constantly out-pointed by smooth civil servant Nigel Hawthorne, in Yes Minister (BBC, 1980-84); apart from the cast's comic timing, the depiction of political buck-passing was brilliantly observed and horribly accurate. After a special, "Party Games" (1984), ended with the magic words, Yes Prime Minister, that became the next series (1986-88); the critic on one of the right-wing newspapers who complained that Hacker was too stupid to have got that far, and should have just stayed a Minister, was surely missing the point. Eddington next did a controversial mini-series, The Camomile Lawn (1992). His very few films included Hammer's The Devil Rides Out/The Devil's Bride (1968, with Leon Greene and Peter Swanwick). His high-profile stage work in the 90's included Moliere's Tartuffe, Harold Pinter's No Man's Land and several reteamings with Richard Briers, in which they sometimes played roles originally taken on by Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson. But since the early 70's, Eddington had bravely and secretly battled a form of skin cancer, which now became disfiguring and cut short his life and career in 1995. Just before that, looking very ill indeed, he did a BBC interview in which he supplied his own epitaph, "He did very little harm."

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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