Thursday, 9 February 2017

RIP Alec McCowen

Yet another sad passing that has been announced - actor Alec McCowen has passed away aged 91.

McCowen's legacy may be that of a compelling stage actor, with acclaimed performances as The Fool to Paul Scofield's King Lear in Peter Brook's 1962 production, Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist at the Royal Court with Jane Asher in 1970, the psychiatrist Dysart in the original production of Peter Shaffer's Equus, and Uncle Jack in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughansa in 1990, to name but a few. But he also scored great and fondly remembered roles in screens both big and small; to television viewers he played the lead in the 1984/'85 cerebral espionage series Mr Palfrey of Westminster, guest starred in the Bergerac episode, Trenchard's Last Case, as the eponymous retiring detective, and in BBC adaptations of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Henry V. His film credits included his debut The Cruel Sea in 1953, the original adaptation of Terence Rattigan's Deep Blue Sea in 1955, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner  (1962) the Hammer folk horror film The Witches from 1966, and perhaps most famously of all, two roles from 1972; the detective investigating a sexually motivated serial killer whilst at the mercy of his own wife's experimental cooking in Alfred Hitchcock's final British thriller Frenzy (1972) and playing the lead opposite Maggie Smith in an adaptation of Graham Greene's Travels With My Aunt. Other film roles include the randy and kinky retired RAF officer, Wing Commander Morton in Terry Jones' Personal Services (1987) Bishop of Ely in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V in 1989, and two from Martin Scorsese, 1993's The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York, his final film role, in 2002. But it's perhaps his brief but significant role in 1983's 'rogue' non EON James Bond film Never Say Never Again that McCowen is best remembered amongst lovers of trivia who can correctly tell you that, along with Desmond Llewellyn and Ben Wishaw, he was the other actor to play gadget man Q, or, as he was also called within the film, 'Algy'

Famously, McCowen was the recipient of TV's prestigious 'big red book' in 1989 with an edition of This Is Your Life hosted by Michael Aspel. During the tribute, McCowen halted the recording to ask that the role of his late partner, the actor Geoffrey Burridge who passed away from AIDS just two years earlier, in his life be mentioned. At a time when many actors remained in the closet and the press and TV were happy to comply with the secret, this was very refreshing.


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