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Obituary: Edward Woodward

Edward Woodward
Edward Woodward had a reputation as an actor of authority

Although Edward Woodward's repertoire included both musicals and Shakespeare, it was television series Callan which initially made him a household name in Britain.

He acquired an early love of theatre from the exuberant performances of the traders at the street market in his home town of Croydon, south of London, and his visits to the Croydon Empire.

He was only five when his recital for a talent contest at Wallington in Surrey won him the first prize, what he believed to be a silver penknife, until it began peeling to reveal a dull, base metal.

It taught him scepticism. "You start doing deals with Americans, particularly the big Hollywood ones, and you'll appreciate the story about the silver penknife."

Edward Woodward's next prize was more valuable, a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which enabled him to give up his job as a sanitation engineer.

Theatrical success

At 16, he became Rada's youngest student and made his professional debut in repertory in 1946. Nine years later, he graduated to the London stage in Where There's a Will.

Woodward improved his credentials with a season at Stratford-upon-Avon and made his first breakthrough in Rattle of a Simple Man in London.

Edward Woodward in A Dream Divided
A 1969 television role saw Woodward play writer F Scott Fitzgerald

Its success took it to Broadway, and led to Woodward's appearance in a New York production of a musical, High Spirits, based on Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit.

With his pleasing, light-tenor voice, Woodward then played the leading role of Sydney Carton in a musical version of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and was on tour with the show when he received a call from Laurence Olivier.

Invited to choose his own role at the National Theatre, Woodward shook Olivier by declaring: "I want to play Cyrano de Bergerac", a work requiring several dozen actors.

He triumphed in the role, although he was obliged to supplement his income by singing in cabarets and clubs to support his wife and family.

Edward Woodward made more than a dozen records and featured in many dramas on BBC radio.

But it was in the title role of Callan, a brooding, resentful and rebellious British secret agent, that will be one of his best remembered roles.

Last screen appearance

The Thames Television series ran from 1969 to 1973, spawning a film of the same name. Woodward also starred in The Wicker Man, a film which attracted a huge cult following on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Breaker Morant, set during the Boer War.

He was made an OBE in 1978.

The success of Callan earned him an award for TV Actor of the Year and led to Woodward starring in a long-running American television series, The Equalizer.

His five years in New York made him wealthy, but Woodward regretted making the series, which took a heavy toll on his health.

Working 20 hours at a time, he coped by smoking 100 cigarettes a day - and had a major heart attack.

Edward Woodward in EastEnders
The actor's final on-screen appearance came earlier this year in EastEnders

But the role did win him a coveted Golden Globe for best actor in 1987.

Woodward's two sons and a daughter by his first marriage to Venetia Barratt are all actors, while he and his second wife, the actress Michele Dotrice, also have a daughter.

Edward Woodward gave up smoking and continued working, appearing in the BBC series Common as Muck.

He also had a role in Simon Pegg's big-screen police comedy Hot Fuzz.

His last on-screen appearance was as Tommy Clifford in EastEnders earlier this year, a character who sought forgiveness for the murder of Patrick Trueman's girlfriend decades earlier.

His most recent film, A Congregation of Ghosts, is currently in post-production.

Despite his success in several fields, and the authority he brought to each of them, he was grateful for simply enjoying employment in a tough profession.

Actor Edward Woodward dies at 79
16 Nov 09 |  Entertainment

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