BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 18:13 UK

Protest singer and a gorilla king

By Nick Serpell
BBC Obituary Unit

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported - people of the past month.

Lone Ranger mask
The mask that hid the other man, John Hart

Ask fans of 1950s TV Westerns who played the Lone Ranger and the answer is likely to be Clayton Moore. However, for two series of the programme, the man behind the mask was actually another actor, named John Hart. He was called on in 1952 when Moore left after a row with his producers, having played the role for two years. Hart, who had launched his career with a series of film bit parts, had already appeared in minor roles in two Lone Ranger episodes and impressed the producers with his ability to handle the temperamental Silver, the Lone Ranger's mount. Unfortunately for Hart, most of the fans of the Lone Ranger would only accept Clayton Moore in the part and, when Moore settled his differences with the studio, Hart's time in the saddle came to an end. He went on to make travel films but reprised his part as the mysterious masked man in an episode of Happy Days in 1982.

Peter, Paul and Mary
Folk singer and activist Mary Travers, with Peter and Paul

Mary Travers was the glamorous third of the music group, Peter, Paul and Mary which was credited with helping bring folk to a much wider audience. Formed in 1961 the band's lovely harmonies appeared on no less than 13 top 40 hits thereby annoying the folk purists who complained that the combo had sold out to the commercial market. Mary Travers had a bohemian upbringing in New York where she sang in a number of folk clubs. She was spotted by the manager of a folk singer named Peter Yarrow and together with Noel Stookey, who became Paul, the trio was formed. They went on to have hits such as, If I Had a Hammer, Puff the Magic Dragon and the Bob Dylan composition, Blowin' in the Wind. Like many folk artistes of the time the band were committed to political activism including opposition to the US-backed war in Vietnam. After the group split in 1971, Mary Travers continued her political activities supporting women's rights and demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa before taking part in a string of reunion concerts with her former band mates.

The cross dressing movie character Tootsie, Frankie Howerd and the TV version of M*A*S*H all owe much to the writer Larry Gelbart. He started writing for radio at the age of 17 and went on to produce scripts for Sid Caesar, Bob Hope and Red Buttons. His big break came when he co-wrote the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum which, when it transferred to the West End in 1963, featured Frankie Howerd as the slave Pseudolus. A committed Anglophile he produced The Marty Feldman Comedy machine for ATV before taking up a suggestion from a friend that he write a TV spin off of Robert Altman's film M*A*S*H. The series became cult viewing in both the US and the UK, eventually running more than three times longer than the Korean War in which it was set. He went on to develop the screenplay for the 1982 film Tootsie, but fell out with the actor Dustin Hoffman who played the title role. Gelbart commented later that no one should ever work with an Oscar winner who is shorter than the statue.

Troy Kennedy Martin
Creator and writer of classic TV series - Troy Kennedy Martin

Another writer who died this month was Troy Kennedy Martin who was the creator of Z-Cars, the gritty BBC police drama. In contrast with predecessors such as Dixon of Dock Green, the officers in the fictional setting of Newtown were portrayed as fallible human beings who had marital difficulties, drank too much and intimidated suspects. Z-Cars eventually ran until 1978 although Kennedy Martin quit after two years. He moved into films, writing the screenplays for The Italian Job and the Clint Eastwood film Kelly's Heroes, an improbable tale of a gold robbery set behind German lines during the World War II. He also wrote the screenplay for Sweeney 2, a spin off from the television police drama originally created by his brother Ian. In the 1980s he wrote two hugely successful television series, Reilly Ace of Spies and the BBC political thriller, Edge of Darkness.

The talented Scottish character actor Iain Cuthbertson achieved fame in the role of Charlie Endell, the ruthless crime boss who appeared alongside Adam Faith in the 1970s ITV drama Budgie. His height, he was 6ft 4in, made him an imposing figure who could easily intimidate the much shorter Faith. Cuthbertson did his National Service as an officer in the Black Watch, before acting and directing at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre. He went on to star, on the other side of the law, as the chief constable in the BBC series Scotch on the Rocks, and as the procurator fiscal of a rural Scottish community in Sutherland's Law, also for the BBC. He made a number of film appearances, notably as the wrongly imprisoned father in The Railway Children, in which he had the pleasure of hugging a young Jenny Agutter, and a part in Gorillas in the Mist, the film biography of Dian Fossey.

Titus, father of more children than any gorilla on record

One of Dian Fossey's subjects, a silverback gorilla named Titus, finally succumbed after a short illness at the age of 35. Born in 1974, Fossey named him after the title character of Mervyn Peake's novel Titus Groan. Titus found himself under almost constant observation by scientists during his life in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, which saw him bond with a group of young male gorillas, where homosexual behaviour was the norm. He went on to oust a larger silverback to become the dominant male in what was believed to be the largest group of gorillas ever seen in the wild. Researchers also believe that Titus sired more children than any other gorilla on record. As is the way of these things his powers finally waned, and he was ousted by his son Kuryama, who eventually took control of the group. It was reported that Titus, far from being irked by the loss of his powers, assisted his son in managing the group and was still regarded, with respect, by the other gorillas.

Among others who died in September were Dirty Dancing actor, Patrick Swayze ; flamboyant TV cook and wine appreciator, Keith Floyd ; former BBC Foreign Correspondent, Brian Barron , Keith Waterhouse , novelist, playwright and serial luncher and polemicist and writer on grammar, William Safire .

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