Edward Judd: Versatile character actor who appeared in the cult sci-fi film 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Stardom came to the actor Edward Judd in cult sci-fi films of the 1960s, sandwiched between his roles in soap operas and other character parts on the small screen.

By the time he found himself catapulted to international fame, he had already appeared as a regular in Britain's first daily television serial, Sixpenny Corner (1955), playing Denis Boyes, one of the community living around a garage run by the newly-wed Nortons in the fictional rural town of Springwood. The soap was written by Hazel Adair, who was later to create the longer-running Crossroads.

His first starring role in a film, as a hard-drinking newspaper reporter redeeming himself in The Day the Earth Caught Fire, was not so far removed from the everyday life of soaps, where the ordinary encounters the extraordinary. In the 1961 black-and-white feature – directed by Val Guest, following his earlier Quatermass pictures – Judd is seen as the fictional Daily Express journalist Peter Stenning, who stumbles on the revelation that American and Soviet nuclear tests have knocked the Earth off its axis, sending it heading for the sun and causing floods and fires.

As the government tries to cover up the pending disaster, Stenning learns the truth through his romance with a Meteorological Office telephonist (Janet Munro). Leo McKern plays Bill Maguire, a science reporter who is assigned to the story, with Stenning, by their editor (Arthur Christiansen).

Shot in a documentary style reminiscent of the American director Elia Kazan's 1950 film Panic in the Streets, The Day the Earth Caught Fire is memorable for its London locations. Shooting took place in Fleet Street, Battersea Park and Trafalgar Square, with scenes of public hysteria, an anti-nuclear march and mist rising above the Thames.

With the film accorded cult status, Judd subsequently starred in an adaptation of H.G. Wells's novel First Men in the Moon (1964), in which he and Lionel Jeffries are seen encountering an alien civilisation on an 1899 trip in a home-made spacecraft. He also appeared in the horror picture Island of Terror (1966), playing alongside Peter Cushing as a doctor investigating the emergence of tentacled creatures in a remote Irish community which live on the bones of humans and animals.

Judd's film stardom eventually slowed and he returned to character roles, mainly on television. One of the meatiest was in Coronation Street (1982) as the con-man Geoff Siddall, one of the many notches on Elsie Tanner's bedpost, who ran off with £1,000 that he had persuaded Eddie Yeats to invest in a non-existent business.

"Frankly, I never considered myself to be the leading-man type," said Judd years later. "The necessities of stardom – the things that have nothing to do with the actual work – were not for me. I was very much a loner, which I still am. I wanted to continue doing what I do best, which is playing heavies. I started out as a young heavy, with slightly sinister overtones. I also played many mixed-up young men. I never had a self-image of being a movie star. I just wanted to be a good actor."

Born in Shanghai in 1932, Judd fled on the last boat out with his English father and Russian mother when the Japanese attacked China five years later. They moved to Britain, where Judd eventually became a student at the newly opened Bolton's Theatre Club in Kensington, west London.

He made his film début at the age of 15 as an extra in the crime thriller The Small Voice (1948, starring Howard Keel as an escaped convict) and swiftly followed it with appearances in The Guinea Pig (1948, alongside Richard Attenborough) and Once a Jolly Swagman (1948, featuring Dirk Bogarde).

Judd then gained repertory theatre experience in Windsor and Nottingham, before his brooding good looks led him to further screen roles as an adult. On television, he took 11 different bit-parts in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1957) and appeared in other swashbucklers such as Ivanhoe, The Adventures of Robin Hood and William Tell (all 1958). Later came roles as Gavin Grant in the espionage drama series Intrigue (1966) and the crippled Uncle Russell in Alan Plater's adaptation of Flambards (1979).

He also started low down the cast list in films, in pictures that included Carry on Sergeant (1958), I Was Monty's Double (1958) and Sink the Bismarck! (1960). But after his sci-fi successes, Judd was cast in supporting roles, such as Oswald in O Lucky Man! (1973), the director Lindsay Anderson's anti-capitalist, surrealist musical.

On the West End stage, Judd acted the role of Corporal Johnstone (alongside fellow newcomer Peter O'Toole) in The Long and the Short and the Tall (New Theatre, 1959) and played Harry Brown in The Tinker (Comedy Theatre, 1960). He returned there in 1973 for a role in the Tennessee Williams play Small Craft Warnings (1973).

Much of the actor's later career was spent on television, appearing in one-off episodes of popular series such as The Sweeney (1978), The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981), Casualty (1989) and Van der Valk (1992).

He was also an in-demand voiceover artist and was seen on screen as the presenter of the "Think Once, Think Twice, Think Bike" public information campaign, made in 1975, punching his hand to represent the impact that a car could have on a motorcycle.

Judd's first wife, the actress Gene Anderson, who died in 1965, appeared alongside him in the films The Shakedown (1959) and The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and a 1958 episode of the television adventure series White Hunter. He is survived by his second wife, the actress Norma Ronald, best known for her roles as Mildred Murfin in the radio comedy The Men from the Ministry and the secretary Kay Lingard in The Plane Makers and its sequel, The Power Game.

Edward Judd, actor: born Shanghai 4 October 1932; married Gene Anderson (died 1965), Norma Ronald (two daughters); died 24 February 2009.