Edward Woodward: Star of 'Callan', 'The Equalizer' and 'The Wicker Man'

Two espionage series made Edward Woodward a television star on both sides of the Atlantic. First, British viewers saw him as the cold, unglamorous British Intelligence hit-man in Callan, a brutal, uncompromising drama intended by its creator, James Mitchell, to be an antidote to spy fantasy programmes such as The Avengers and the jet-set lifestyle depicted in The Troubleshooters.

It began as the single "Armchair Theatre" play A Magnum for Schneider (1967), with David Callan given the mission of sniffing out a gun-runner to redeem himself after challenging his bosses' authority once too often.

This led to four series of Callan (1967-72), which also featured as Callan's fellow-agents Peter Bowles, then Anthony Valentine, as Meres and – from the third run – Patrick Mower as Cross. Most memorable, though, was Russell Hunter in the role of the the petty thief Lonely, the spy's snivelling, smelly accomplice. Also memorable was the title sequence, showing a swinging lightbulb exploding in slow motion to the sound of a gunshot. Callan was spun off into a 1974 feature film and revived on the small screen for a single, feature-length drama, Wet Job, in 1981.

Four years later, Woodward was signed up by American television to star as the tough Robert McCall in The Equalizer (1985-89). The cynical, former secret agent offered his services for free to those seeking revenge and had no qualms about using his gun to "equalize" matters for the aggrieved.

"McCall is hard and ruthless, but he's also very gentle, soft-hearted and compassionate," insisted the actor. "And I think that's what makes him an interesting character – he's full of contradictions. And I cut an awful lot of violence out if I think it's gratuitous."

Woodward is also remembered by a legion of cult supernatural film fans for his starring role in The Wicker Man (1973) as the devout Christian police sergeant visiting a remote Hebridean island in search of a missing girl whom locals insist never existed. There, he discovers pagan rituals being practised and believes that the girl is probably being prepared for sacrifice – only to discover that the abduction was a hoax and that he is the real target. The policeman is then placed inside a massive, hollow wicker effigy of a man above the cliffs and the pyre is lit.

The Wicker Man also starred Christopher Lee, branching out from his performances in Dracula films to play Lord Summerisle, and Britt Ekland as the island's goddess of love deflowering young men.

Born in Croydon, Surrey, in 1930, the son of a metal worker, Woodward attended the town's Eccleston Road and Sydenham Road Schools, the Elmwood School, Wallingford, Hinchley Wood School and Kingston Commercial School. Keen on acting since winning a talent competition at the age of five, he joined the repertory company at the Castle Theatre, Farnham, as assistant stage manager and made his professional début in A Kiss for Cinderella (1946).

Winning a scholarship to Rada enabled Woodward to leave the job he had taken in a sanitary engineer's office. Following years in repertory theatre across Britain, he made his first West End appearance as Ralph Stokes in Where There's a Will (Garrick Theatre, 1954) and reprised the role in the B-film remake the following year.

His subsequent West End roles included John Evans in Doctor in the House (Victoria Palace Theatre, 1956), Captain Yule in The High Bid (Mermaid Theatre, 1967), the Duke of Bristol in On Approval (Haymarket Theatre, 1975) and Jaspar Tudor in The Dark House (Comedy Theatre, 1978).

A talented singer, Woodward also played Haggis in Scapa (Adelphi Theatre, 1962) and Sydney Carton in Two Cities (Palace Theatre, 1969), a musical version of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which won him the Variety Club's Best Performance in a Musical award.

During a 1958 season with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Woodward acted Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Laertes in Hamlet, Thaliard in Pericles and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing. The following year, he toured the Soviet Union with the RSC. Later, at the National Theatre, he played Flamineo in The White Devil (1969) and the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac (1970).

He was seen on Broadway in Rattle of a Simple Man (Booth Theatre, 1963), High Spirits (Alvin Theatre, 1964-65, as Charles Condomine, in a musical comedy based on Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit and directed by the writer) and the short-lived comedy The Best Laid Plans (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 1966).

Woodward made his television début in the "Armchair Theatre" play The Fabulous Moneymaker (1969) and took bit-parts in popular series such as Emergency – Ward 10 (1961) and The Saint (1967), before he was cast in Callan, which won him Bafta's Best Actor on Television award (1970). He later appeared on the small screen in Saturday, Sunday, Monday (alongside Laurence Olivier, 1978), the sitcom Nice Work (1980, as Edward Thornfield), Arthur the King (1985, as Merlin), both series of the comedy-drama Common as Muck (1994, 1997, as the binman Nev) and CI5: The New Professionals (1999, as Harry Malone, boss of the fictional CI5 in an updated version of the popular action programme).

Woodward also introduced the real-life crime series In Suspicious Circumstances (1991-96). The American drama Over My Dead Body (1990), in which he played a former Scotland Yard detective living in Los Angeles, failed to match the success of Callan and The Equalizer. Last year, he was joined by his son Tim and grandson Sam when he played the patriarch of a gangster family in The Bill. Then, he had a brief run in EastEnders (2009) as Tommy Clifford, seeking forgiveness for the murder, several decades ago, of Patrick Trueman's girlfriend.

Although known predominantly for his television work, Woodward brought his presence to bear on the cinema screen not only in The Wicker Man but as Sergeant Wellbeloved in Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers and the court-martialled Lieutenant Harry Morant in the Australian drama Breaker Morant (1980). He also played a member of a murderous neighbourhood watch group in the comedy Hot Fuzz (2007).

He was able to cash in on his Callan fame, using his singing talent to break into the charts with the single "The Way You Look Tonight" (1971) and the albums This Man Alone (1970) and The Edward Woodward Album (1972).

With his first wife, Venetia Collett – who acted under the name Venetia Barrett – Woodward had two sons, Tim and Peter, and a daughter, Sarah, who all followed their parents into acting. He and his second wife, the actress Michele Dotrice, had a daughter. The actor was appointed OBE in 1978.

Anthony Hayward



Edward Albert Arthur Woodward, actor: born Croydon, Surrey 1 June 1930; OBE, 1978; married 1952 Venetia Collett (marriage dissolved; two sons, one daughter), 1987 Michele Dotrice (one daughter); died Truro, Cornwall 16 November 2009.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Watch this commuter make a mad 320-metre, 75-step dash to work
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK edition of wedding show forced to recast after wave of drop-outs
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Supply Teachers needed in Stowmarket

£1034496 - £1516224 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The Job:Randstad ...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week