Francis Matthews: Actor who specialised in debonair characters and was best known as the suave sleuth and crime novelist Paul Temple


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The Independent Online

Noted for playing suave, debonair characters on television in the 1960s and 1970s, Francis Matthews was best known as Francis Durbridge's elegant detective Paul Temple, whose success as a crime novelist brought wealth enabling him to drive a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Drophead Coupé, live in a smart Chelsea pad and travel across Europe on his adventures. The amateur sleuth was accompanied by his designer clothes-wearing wife, Steve (played by Ros Drinkwater), and together they witnessed opulent lifestyles in countries ranging from the Netherlands to Malta. The urbane Matthews fitted the role like a glove, admitting: "I'm more or less playing myself."

Paul Temple (1969-71) was one of British television's first programmes to be made in colour and followed a string of radio serials and films featuring the character and stretching back to the 1930s. The BBC series ran to 52 episodes over four series, and from the second run was made as a co-production with the German companies Taurus Film and ZDF. According to Matthews, he was Durbridge's own preferred actor for the lead role. "I had done two of his TV serials, My Friend Charles and The World of Tim Frazer," he said. "Francis Durbridge rang when Paul Temple was being cast [and] simply offered me the job."

Alongside his drama roles, Matthews was adept at comedy and, over the years, worked with legends such as Tony Hancock, Bruce Forsyth and Morecambe and Wise. For a young generation of the 1960s he was familiar as the voice of the indestructible title character in Gerry Anderson's futuristic puppet series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68). The producer cast him after hearing his humorous impression of Cary Grant and thought the mid-Atlantic voice perfect for both British and American audiences.

Matthews was born in York to Henry, a Rowntree factory shop steward, and Kathleen. He attended St Michael's Jesuit College, Leeds, and gained a childhood love of theatre. As a result his first job was as an assistant stage manager at the city's Theatre Royal and he made his acting début there, aged 17, as a schoolboy in The Corn Is Green (1945) before national service in the Navy.

Repertory work followed, including two years at the Oxford Playhouse, which led to Matthews being cast alongside Flora Robson in a national tour of No Escape (1954). He made his screen début in a 1951 episode of the children's television serial At Your Service, Ltd and followed it by playing Ronald Gilchrist in a six-part adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's unfinished novel St Ives (1955) and Ken Palmer in the Durbridge thriller serial My Friend Charles (1956). His first film role was as Ranjit Kasel in the Raj drama Bhowani Junction (1956), alongside Ava Gardner, whom he took home to have tea with his parents when she rebelled against the film studio's insistence that she should be out in public promoting the production.

Matthews then had countless character roles on screen. He found a cult following in the horror films The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), as Peter Cushing's blackmailing assistant; Corridors of Blood (1958), as Boris Karloff's son; Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966).

In 1962, he met the actress Angela Browne when they appeared together in the BBC Scotland espionage serial Dark Island, filmed in the Outer Hebrides. They married the following year. Two of their three sons are the actors Paul Rattigan and Damien Matthews. His brother, Paul Shelley, is also an actor

His first regular sitcom role was as the investment manager looking after the inheritance money of a young woman (Katie Boyle) in the first series (1960) of Golden Girl. Later he played Simon Lieberman, learning the furniture-making business from his craftsman father (David Kossoff), in A Little Big Business (1964-65); Lord Peregrine Hansford, experiencing butler problems, in My Man Joe (1967); Tom Lawrence, more successful as a playwright than his best friend (George Cole), in Don't Forget to Write! (1977-79); Stanley Binns, dreaming up money-making scams, in the Alan Plater-scripted Middlemen (1977); Jack Askew in the home-buying comedy A Roof Over My Head (1977); and Geoffrey Dickens, half of a couple (with Geraldine McEwan as his wife) escaping their children, in Tears Before Bedtime (1983).

As well as appearing in the Morecambe and Wise films The Intelligence Men (1965) and That Riviera Touch (1966), Matthews was in the comedy duo's regular television show (1971) and two Christmas specials (1971, 1977).

His other drama roles included Lewis Richards in The World of Tim Frazer (1961), Eric the Prologue, the narrator and one of the modern pilgrims, in Alan Plater's Trinity Tales (1975) and the suave, scheming Alec Loding in the mystery serial Brat Farrar (1986). He also played Noël Coward in Ike: The War Years (1979) and Harold Macmillan in Moi, General de Gaulle (1990). His last screen appearance was in the 2012 television production of Ray Cooney's farce Run for Your Wife.

Francis Joseph Matthews, actor: born York 2 September 1927; married 1963 Angela Browne (died 2001; three sons); died 14 June 2014.