Glyn Owen

Veteran television actor who played the hard-drinking Jack Rolfe in 'Howards' Way'
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The Independent Online

Glyn Owen, actor: born Bolton, Lancashire 1928; twice married (one son, one daughter); died 10 September 2004.

The veteran television actor Glyn Owen had a knack of playing characters who were both flawed but sympathetic. In Coronation Street (1965), he was Norman Lindley, who returned to his estranged wife, the cornershop owner, Florrie, to ask for a divorce, had a fling with Elsie Tanner and ended up making a new start with Florrie in Canada.

In the first series of the boardroom-to-bedroom drama The Brothers (1972), he was Edward Hammond, the eldest of three squabbling sons who all inherit their father's haulage firm. Edward had expected to take it over himself after helping to establish the business over many years.

Then, Owen virtually reprised that tycoon role when Gerard Glaister, producer of The Brothers, cast him in Howards' Way (1985-90) as the cantankerous Jack Rolfe. Rolfe was a widower who had married the daughter of the owner of the fictional Mermaid boatyard in a calculated move intended to ensure his inheritance of the business, in which he had risen from apprentice to manager. Although he secured his ambition, Rolfe was a volatile and sentimental man who turned to drink as a result of the guilt he felt.

Eventually, the yard's failing fortunes forced him to accept new investment from a redundant aircraft designer, Tom Howard (played by Maurice Colbourne), and he was soon drinking the yard's profits after a financial turnaround. Jack Rolfe was irritating, but oozed a charm and humour that made others forgive him. Glyn Owen considered himself to be very different from the character, saying:

I'm nothing like him. I'm not nearly as tough and abrasive, and I'm less stubborn, too. I'd

never have dug my heels in over wooden boats, as Jack has. On the other hand, I can understand his feelings for them and for the work that's gone into them, the sheer skill.

Howards' Way, filmed on the River Hamble in Bursledon, near Southampton, was conceived as a British answer to the glossy American soap operas Dallas and Dynasty, and its combination of naked capitalism and steamy affairs - in the vein of The Brothers, but with more glitz - attracted up to 14 million viewers over six series. In 1989, riding high on his Howards' Way fame, Owen recorded a pop single, "I Wish I Could Love You Again", backed by the Simon May Orchestra.

Born in Bolton, Lancashire, of a Welsh father, Glyn Owen enjoyed singing in his school choir but switched to amateur dramatics when his voice broke. He turned professional by joining the Dundee Repertory Theatre as an assistant stage manager.

On moving to London, he was a founder-member of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, where "Angry Young Men" such as John Osborne, Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson found an outlet for plays that challenged the Establishment and brought working-class culture to a wide audience (in the same way that Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop was doing at the time).

Among those that Owen acted in were Osborne's The Blood of the Bambergs and Under Plain Cover (Plays for England, 1963) and Gwyn Owen's The Keep (1962). He also spent six months in New York as the Knight in the Broadway production of another Osborne play, Luther (directed by Tony Richardson at the St James and Lunt-Fontanne Theatres, 1963-64), and recreated the role of Conn in The Keep for television.

Much later, he returned to New York to play Max Harkaway in a revival of the comedy London Assurance (directed by Ronald Eyre at the Palace Theatre, 1974-75), but he never considered carving out a stage career there. "I'd get homesick," he said. "You see, I may look tough, but basically I'm a pussycat!"

Television was the medium in which Owen was most prolific. After playing George Brett in the six-part sci-fi series The Trollenberg Terror (1956), in the "Saturday Serial" slot, he became widely known as the Irish casualty officer Dr Patrick ("Paddy") O'Meara in Britain's first twice-weekly serial, Calling Nurse Roberts (1957), which was turned into the long-running hospital drama Emergency - Ward 10, and the 1959 film spin-off, Life in Emergency Ward 10.

He was then seen as Hugo in the swashbuckling family adventure Richard the Lionheart (1962-63), before starring as the former policeman Richard Hurst in the popular spy series The Rat Catchers (1966-67), about a special intelligence unit set up to tackle enemy menaces in defence of Britain and the Western alliance. Between acting in The Brothers and Howards' Way, Owen had a string of other leading roles in television series, including Jack Mullery in Oil Strike North (1975) and Animal Morgan in the Welsh lifeboat drama Ennal's Point (1982).

He listed his favourite stage roles as the headmaster in Colin Welland's Roll On Four O'Clock and Claudius in Hamlet, opposite Tom Courtenay. "There's nothing like the reaction a live audience gives you, and I wouldn't be without it," he said. "I can never get used to the ovation they give me when I walk on stage."

Anthony Hayward