Harry Towb: Character actor of stage and screen who starred with Dirk Bogarde in 'The Sleeping Tiger'

Harry Towb was a familiar face on British TV from the 1950s onwards, equally happy in popular dramas and serials as in classic plays, but he also appeared in films and had a considerable stage career.

Towb, who had an Irish mother and a Russian father, was supposedly the only Jew born in Larne, County Antrim. After a spell in Newcastle in County Down, the family moved to Belfast. Jewishness and Irishness were themes to which he returned throughout his career.

After theatre work in Ireland, Towb moved to London, quickly finding success. In a 1950 TV production of Roger MacDougall's play The Gentle Gunman, he played the impatient one of two sibling IRA members during the Second World War. But, though impressive, Towb was not sufficiently famous for the 1952 film, and Dirk Bogarde took the role.

In 1951 he played Jerry Devine, the on-off fiancé who finally abandons the pregnant Mary in a BBC production of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. He also had a small part in The Quiet Woman, a B-movie about post-war smugglers. His career would regularly feature Irishmen and criminals. In 1954, he played the former in the turgid, Methodist-backed biopic John Wesley, and the latter opposite Bogarde in The Sleeping Tiger, pseudonymously directed by a blacklisted Joseph Losey.

1950s television offered a stream of one-off dramas, series and would-be serials. Towb played relatively small roles in dramas like the Francis Durbridge six-part thriller The Teckman Biography (1953). But, while one-offs and short series were welcome, a long-term serial, even in a non-starring role, eluded him. ATV's 1955 Steve Hunter, Trouble Merchant folded quickly. But long-running series did offer the chance to play different roles in various, widely spaced episodes. Hence, occasionally credited as Harris Towb, he played a series of Irishmen in the lightly comic Sherlock Holmes (1954-55).

Reliable and versatile, there were few popular series in which Towb didn't make at least one appearance, including The Avengers, Dr Finlay's Casebook, Dr Who, Minder and Heartbeat as well as comedies like Doctor at Sea and The Fenn Street Gang.

Versed in playing shady characters, police and detective serials provided regular work. Dixon of Dock Green had been running since 1955 and unsurprisingly Towb notched up a few episodes. But this was between 1964 and 1974 when the programme had toughened up from its original "evenin' all" 1950s gentility. This change had partly been a reaction to the arrival of Z-Cars in 1962. The late 1960s and 70s saw Towb appear in that series as well as the follow-up, Softly Softly, and Callan.

Later, Towb moved easily into the even tougher cop dramas, playing a retired gangster in The Bill in early 2001. The character was brought back later that year but he didn't become a regular, though Towb did return in different roles in 2004 and 2007. His appearances in Casualty – again in two different parts – were even more widely spaced, between 1992 and 2006. Though these serials offered regular work, Towb avoided soaps. However, in 2008 he appeared in a couple of episodes of EastEnders as the elderly fiancé of the scheming Janine Butcher.

Towb's Jewish heritage was an important part of his career. In 1981 he starred in his own television play Cowboys, about a Jewish Irish-American returning to Belfast after many years. Two years later he fronted Odd Men In, a documentary about Belfast's Jews, a personal highlight coming when he interviewed the Israeli President Chaim Herzog, who was born in the city. He had a small role in Murderers Among Us: the Simon Wiesenthal Story (1989). But two years later he starred in Lawrence Marks and Maurice Gran's overlooked serio-comic take on sectarianism, So You Think You've Got Troubles? (1991), as a man wanting to increase Belfast's Jewish population.

As with television, his film work centred on character roles in films ranging from the First World War fighter- pilot drama The Blue Max (1966), a single Carry On (At Your Convenience, 1971) to The Most Fertile Man in Ireland (2000).

Though best-known for his TV and film work, Towb had a very notable stage career, including several musicals: Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978), Anything Goes (1989) and, for the National, The Beggar's Opera (televised in 1983) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2004).

His work for the National also included Brighton Beach Memories, Death of a Salesman and Nikolai Erdman's tragic-farcical The Mandate. He had a stint at the RSC (Sherlock Holmes and Travesties on Broadway) and also starred opposite Shelley Winters in the Broadway production of Saul Bellows' Under the Weather.

Back in Ireland he appeared at the Abbey Theatre (The Importance of Being Earnest), and in Belfast recently played Tiresias in Antigone, and starred in Sam McCready's New York State of Mind. Playing a veteran actor mentoring a young man's attempt to get on to Broadway, Towb said:

"Sam could have written that drama for me. I could have been living my own life when I was on stage in this play."

Harry Towb, actor: born Larne, County Antrim 27 July 1925; married 1965 Diana Hoddinott (three children); died London 24 July 2009.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star