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.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears