John Hallam

Tyrannical squire in 'The Mallens'


John William Francis Hallam, actor: born Lisburn, Co Antrim 28 October 1941; married 1966 Vicky Brinkworth (one son, three daughters; marriage dissolved 1992); died Clifton, Oxfordshire 14 November 2006.

A prolific character actor who kept popping up on screen for four decades, often as hard men or military types, John Hallam found one role that catapulted him to centre-stage - that of the tyrannical, 19th-century Northumberland squire in Catherine Cookson's The Mallens who fathered a string of illegitimate sons, sharing with him one identifiable characteristic: the white streak in his hair.

The opening scene of the first episode, based on the best-selling novelist's gritty Mallen family sagas, brutally brought home the character. Thomas Mallen, complete with bushy sideburns, appeared on a horse, circled a young woman, laughed at her and hooked his crook around her neck, before raping her.

Fast forward then to Mallen's life with his nieces and their governess after he is made bankrupt and loses his home, High Bank Hall - and the parallel exploits of his equally ruthless bastard son Donald Radlett (John Duttine), the product of that opening scene. The debauched squire himself has a relationship with the governess, Anna Brigmore (Caroline Blakiston), and rapes one of his nieces, Barbara (Pippa Guard), who dies while giving birth to a daughter. Finally consumed with guilt, he shoots himself.

The bodice-ripping and heaving bosoms attracted television audiences of up to 12 millionto the 1979, seven-part series and a second series - without Hallam - focused on the deaf, illegitimate daughter, played by Juliet Stevenson.

John Hallam was born, the son of a superintendent at London docks, in 1941 in Lisburn, County Antrim, after the family were evacuated to Northern Ireland during the Second World War. On returning to England, he boarded at St Albans School, before starting his working life in a London bank. Despite having a talent for mathematics, he said he was sacked for getting the figures right without being able to explain how he did so. As a result, he ended up selling deckchairs on the South Coast, where he eventually found acting work in repertory theatre.

After a couple of attempts, he was accepted by Rada (1962-64), training alongside other ambitious young actors such as Ronald Pickup. Worried about his lantern jaw, he took a term out to have an inch taken off it. He also started riding, in a calculated move to increase his chances of gaining roles on leaving drama school.

It was not long before he was acting with Laurence Olivier's embryonic National Theatre Company, playing the Stage Door Keeper in Trelawney of the "Wells" (Old Vic Theatre, 1965). While with the company, he met his wife-to-be, the mask-maker Vicky Brinkworth (they later divorced), and was seen performing on television for the first time, in the small role of a watchman when the BBC screened the director Franco Zeffirelli's National Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing (Old Vic, 1967).

Stage roles became infrequent when an unending flow of film and television work followed. On the big screen, he worked his way up from bit-parts as an officer in The Charge of the Light Brigade (directed by Tony Richardson, 1968) and a revolting Burpa tribesman in Carry On Up the Khyber (a rare comedy, 1968) to more substantial roles as Sir Meles of Bohemia in A Walk with Love and Death (the director John Huston's tale of 14th-century romance in France, 1969), the seaplane pilot Lieutenant Ellis in Murphy's War (alongside Peter O'Toole, 1971), Nagorny, the sailor protecting the last Tsar's son Alexei, in the Russian Revolution drama Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and Thidias, Caesar's messenger who is whipped for kissing the Egyptian queen's hand, in Antony and Cleopatra (starring and directed by Charlton Heston, 1972).

Hallam's lengthy appearances as PC McTaggart in the opening scenes of the original theatrical release of The Wicker Man (1973) were cut completely when EMI, which had bought the production company, British Lion, first refused to distribute what became a cult horror film, then put it out in cinemas as a shortened B-picture, preceding the supernatural thriller "Don't Look Now". As a result, audiences were not treated to the "heathen" constable's update to his churchgoing sergeant (Edward Woodward) on recent events in their small Scottish coastal town during his superior's absence: "Nothing serious - just the usual rape, sodomy, sacrilege." ("The Director's Cut" has just been issued on DVD.)

But the actor enjoyed appearances in three other cult films, all sci-fi fantasies: as Luro in Flash Gordon (1980), the King's evil minion Tyrian in Dragonslayer (1981) and Mandara in Kull the Conqueror (1997).

His most regular work was on television. He played James Willoughby, rising from lieutenant to captain, in The Regiment (following the Cotswolds from the Boer War to India at the turn of the 19th century, 1972-73), Lord Chiltern in The Pallisers (based on Anthony Trollope, 1974, 1976), a sergeant-major in The Four Feathers (1977), Harry Farmer in Wings (a First World War fighter-pilots drama, 1977-78), Captain Parker in John Silver's Return to Treasure Island (1986) and Captain Drinian in The Chronicles of Narnia (1989).

In EastEnders (1988-90), he was Den Watts's cellmate, Barnsey, when the former Queen Vic landlord was jailed for torching a rival pub, the Dagmar. Barnsey also let Nick Cotton, another Albert Square reprobate who had taken up residence behind bars, know who was boss inside Dickens Hill prison and later attended the funeral after Den was believed to have been killed by gangsters.

Hallam then appeared briefly in another soap, Emmerdale (1990), as Terry Prince (1990), whose drinking session with his friend Frank Tate made the alcoholic businessman miss his daughter Zoë's graduation ceremony at Edinburgh University. He also played the murderous alien Light, mistaken by Ace for an angel in Victorian England, in the three-part Doctor Who story "Ghost Light" (1989).

Once, when cast as a mad major who keeps two "pet" tigers in a cage at his home in the zoo vets series One by One (1987), Hallam had his arm bitten by one of them. Staring directly at the tiger, he simply threatened: "Don't you mess with me!" As the animal cowered away, Hallam was despatched to hospital for a tetanus injection.

Despite his tough-guy image, the 6ft 3in Hallam - distinguishable by his thick mop of black hair - was known to friends as a gentle man who loved gardening. He was the cousin of Clive Mantle, who acted Mike Barratt in Casualty.

Anthony Hayward

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