Peter Barkworth

Star of 'The Power Game' and 'Telford's Change' who enjoyed a prolific career on stage and small screen


Peter Wynn Barkworth, actor: born Margate, Kent 14 January 1929; died London 21 October 2006.

Middle-class management roles fitted the actor Peter Barkworth like a glove. After finding fame on television as Kenneth Bligh, fighting boardroom battles in The Power Game, he dreamed up his own series, Telford's Change, starring as a hotshot international banker who seeks a less stressful life by trading in international travel and an expense account to become a provincial bank manager in Dover.

The 10-part 1979 serial traced the effects this had on Mark Telford's life - and marriage, with his London-loving wife Sylvia (played by Hannah Gordon), who had her sights set on a career in show business, refusing to move.

Barkworth conceived the drama in 1968 but had it rejected by ITV, who regarded it as dull. Later, he suggested it to the writer Brian Clark, producer Mark Shivas and director Barry Davis while working with them on a "Play for Today", The Country Party (1977). The result was a popular success for the BBC, achieving audiences of up to 11 million and offending no one, with even the "clean up television" campaigner Mary Whitehouse branding it "very sexy".

Peter Barkworth also had a distinguished stage and film career, as well as directing, but he accepted that he would always be recognised by the public for these television roles. Looking back in 1992, he said,

It's 26 years now since The Power Game was screened and 13 since Telford's Change. Yet people still associate me with them. Mind you, some do a double-take when they see me in the flesh. "Weren't you Peter Barkworth?" they say. "Still am," I reply.

Born in Margate, Kent, in 1929, Barkworth moved with his family to Stockport, Cheshire, as a child and soon displayed a talent for acting. As a party piece for friends, he did an impersonation of Winston Churchill reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb", accompanied by his mother on the piano and father on the Swanee whistle. He acted in plays at Stockport School and appeared on stage aged 13 in For What We Are (1942) at the town's Hippodrome theatre.

He trained at Rada in London (1946-48), later recalling that his father gave up tobacco and alcohol in order to send his son £2 15s a week "to make ends meet". He returned to teach at the school (1955-63), with students such as Anthony Hopkins and Simon Ward, and later served as a Rada council member for many years. Ward recalled Barkworth's wise advice:

The moment you leave this academy and get your first job, make sure that, if you get paid £10, you save £2.50, otherwise you are going to end up in a little bedsit without a shilling to put in the gas meter.

Barkworth acted in repertory theatre in Folkestone and Sheffield before making his West End début as Gaston Probert in Letter from Paris (Aldwych Theatre, 1952), following it by playing Gerald Arbuthnot in A Woman of No Importance (Savoy Theatre, 1953) and Stefan in The Dark is Light Enough (Aldwych Theatre, 1954). Like a Dove (Phoenix Theatre, 1957), in which he was Bernard Taggart-Stuart, ran for more than 1,000 performances. Barkworth also played Sir Benjamin Backbite in a revival of The School for Scandal in the West End (Haymarket Theatre, 1962) and on Broadway (Majestic Theatre, 1963).

At the Haymarket in 1972, he was Edward VIII in Crown Matrimonial, Royce Ryton's play about the abdication crisis, and repeated the role when it was filmed two years later for television; he later named this his favourite part.

Having first appeared on television in a live, 20-minute BBC play at Alexandra Palace back in 1948, while still studying at Rada, Barkworth made his film début as a sub-lieutenant in the comedy A Touch of Larceny (alongside James Mason, 1959), going on to appear in Where Eagles Dare (1968), Mr Smith (1976) and Escape from the Dark (1976), but it was the small screen on which he became a regular in the 1960s, often playing detectives, vicars, wing commanders and other "professional" figures.

Most significant was The Power Game (1965-66, 1969), which was a spin-off from The Plane Makers, with the aerospace tycoon John Wilder (Patrick Wymark) transplanted to the boardroom of a merchant bank that takes control of the civil engineering company owned by Sir Caswell Bligh (Clifford Evans), with Barkworth as the founder's son, Kenneth. He remembered that, during the making of the series, "life became so stressful that the doctor put me on Mogadon and I became hooked for a while".

In between other, one-off character roles, Barkworth played Stanley Baldwin in Winston Churchill: the wilderness years (1981), starred as Geoffrey Carr, a computer magnate raising the ransom for his kidnapped wife and stepchild, in the thriller series The Price (1985), and won both Bafta and Royal Television Society Best Actor Awards for his performance as the philosophy professor Anderson in Tom Stoppard's play Professional Foul (1977).

He took a rare comedy role in the sitcom The Good Girl (1974), as the grumpy television executive Eustace Morrow, who wooed the younger, innocent Angie Botley (Julia Foster) but was dominated by his own mother (Joan Hickson).

Barkworth's last film role was as the prosecutor Charles Gill in Wilde (1997), starring Stephen Fry. "I have completely retired," he assured an interviewer in 2002, and now have a lot more time for friends. I can go to the theatre without feeling jealous or thinking, "Why wasn't I offered that part?"

He lived in Hampstead, north London, for more than 40 years and also had a seaside flat in Folkestone.

Peter Barkworth was the author of About Acting (1980), More About Acting (1984) and The Complete About Acting (1991), based on insights gathered while he was teaching at Rada. In First Houses (1983) he recalled his early years as an actor, while For All Occasions (1997) collected poetry and prose for public speakers.

Anthony Hayward

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