Peter Gilmore: Actor who found fame on the stage and as hero of 'The Onedin Line'

 

The rugged good looks of Peter Gilmore set female hearts a-flutter for an entire decade when he starred on television as the mutton-chopped Captain James Onedin, gruff hero of The Onedin Line (1971-80). The actor grew side-whiskers for the role of a man running a late 19th-century Liverpool shipping line, battling to stay solvent as he watched his brother prosper while building up a profitable department store from the shop left to him by their father and his sister inherit the family cottage and marry into money.

With only £25 to make his fortune, James invested it in the three-masted, top-sailed schooner Charlotte Rhodes – which was the other star of the drama – sold to him on condition that he married the seller's daughter, Anne (played by Anne Stallybrass). He set up the Onedin Line in direct competition to his former employer and proved ruthless in his business dealings as he built up a fleet. When Stallybrass wanted to return to theatre acting, Anne died at the end of the second series while giving birth to a daughter, Charlotte. James ended up being married three times – as did Gilmore when he eventually wed Stallybrass.

The Onedin Line, an original idea by Cyril Abraham which spawned five novels, was one of television's most enduring period dramas, with the theme music, Aram Khatchaturian's Spartacus, proving to be another popular element. As the programme reached audiences in 70 countries, Gilmore rode the crest of this wave of success. He claimed that he spent half his time abroad during the 1970s, making public appearances and receiving gifts such as boats in bottles and handkerchiefs embroidered with reef knots. The drama finally ended with James's third wife giving him a son and heir, born aboard ship, while his sister's second husband died at sea. When Gilmore's acting career subsequently faltered, he blamed it on being typecast as Captain Onedin. In the 1990s, he retired through ill health.

Born in Germany, the son of a commercial traveller, Gilmore was sent to England at the age of six to live with relatives in Nunthorpe, near York. He attended the Friends' School, run by the Quakers at nearby Great Ayton. He left at 14, headed for London and worked in a factory. Eventually he saw the chance to realise his dream of becoming an actor when he signed up for a preparatory course at Rada – but he was expelled after just two terms.

While doing National Service in the Army, Gilmore had another chance to fulfill his ambition. Helping to stage variety shows to entertain the troops, he discovered he had a talent for singing. After being demobbed he toured with the George Mitchell Singers. He made his acting début as a stooge in a variety show in 1952 and, two years later, his first London appearance, in the revue You'll Be Lucky (Adelphi Theatre).

For the next two years, Gilmore performed in the revue Jokers Wild (Victoria Palace Theatre, 1954-56), which starred the Crazy Gang, a group of comedy double acts that included Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen. This was followed by the role of Tom in a tour of Star Maker (1956), featuring Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert.

Gilmore found his niche in stage musicals but had difficulty in landing a box-office success. He played Peter Haines in the motor-racing yarn Lady at the Wheel (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, and Westminster Theatre, 1958), before being cast as Freddy Eynsford Hill in the original West End production of My Fair Lady, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, only to be replaced shortly before it opened because the part was written for a tenor and he was a baritone. He battled on as the shepherd David Tooke in Valmouth (Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, 1958, and Saville Theatre, 1959) and Leander in The Love Doctor (Piccadilly Theatre, 1959), which, despite a cast featuring Ian Carmichael and Joan Heal, closed after just 16 performances.

Some success came with Gilmore's first lead role in the West End, as Tom, opposite Susan Hampshire, in Follow that Girl (Vaudeville Theatre, 1960). His display of youthful masculinity led him to record a pop-style single of the title song, although he had already given his vocal talents to albums, which he continued to do over the next 26 years. Boosted by the popularity of The Onedin Line, he was to record the albums Songs of the Sea (1974) and Peter Gilmore Sings Gently (1977).

His other West End musical roles were Matt, one of the young lovers, in the short-lived The Fantasticks (Apollo Theatre, 1961), Ramble in a revival of Lock Up Your Daughters (Mermaid Theatre and Her Majesty's Theatre, 1962), Sir Lucius O'Trigger in All in Love (Mayfair Theatre, 1964) and Captain Macheath in The Beggar's Opera (Apollo Theatre, 1968), another revival. By then he had notched up a decade of television roles, having made his screen début in an episode of Ivanhoe in 1958. That was also the year in which he appeared in the pop show Cool for Cats and met and married Una Stubbs, then one of the Dougie Squires Dancers and later a star of the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part.

Gilmore also featured in 11 Carry On films (1963-92). He was never one of the "name" stars but could often be spotted in the background messing around. His roles ranged from a petty gangster in Carry On Cabby (1963) and pear-eating ambulance driver in Carry On Doctor (1967) to King Francis of France in Carry On Henry (1971) and Governor of the Canaries in Carry On Columbus (1992).

The actor was also seen as Dr Kitaj in the horror film The Abominable Doctor Phibes (1971) and on television as Brazen, the doomed security chief of a distant human colony, in the Doctor Who adventure "Frontios" (1984) and circus owner Ben Bishop in the second series of the zoo vet drama One by One (1985). His final screen role was in the television film On Dangerous Ground (1996), based on the Jack Higgins thriller. In 1970, a year after his divorce from Stubbs, Gilmore married Jan Waters, who appeared with him on stage in The Beggar's Opera. Following their divorce, Gilmore lived with Anne Stallybrass, whom he married in 1987.

John Peter Gilmore, actor and singer: born Leipzig 25 August 1931; married 1958 Una Stubbs (divorced 1969; one adopted son), 1970 Jan Waters (divorced 1976), 1987 Anne Stallybrass; died London 3 February 2013.

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
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

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories