Ross Davidson

Good Samaritan on 'EastEnders'


William Russell Davidson (Ross Davidson), actor: born Uddingston, Lanarkshire 25 August 1949; married Elizabeth Ross (marriage dissolved), 2005 Barbara Black (one son); died Frinton-on-Sea, Essex 16 October 2006.

Ross Davidson played Andy O'Brien, the first regular EastEnders character to be killed off, and might well have reflected that acting a Good Samaritan made him out of place in a television soap opera that thrives on constant friction.

His screen alter ego was a caring nurse who lived with his bossy fiancée, Debbie Wilkins (played by Shirley Cheriton). Theirs was a tempestuous relationship and, during a brief split, Debs was proposed to by a policeman, Detective Sergeant Quick, while the Queen Vic pub landlady, Angie Watts, seduced Andy as a way of taking revenge on her philandering husband, Den.

Andy and his former lover were reunited, only for him to die in heroic fashion. After an argument about money, he stormed out of their house, late for work, with Debs telling him to "drop dead". On his way to the hospital, he was killed as he dived to push a small boy out of the path of an out-of-control lorry. Carrying a donor card, which allowed someone else's life to be saved with his kidneys, Andy was a hero to the end.

Ross Davidson was also in the spotlight in 1986, for being written out of EastEnders after 18 months. When the dashing star had fallen for Cheriton, who left her husband for him, Davidson came into conflict with the serial's domineering producer, Julia Smith. "Having been a schoolteacher myself, I found the treatment degrading," he said. "I didn't want to stay under that regime." The actor also said he was tired of playing the goody-goody Andy, explaining:

There's no way I can go on being this wimpy, wet character. I'm a big bloke and I'm a Scot, and I'm as fiery as Scots are supposed to be. I was brought up in a rough area. I had my share of fights, played water polo for Scotland, ran a rough club where doors got bashed in and I was a physical education teacher. That hardly makes me a wimp and I'm not.

Davidson and Cheriton had been in the original cast, in February 1985. They set up home together and planned to marry, but parted five years later.

The actor, born William Russell Davidson in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, in 1949, and brought up in Motherwell, had already experienced his own broken marriage, having split up with his first wife, a primary school teacher, after less than three years together. He had started his working life as a PE teacher in his native Scotland, but furthered his ambitions to act by attending night classes. "My wife didn't like the idea of me becoming famous and that's what killed our marriage off," he said.

Before deciding to realise his ambitions - and take his ex-wife's maiden name, Ross, as his stage name - Davidson played water polo at international level for Scotland and left teaching to run a pub and disco in Glasgow.

He made his screen acting début on television in A Degree of Uncertainty (1979), a BBC "Play for Today" set in a Scottish university, then appeared as a kilted dancer in Stanley Baxter on Television (1979). He also had small parts as a mime troupe member in The Comedy of Errors ("BBC Television Shakespeare", 1983) and a photographer in Widows II (1985), as well as appearing in the film The Pirates of Penzance (1983) and the Monty Python short The Crimson Permanent Assurance (screened in cinemas immediately before The Meaning of Life, 1983). In Spain, Holland and Germany, he was seen in commercials for products ranging from chewing gum to beer.

After EastEnders, in 1986 Davidson recorded a pop single, "Jigsaw Puzzle", that failed to chart but was soon busy acting in stage plays - he had previously appeared in Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre - and returned to the small screen as a presenter of the BBC lunchtime magazine show Daytime Live (1987-88) and the sports challenge series Run the Gauntlet (1989-90).

He played Superintendent Brand in a three-part story in the Scottish police series Taggart (1993), before joining High Road (1995), the Scottish Television soap opera, as Peter Odell, a bed-hopping interior designer who committed murder, then killed himself. "I'm used to being killed off in soaps," Davidson reflected. (He joined High Road after being cast as a corrupt policeman in The Wharf, a serial set in London that was itself killed off when a backer could not be found.)

Davidson resurfaced in the teen soap Hollyoaks (1999-2002) as Andy Morgan, a coffee-house owner and father of four who went through a divorce and disbelieved his son Luke's claim to have been raped by a rival footballer, until the attacker was jailed for eight years. He also appeared in Brookside: double take! (1999), a video featuring members of the Hollyoaks and Brookside casts.

In early 2005, Davidson underwent an operation to remove a brain tumour, but within weeks it had returned. In May last year, he brought forward his planned wedding to Barbara Black, with whom he had a seven-year-old son, Drew. The once athletic heart-throb was left bald and bloated as a result of his cancer treatment and his vision was affected by the tumour. With black humour, he said:

I have to be careful. Because of my bad peripheral vision, I keep bumping into old ladies. They see my skinhead look and assume I'm a drunken yob. This brain-cancer business takes some getting used to.

Anthony Hayward

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