Terence Morgan

1950s leading man and TV Sir Francis Drake
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The Independent Online

In the cinema, Terence Morgan played a string of charming rats before switching to television as Elizabeth I's seafaring adventurer in Sir Francis Drake. Typical of ITV's early swashbucklers, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, the 26 half-hour programmes (1961-62) were popular Sunday-afternoon entertainment in British homes and one of the television executive Lew Grade's many series to be sold abroad, including the profitable American market.

Starring with Morgan was Jean Kent as Queen Elizabeth - and two recreations of the Golden Hind. A full-scale model was built for scenes shot at Elstree Studios while another, seaworthy replica for location filming in Cornwall was reconstructed from a neglected motor fishing vessel, found on the mudflats near Colchester, that had seen active service during the Second World War as a harbour launch but most recently as a mission ship with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

The series followed Morgan in his role as the first Englishman to sail round the world, taking on the Spanish on the high seas and bringing home glittering riches. During filming, the actor could call on the sword-fighting skills that he had gained in his first feature film, the Laurence Olivier- directed Hamlet (1948), in which he played Laertes. Anthony Bushell, who co-directed that screen production, went on to produce Sir Francis Drake.

Born in Lewisham, south London, in 1921, Morgan was brought up on the East Sussex coast, in Seaford, and began his working life as a clerk for Lloyd's of London, which, coincidentally, specialised in marine insurance. But, as a nephew of the actor Verne Morgan, he furthered his own interest in acting after winning a scholarship to Rada, then appeared in repertory theatre. Although he left to join the Army, acting across Britain in its theatre unit, he was invalided out after two years with claustrophobia and returned to the stage.

While making his West End début in Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play There Shall Be No Night, he was spotted by Laurence Olivier, who cast him in his own production, Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth (Phoenix Theatre, 1945), opposite that actor-director's second wife, Vivien Leigh.

Morgan joined the Old Vic Company and Olivier, one of its directors, on a 1948 tour of Australia and New Zealand to perform The School for Scandal, The Skin of Our Teeth and Richard III, then played Orsino in a BBC television production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (1950), before signing a film contract with the Rank Organisation.

He became a leading man in 1950s cinema, making his first impact with Phyllis Calvert as a couple bickering over the future of their deaf mute daughter in Mandy (1952). Morgan was also notable as a British Treasury investigator in the comedy Always a Bride (1953), a Special Branch detective in They Can't Hang Me (1955), a blackmailing Soho vice boss in The Shakedown (1959) and an aspiring underworld spiv in Piccadilly Third Stop (1960). When his Rank contract finished, Morgan won the title role in Sir Francis Drake (retitled The Adventures of Sir Francis Drake in the United States), but screen roles were then infrequent.

He starred in the Hammer horror film The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) and the director Peter Collinson's modish thriller The Penthouse (1967), as a real estate agent who spends the night in an unoccupied apartment with his mistress (Suzy Kendall) and is then tied to a chair and taunted by two men who abuse her. His final film appearance was in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1993).

A sea-lover who had lived in Hove, East Sussex, since 1958, Morgan ran a small hotel there for 16 years and spent an increasing amount of time as a property developer in Brighton and Hove, rather than taking theatre roles away from his home and family.

Anthony Hayward