Woodward found fame playing tough-guy roles

Edward Woodward: Born June 1, 1930. Died November 16, 2009.

Actor Edward Woodward found wealth, stardom and acclaim for starring in a series of tough-guy roles, be it spies, soldiers, cops or as a score-settling private eye.

The actor enjoyed the distinction of starring in long-running TV series on both sides of the Atlantic - Callan and The Equalizer - together with a number of unforgettable movie appearances.

Few who have seen it will forget the anguished final moments of the low-budget classic The Wicker Man, in which Woodward's well-meaning police sergeant is burned alive.

Yet it was well into Woodward's career that his became a recognisable face. One of his most famous roles, as TV secret agent Callan, came along 20 years after he had first begun treading the boards in provincial theatre.

And it was almost another two decades before he landed the small screen role that cemented his celebrity status as The Equalizer.

In the US, where the series was filmed, one magazine poll voted him "the male TV star more women would like to cuddle than any other", and he was labelled a sex symbol for his portrayal of the ice cool, but charming ex-CIA agent Robert McCall - a vigilante who operates his own one-man security service.

His private life was marred by the failure of his first marriage, to actress Venetia Barrett, which ended bitterly in divorce after Woodward left her for a younger woman, actress Michele Dotrice, 16 years his junior.

After a prolonged and messy separation, his estranged wife spilled the story of their troubled marriage to a tabloid newspaper under the heading "How The Equalizer Wiped Me Out - by the wife he ditched".

Woodward spoke later of the "guilt" he felt breaking from the women he married in 1952 and with whom he had three children - Tim, Peter, and Sarah - all of whom followed in his footsteps as actors.

Edward Albert Arthur Woodward was born into a modest, working-class family in Croydon, Surrey. His father was a chicken farmer-turned metal worker.

An only child, Woodward developed an early interest in acting at school, performing in plays and reciting passages of elocution.

At 16, after being dissuaded from early ambitions to become a journalist, he won a scholarship to RADA, where he stayed a year before going into rep.

Yet it was 10 years before his acting attracted notice, when he played the part of Mercutio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

He spent a year with the RSC in Stratford in 1958, and he was later flattered to be asked by his boyhood idol Sir Laurence Olivier to join the National Theatre.

The 1960s also saw him take a stream of bit parts before landing the role of Callan from 1967 to 1972 (reprising the part for a film in 1974).

As the cool, calculating Callan, in the Thames TV series, Woodward became the most famous spy on British television.

His seedy MI5 character, the gaunt, working-class loner with the clipped, Cockney voice and a chip on his shoulder, was a smash hit. He starred in 64 episodes.

Between series, he was a killer in The White Devil at the National Theatre (1970), the poet and swordsman Cyrano de Bergerac in another role, and then a laconic police inspector in Sitting Target, a 1972 film.

The following year he starred as the fiercely Christian policeman Sgt Neil Howie who heads to a remote pagan Scottish island. His hopeless search for a missing girl became a memorable cult hit.

By the time he was awarded an OBE, he had amassed a string of national and international acting awards.

Woodward - Teddy to his friends - won further recognition in the title role of Breaker Morant (1980), a film about Australian horsemen fighting for the British during the Boer War, and in 1984 he was the Ghost of Christmas Present, with George C Scott as Scrooge, in the TV movie of A Christmas Carol. In the Biblical epic King David (1985), he proved his versatility as Saul.

When approached by producers of The Equalizer in the mid-1980s, he later recalled reading the script and thinking: "The plot is a disaster."

And he once said he would have "hocked his house" against the series finding success.

Instead, it brought him near-millionaire status and fame both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, where episodes were shot, fans mobbed him in the street seeking autographs.

His character McCall, the steely-eyed Englishman with the sharply-cut suit and an Old Etonian accent, was dubbed a cross between Dirty Harry and an agony aunt. Despite being described as "the thinking man's Rambo", he won the acclaim of the industry when in February 1987, the role won him a prestigious Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

As well as a keen following, with 22 episodes a year, the part also turned into his most profitable - he was paid more for one episode as The Equalizer than most British stage actors in the UK earned in a year.

He suffered a suspected heart attack in July 1987 while filming HTV's British-made spy film Kyril, in which he played an MI6 double agent and killer.

Earlier, in January, he married Dotrice, best known for her TV role opposite Michael Crawford, as Frank Spencer's wife in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and guests at the secret New York ceremony included their daughter, Emily Beth.

Further health complications included triple bypass surgery in 1996 and prostate cancer which was diagnosed in 2003.

Despite a lower profile in the past decade, Woodward continued to act including a starring role in the revived CI5: The New Professionals, a cameo in spoof cop movie Hot Fuzz and guest roles in shows such as The Bill.

Earlier this year he appeared in a number of episodes of BBC1's EastEnders.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing