Ed Bishop

Versatile American actor based in England best known for the television series 'UFO'

Monday 13 June 2005 00:00
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Ed Bishop made a career as an American actor working in England. He was best known for his lead role as Commander Ed Straker in Gerry Anderson's live action television series UFO (1970-71) and he was the voice of Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet vs the Mysterons (1980), but he was prolific and versatile not only on big and small screens but also on stage and radio. When in 1996 he took the part of Al Clancy on The Archers (an academic from Kansas doing a house swap with the Snells), he provoked angry letters complaining about his implausible American accent.

George Victor Bishop (Ed Bishop), actor: born New York 11 June 1932; married 1955 Jane Thwaites (marriage dissolved), 1962 Hilary Preen (three daughters, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1996), 2001 Jane Skinner; died Kingston upon Thames, Surrey 8 June 2005.

Ed Bishop made a career as an American actor working in England. He was best known for his lead role as Commander Ed Straker in Gerry Anderson's live action television series UFO (1970-71) and he was the voice of Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet vs the Mysterons (1980), but he was prolific and versatile not only on big and small screens but also on stage and radio. When in 1996 he took the part of Al Clancy on The Archers (an academic from Kansas doing a house swap with the Snells), he provoked angry letters complaining about his implausible American accent.

Born George Bishop in Brooklyn, New York, in 1932, and raised in Peekskill, he was intended by his father for banking, but after an abandoned attempt at teacher training and a stint in the US armed forces he enrolled at Boston University - switching halfway through from business administration to drama. He graduated in Theatre Arts (one of his classmates was the late John Cazale), and earned a Fulbright scholarship to study acting for two years at Lamda. He graduated in 1959, and found work almost immediately in British theatre and film, adopting the first name "Edward" for professional reasons.

In 1962, he married as his second wife Hilary Preen, an Englishwoman whom he met at a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, and they went to New York the next year for his Broadway début in David Merrick's production of The Rehearsal, with Coral Browne, but returned to England in 1964.

Ed Bishop revelled in the freedom accorded actors in Britain to move between stage, film, television and radio. He appeared in The Saint (four times), The Baron, Man in a Suitcase and many other television series. He appeared in many movies and gave outstanding performances in the British premieres of The Archbishop's Ceiling and Broken Glass by Arthur Miller. He was the only actor I've ever seen render wholly, frighteningly credible the often-caricatured figure of Willy Loman's Uncle Ben in Miller's Death of a Salesman (in David Thacker's 1996 production at the National).

A consummate craftsman - with a partiality for Guinness and cigars - he was always generous to fellow actors, ever ready with illuminating stories from his own campaigns in the acting trenches. Whether it was blowing the tongue-twisting line "I'm Klaus Hergersheimer; I'm checking radiation shields" on Diamonds are Forever (1971) - causing an enormous scene to be re-set two or three times (of course he'd been perfect all through rehearsals) - or reminiscing about working with Eddie Albert ("We became a kind of 'odd couple' "), he gave a vivid example of how to be an actor - with courage, tenacity and, above all, humour.

I worked with Bishop on Angela Lansbury's pilot The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax (1999), playing his CIA subordinate. He was always on the lookout for opportunities to build up my role at the expense of his own - this was not laziness but genuine concern for a younger actor trying to make his way in the business.

In one scene we were to walk toward camera down a wet brick tunnel, stopping at a crime-scene doorway manned by a gendarme, before entering to witness the carnage within. The smoke machine enhanced the sweating walls, but just before the take the director shouted: "Wait! Maybe one of you guys should have a flashlight!"

"I'll do it!" I called, eager to accommodate. I was handed a hefty torch.

As we slipped out of sight around a bend in the passageway, Bishop said in a low voice: "What they usually want you to do is pass the beam once or twice across the lens, and then shine it up in the face of the guy in the doorway."

I was doubtful - such a cliché.

"Oh Ed . . . you really think so?"

"Yes!" he urged.

The camera was about to roll. I halfheartedly voiced a question to the director. He didn't hear me - luckily.

"Don't ASK!" Bishop hissed. "Just DO it!"

I did it.

When the director called cut, he also exclaimed: "Brilliant! Excellent with the torch! "

Bishop's distinctive voice graced the airwaves for decades, notably as Philip Marlowe on Radio 4, in a hilarious send-up of Watergate with Peter Sellers, John Bird and John Fortune (Bishop was John Dean) and in many plays and commercials.

Ed Bishop had strong feelings about the destructive greed of the military/industrial complex - he was an avid organiser and attender of demonstrations against the bombing of Afghanistan and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. His political outlook was defined not so much by left and right as by right and wrong. He himself was firmly on the side of the right, the good, the life-affirming.

With brio and verve, he gatecrashed a 1993 arms-trade fair at Aldershot, dressed not unlike Augusto Pinochet, to draw attention to the callous trade in mechanised death. Here he met Jane Skinner, a professional photographer on hand to record this act of outrageous political theatre. She was to become Ed's third and last wife (he and Hilary had divorced in 1996). Jane has asked that, in lieu of flowers and other tributes, donations be made to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade - www.caat.org.uk.

Paul Birchard

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