Frank Jarvis: Actor who helped Michael Caine rob a shipment of gold in 'The Italian Job'

Anthony Hayward
Saturday 06 November 2010 01:00 GMT

A square-jawed character actor who took bit-parts on screen for almost 50 years, Frank Jarvis was never a household name but will be remembered by fans of the cult film The Italian Job and aficionados of Doctor Who.

In the 1969 film about the attempt by a released convict (played by Michael Caine) to steal a $4m shipment of gold as it arrives in Turin, he played Roger, one of the gang. While six of them career away from the scene of the crime in red, white and blue Mini Coopers, Roger and the others – disguised as England football supporters, in woolly hats and scarves – navigate the crowded streets in a campervan.

In the final, memorable scene, where the getaway coach jack-knifes over an Alpine precipice, with the gold precariously placed at the wrong end, Roger is seen tiptoeing carefully towards safety with the rest of the group, all of them puzzling over how to retrieve the valuable haul.

Jarvis took three roles in Doctor Who: a hysterical and incoherent corporal in "The War Machines" (1966), about a computer in present-day London that can think for itself and aims to eradicate humans; Ankh, an interrogator answerable to a space ship's computer, in "Underworld" (1978); and Skart, a green-skinned Swampie trying to awaken a giant god living beneath the swamps on the marsh moon of Delta Magna, in "The Power of Kroll" (1978-9).

The actor was born John Francis Train in Stockton-on-Tees in 1941. During the Second World War his mother moved to London to be closer to her family. When he was seven, following her divorce, she remarried and he was adopted, taking his carpet-salesman father's surname. Five years later, his mother contracted multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair, meaning that Jarvis was largely responsible for bringing up his younger half-sister, Sue.

As a child, he acted in plays at Orange Hill grammar school, Edgware. After studying at University College, London, he trained at Rada (1958-60), where his contemporaries included Tom Courtenay.

Jarvis made his film debut in the thriller Mix Me a Person (1962) alongside Anne Baxter, Donald Sinden and Adam Faith. Although he later played an aide to Lieutenant Colonel Frost (Anthony Hopkins) in the Second World War drama A Bridge Too Far (1977), directed by Richard Attenborough, most of the actor's screen appearances were on television.

An eternal bit-part player, he popped up in episodes of many popular series, including The Saint (1963), Dixon of Dock Green (11 roles, 1964-75), Z Cars (1967), Secret Army (three roles, 1978-9) and The Bill (five roles, 1990-2006). He was frequently seen as policemen, in programmes such as Callan (1972), A Pin to See the Peepshow (1973), Target (1977) and Madson (1996), as well as a prison officer in The Sweeney (1975) and heavies in The Famous Five (1978) and Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective (1981).

In 1974, he had a short run as Jim Barker in The Brothers, about a backstabbing family running a road haulage firm. Then came a regular role as Master-at-Arms Burnett (1976-77) in Warship, about the crew of the frigate HMS Hero. On stage he acted in several of Peter Hall's productions over the years, including Lady Windermere's Fan (Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 2003) and Mrs Warren's Profession (Strand Theatre, 2004).

He directed many plays for the British Shakespeare Company at open-air venues. From 1970 to 1997 he also directed for the Abbots Langley Gilbert & Sullivan Society, of which he was a vice-president. For a while, he also taught drama at Southgate College in north London.

John Francis Train (Frank Jarvis), actor and director: born Stockton-on-Tees 13 May 1941; married 1967 Christine Murphy (marriage dissolved 1988); died Harefield, Middlesex 15 September 2010.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in