Philip Madoc: Actor forever remembered as the U-boat captain in 'Dad's Army'


Meic Stephens
Wednesday 07 March 2012 01:00
Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring looks on as Madoc's U-boat captain takes down Pike's name in 'Dad's Army'
Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring looks on as Madoc's U-boat captain takes down Pike's name in 'Dad's Army'

When the actor Philip Madoc was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Glamorgan in 2001 he told the congregation that, in his time, he had played many distinguished parts – Lloyd George, Hitler, Trotsky, Othello, Dr Faustus, the Master of the Universe – but that he considered the honour now conferred upon him to be the greatest of all. The rapt attention with which his acceptance speech was heard was a mark not only of his stage presence but of the man's wit, modesty and natural charm. After the ceremony, he was mobbed by the graduates, their parents and teaching staff alike.

Whatever fame his starring roles had brought him during a long and successful career, the reason why so many wanted to shake his hand and get his autograph was that here was the man who in 1973 had played the arrogant U-boat captain captured by the Walmington-on-Sea platoon of the Home Guard in Dad's Army. Taking out his notebook to write down the names of his captors, the German helps to create one of the funniest moments in the series when he demands of the hapless Private Pike: ''Your name vill also go on ze list. Vot is it?", at which Captain Mainwaring shouts, "Don't tell him, Pike!" The scene, the only occasion Madoc appeared in the series, was voted Number One in a Comedy Top Ten by the readers of the magazine Classic Television in 1999, and never fails to raise a smile.

The menacing persona of the U-boat captain was one Philip Madoc made his stock-in-trade. It owed a lot to his dark, good looks, deep voice and slightly foreign air that lent itself to parts in which a touch of the alien and sinister was called for. One of his earliest roles was the relentless SS officer Lutzig in the Second World War serial Manhunt (1969), and three years later he played the vicious Huron warrior Magua in The Last of the Mohicans. But he also appeared as German soldiers in countless other productions. It was as if his very Welshness was enough to suggest that here was no English gentleman but an all-purpose foreigner with an exotic accent, a form of typecasting in which he delighted, since he was the most approachable and non-aggressive of men.

He was born Phillip Jones in Twynyrodyn, an old iron-making village high on the hill above Merthyr Tydfil, in 1934. He found himself interested in drama as a teenager at Cyfarthfa Castle School but trained as a linguist at the University College, Cardiff, and the University of Vienna, where he learned enough German to make his later appearances in Wehrmacht uniform utterly convincing and where he was the first foreign student to be awarded the Diploma of the Interpreters' Institute.

Still drawn to the stage, he gave up an interpreter's job in Vienna and spent three years at Rada. Within a year of leaving , now as Philip Madoc – he took his stage name from the 12th-century prince reputed to have discovered America – he was treading the boards with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Measure for Measure. He later played Othello, Iago, Macbeth and Dr Faustus.

His television appearances were counted in the hundreds and all played with the same brooding intensity that he was so good at. He made five episodes of The Avengers, and four of Doctor Who in the days when Tom Baker played the Doctor (he also appeared in the Dr Who film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2050AD, with Peter Cushing as the Doctor). More meaty roles came his way in A Very British Coup, The Saint, Porridge, The Sweeney, Maigret, A Bouquet of Barbed Wire, The Goodies, Brother Cadfael, Midsomer Murders and Casualty, in the 12th episode of which he played an uncooperative, disabled old man to memorable effect. Indeed, it sometimes seemed a cameo role had been reserved for Madoc in just about every British TV series, and he was rarely out of work.

In Wales, Madoc co-starred with Hywel Bennett during the 1990s as the formidable but world-weary Chief Inspector Noel Bain in the detective thriller A Mind to Kill, which also went out on S4C in a Welsh-language version, Noson yr Heliwr ("Night of the Hunter"). The actor had enough Welsh to learn his part well and for the sake of authenticity often used words from the Merthyr idiom he had spoken as a youth. The English-language version led to a spin-off series on Channel Five. He was also in A Light in the Valley, Michael Bogdanov's nostalgic but moving film about life in the Rhondda Valley screened by BBC Wales in 1998.

But the performance that made him a household name in Wales was the part of Lloyd George. The drama-doc The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981) began with the politician's boyhood in Llanystumdwy, where he was baptised in the river from which, as Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, he was to take his title, through his rapid rise as a Radical Liberal MP, to his Premiership during the Great War and the decline in his influence, and death in 1945. The actor assumed the same pugnacious mien and used his gifts to convey the sonorous magic of Lloyd George's oratory.

Madoc was a long-standing member of Plaid Cymru and, although he was never to live in Wales after his early successes, gave generously to the Welsh Nationalist cause. He served as Vice-President of the London Welsh Society and the London Welsh Male Voice Choir. He was a fine reader of Welsh poetry and a popular narrator of audiobooks. Among the religious texts he recorded were certain Buddhist writings, to which he felt himself drawn in later life. Unlike his first wife, Ruth Madoc, who as the lovelorn Gladys put on a comic Welsh accent in Hi-di-Hi!, he had a naturally mellifluous voice able to convey the subtleties and emotional power of what he was reading with a rare intelligence and without histrionics.

Phillip Jones (Philip Madoc), actor: born Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, 5 July 1934; married firstly Ruth Llewellyn (marriage dissolved; one son, one daughter), secondly Diane (marriage dissolved); died Northwood 5 March 2012.

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