Simon MacCorkindale: British actor who played Greg Reardon in the US soap opera 'Falcon Crest' and Dr Harry Harper in 'Casualty'

Anthony Hayward
Monday 18 October 2010 00:00

Playing Simon Doyle in the 1978 film version of Agatha Christie's Death On The Nile opened the door for Simon MacCorkindale to join a spate of British actors who found fame on American television in the early 1980s.

Joan Collins was making waves as the super-bitch Alexis in Dynasty, Pierce Brosnan won fans as the former thief helping a private detective in Remington Steele and Lesley-Anne Down was cast in a string of television films and mini-series.

At first, MacCorkindale found producers unwilling to accept his insistence on playing Englishmen, based on his philosophy that this would plug a gap in the market and provide variety to their programmes. He recalled being told that peak-time viewers did not want to hear someone who "sounded intellectual or who had an accent that was alien to their ears". But he persevered and, in 1983, landed the starring role in the adventure series Manimal, playing the British professor Jonathan Chase, who helped the New York Police Department to solve crimes with his unlikely ability to transform himself into animals. This slightly ridiculous premise had limited appeal to international audiences, although the programme was screened in Britain, and low ratings in the US meant it was abolished after just one run.

MacCorkindale's big break came shortly afterwards, when he was offered – without auditioning – the role of Greg Reardon in the glossy soap opera Falcon Crest, the tale of the feuding Channing and Gioberti families in the Californian wine industry. It had begun in 1981, with Jane Wyman as the tyrannical matriarch Angela Channing and Robert Foxworth playing her nephew, Chase Gioberti. Three years into its run, MacCorkindale joined as the British lawyer advising Angela –often disapproving of her methods. Greg was also a magnet for the women, becoming involved with Melissa Agretti (Ana Alicia), Terry Hartford (Laura Johnson) and Jordan Roberts (Morgan Fairchild), another lawyer, with whom he eventually left the fictitious Tuscany Valley in 1986.

MacCorkindale was allowed to make two fundamental changes to his character. "The early sketches for him were as an American, which I just didn't want to play," the actor recalled. "I decided on that first day that Greg was someone who found everything slightly amusing. This was fine until Angela had him doing every evil deal under the sun and, suddenly, he became as evil as she was!"

MacCorkindale also suggested the change of name to Greg from Brad, which he felt was very American, and had it written into his contract that he could direct one episode, following similar experience in the theatre. This desire to have some control over characters and programmes resulted in MacCorkindale forming his own production company, Amy International, with his second wife, the actress Susan George, after turning down a further contract with Falcon Crest in 1986 and returning to Britain.

"I felt that the work I was doing was fun and lucrative but not as stretching as I felt I wanted or needed," he explained. "I aso was finding fault with much of the work, not only Falcon Crest, but everything. I was actually ready to quit acting and try producing so I could put myself on the line. I hate bitching. If it isn't right, do something about it, be proactive. I was therefore happy to move on, taking the biggest risk in my career." In fact, MacCorkindale continued to take on work as an actor and producer on both sides of the Atlantic. In later years, he became known to a new generation of British viewers when he joined the popular BBC hospital drama Casualty in 2002 as the consultant Dr Harry Harper. "Like Harry, I'm a total 100 per center and take on too much work," he said. "But it is something I thrive on."

Born in Ely, Cambridgeshire, in 1952, MacCorkindale was the son of an RAF Group Captain and lived in Edinburgh when his father was a station commander there. He was educated at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire (1965-70), where he was head boy. While still at school, MacCorkindale joined the Air Training Corps, but ambitions to follow his father into the RAF were thwarted as his eyesight began to deteriorate. He briefly considered entering the diplomatic corps, with the idea of becoming an ambassador, but then decided on a career as a stage director.

MacCorkindale joined Studio 68 of Theatre Arts, where he also took acting classes and shone out as a star student. As a result, he acted in regional theatres, making his debut as Captain Blackwood in Bequest To The Nation (Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, 1973), before appearing in the West End, credited as Sarcastic Bystander, in Pygmalion (Albery Theatre, 1974), alongside Alec McCowen and Diana Rigg. By then, he had already appeared on television. He made his debut as Lieutenant Carter in Hawkeye, The Pathfinder (1973), a five-part serial produced by the BBC with American television. There followed a string of one-off roles in series such as General Hospital (1974), Sutherland's Law (1975) and Within These Walls (1976). He also played Paris in Romeo And Juliet (1976), Lucius Caesar in I, Claudius (1976) and Lucius in Jesus Of Nazareth (1975), the ITV epic directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Then came the role of the young astronomer Joe Knapp, teaming up with the professor played by John Mills, in the four-part Quatermass (1979).

Having made his film debut in the 1974 ocean-liner disaster film Juggernaut, MacCorkindale appeared in Death On The Nile (1978) as Simon Doyle, on honeymoon in Egypt with his wife, Linnet (Lois Chiles), who is murdered. The picture, starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, won McCorkindale the London Evening Standard Film Award as Most Promising Newcomer and did much to improve his profile. As a result, he sought success in the US and made one of his first appearances as an English aristocrat, David Clement, alongside Pierce Brosnan in The Manions Of America (1981), a mini-series about a 19th-century Irish family emigrating there. Roles followed on television in episodes of Fantasy Island (1981), Hart To Hart (1982) and Dynasty (1982), and in the films The Sword And The Sorcerer (1982) and Jaws 3-D (1983).

The actor also furthered his directing experience, with productions such as The Merchant Of Venice (Los Angeles, 1981) and Sleuth (Houston and Dallas (1982), as well as performing his one-man show, The Importance Of Being Oscar (Globe Playhouse, 1981), which he originally staged in Britain at the 1977 Cambridge Festival.

In 1984, a year after MacCorkindale's divorce from his first wife, the actress Fiona Fullerton, he married Susan George. Following his run in Falcon Crest, the couple returned to Britain and, in 1987, set up Amy International. Together, they produced several films, starting with Stealing Heaven (1988), about the 12th-century French philosopher Pierre Abelard's romance with Heloise. Later, MacCorkindale directed and, with Chris Bryant, wrote the television film The House That Mary Bought (1995), an adaptation of Tim Wynne-Jones's novel Odd's End, starring Ben Cross and George. However, MacCorkindale continued to act and accepted an offer to be executive production consultant and star of the successful US cable-television crime series Counterstrike (1990-93), in which he played a former Scotland Yard inspector, Peter Sinclair. Roles kept coming his way in American television films throughout the 1990s.

As he and George settled down to running a stud farm for Arabian horses at their 17th-century farmhouse near Exmoor, MacCorkindale eventually stopped crossing the Atlantic. While acting in Casualty, he enjoyed the shorter trips to Bristol, where the programme is made. His character, Harry Harper (2002-08), was also seen in the spin-offs Holby City (2004-05) and Casualty@Holby City (2005).

In 2006, MacCorkindale was diagnosed with bowel cancer and, a year later, it spread to his lungs.He continued to act and, after leaving Casualty, played the crime writer Andrew Wyke on stage in a national tour of Sleuth (2008), then took over the role of Captain Von Trapp in a London Palladium production of The Sound Of Music (2008-9). With his cancer becoming more aggressive, MacCorkindale – who had already switched to a macrobiotic diet and various alternative medicines in an attempt to combat it – gave up work and spent 12 weeks in Atlanta, where he had extensive homoeopathy treatment and low-dose chemotherapy. He then returned to Britain for a full chemotherapy course.

However, he did act on television again, in an episode of the crime drama New Tricks (2010), playing a wealthy art patron involved in an investigation into the death of a graffiti artist, which was screened earlier this month.

Simon Charles Pendered MacCorkindale, actor, producer, director and writer: born Ely, Cambridgeshire 12 February 1952; married 1976 Fiona Fullerton (marriage dissolved 1983), 1984 Susan George; died London 14 October 2010.

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