Terence Alexander: Actor who played the lovable rogue Charlie Hungerford in ‘Bergerac'

Sunday 23 October 2011 07:04

The role of Charlie Hungerford in Bergerac came to Terence Alexander after a screen career of playing villains and charmers. The shady, cigar-puffing tax exile who had made his fortune as a scrap dealer in the North of England was the ex-father-in-law of the Jersey Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac (John Nettles), who had a gammy left leg and a drink problem.

The policeman’s marriage to Hungerford’s spoiled-rotten daughter Deborah had only recently ended when the programme began in 1981, but the two men’s paths continued to cross. Hungerford seemed to become entangled in every case that Bergerac tackled – which might have had its roots in Alexander’s contract, guaranteeing an appearance in every episode of the series (1981-91).

“Bergerac disapproves of everything Charlie does, but he also admires his native cunning and is very happy to use Charlie’s contacts and immense local knowledge,” explained the actor.

“Charlie is a bit of a fly boy, a loveable rogue – but he never does anything that is totally dishonest.”

Later, Alexander reprised the role of Hungerford, along with Nettles as Bergerac, in an episode of the sitcom The Detectives (1993), starring Jasper Carrott and Robert Powell as incompetent sleuths.

Born in London, in 1923, Alexander was brought up in Yorkshire, where his parents were the master and matron of Knaresborough Hospital. He was educated at Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire, and Norwood College, Harrogate.

At the age of 16, he sought to achieve his long-held acting ambitions by joining the White Rose Players, in Harrogate, as an assistant stage manager.

He made his stage début with the company as a young journalist in The Good Companions (Opera House, Harrogate, 1939).

During the Second World War, Alexander served as a captain in the 24th Lancers (1942-47). While in Italy, he was badly wounded when his armoured car was hit by artillery fire.

He suffered a damaged eardrum, left the Army with a 50 per cent disability pension and, three decades later, underwent surgery to remove a piece of shrapnel from his foot.

Alexander returned to the stage after the war, working in repertory theatre across England and eventually making his London début as Tom Williams in Party Manners (Prince’s Theatre, 1950).

His subsequent West End roles included Paul in Mrs Willie (Globe Theatre, 1955), Donald Gray in Ring for Catty (Lyric Theatre, 1956), Commander Rogers in Joie de Vivre (Queen’s Theatre, 1960), Brassac in Poor Bitos (New Art’s Theatre, 1963, Duke of York’s Theatre, 1964), Henry Lodge in Move Over Mrs Markham (Vaudeville Theatre, 1971), Jack in Two and Two Make Sex (Cambridge Theatre, 1973) and Bill Shorter in There Goes the Bride (Criterion Theatre, 1974, and Ambassadors’ Theatre, 1975).

When he played Jim Hudson, alongside Brian Rix, in the farce Fringe Benefits (Whitehall Theatre, 1976), Barry Took wrote in Punch: “Terence Alexander makes an excellent foil to Rix and, in fact, I can’t remember seeing a better. He collects his own laughs, unselfishly helps the others to get theirs, and behaves like an absolute brick throughout.”

Alexander’s first feature film was Comin’ Thro’ the Rye (1947), in which he played Robert Burns. He then acted the Duke of Dorset in The Elusive Pimpernel (1950) and, for two decades, was a regular on the big screen.

As well as taking military roles in many pictures during that post-war era, he again showed his talent as a foil by appearing three times with Norman Wisdom in The Square Peg (1958), The Bulldog Breed (1960) and On the Beat (1962), when the comedy actor was at the height of his screen success.

However, Alexander’s best-remembered film role was probably in the crime caper The League of Gentlemen (1960), as Rupert Rutland-Smith, one of a group of disillusioned Army officers carrying out a daring bank robbery.

Later, the actor appeared in Waterloo (1970) and The Day of the Jackal (1973).

The second half of Alexander’s career was spent mostly on television and stage. He made his small-screen début in Away from It All (1951) and took four different roles in Hancock’s Half-Hour (1957-60), as well as acting the silly-ass co-pilot Bill Dodds in the children’s series Garry Halliday (1959- 62), which followed the adventures of a commercial airline company.

He went on to play Montague Dartie in The Forsyte Saga (1967), Sir Mulberry Hawk in a BBC adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby (1968) and Lord George in The Pallisers (1974).

Switching deftly from drama to comedy, he was a regular as Mr Dalzell in Just Liz (1980), a friend of the title character (played by Sandra Payne), who had been left alone when her fiancée went to work in Bahrain to earn enough money for the couple to get married, and the corrupt Cabinet Minister Sir Greville McDonald in The New Statesman (1989-92), the anarchic sitcom starring Rik Mayall as the repulsive Conservative MP Alan B’Stard. On radio, Alexander starred as the title character, the Hon Richard Rollison, a Mayfair man-about-town who mixed with East End rough diamonds, in The Toff (1975), based on the John Creasey detective novels.

His last screen acting role was in Casualty 10 years ago, after which he retired, suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Both of Alexander’s wives were actresses, Juno Stevas – the sister of the former Conservative MP Norman St John-Stevas (now Lord St John of Fawsley), whom he met in repertory theatre – and Jane Downs, who appeared with him on stage in Two and Two Make Sex.

Anthony Hayward

Terence Joseph Alexander, actor: born London 11 March 1923; married 1949 Juno Stevas (marriage dissolved 1972; two sons), 1976 Jane Downs; died London 28 May 2009

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