Obituary: Anthony Bate, actor
Born: 31 August, 1927, in Worcestershire. Died: 19 June, 2012, on the Isle of Wight, aged 84
ANTHONY Bate carved out for himself a career on television that concentrated in playing double agents, spies, vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells. He is principally remembered for his appearances as Oliver Lacon in the BBC television adaptation of John le Carré’s Cold War thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in 1978, alongside Alec Guinness as George Smiley. Bate recreated the same role in the sequel, Smiley’s People, in 1981.
Bate also delivered a sinister portrayal of Kim Philby in ITV’s 1977 drama about the Cambridge spy ring. For his performance in Philby, Burgess and Maclean, Bate was nominated as Best Actor at the Monte Carlo Festival the following year. Other spy dramas in which Bate appeared included An Englishman’s Castle (1978) and Game, Set and Match (1987). Bate brought to all these roles an upper-class urbanity which made the characters appear charming and rather normal: certainly not duplicitous traitors. The contrast was at the heart of Bate’s skill in providing characters with a real credibility.
Anthony Bate was educated at King Edward VI School on the Isle of Wight where his parents ran a hotel. There he met his future wife, Diana, who suggested they join the local amateur drama society. Bate so enjoyed the experience having demonstrated a real talent that he applied to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He won a gold medal and, after national service with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, he embarked on his career in the theatre.
Throughout the 1950s, Bate worked in repertory and got small parts on television. In 1957, he was in a BBC TV adaptation of Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities and in the series Ivanhoe (starring Roger Moore) based on the Sir Walter Scott novel. In Ivanhoe, Bate got his first evil character to play: the corrupt Brian de Bois-Guilbert.
Bate made important stage appearances notably in the 1966 premiere of Giles Cooper’s eerie comedy Happy Family in which he played a stockbroker with a deep fear of the dark. That was followed by seasons with the RSC in Much Ado About Nothing alongside Alan Howard and Janet Suzman. In 1988, he joined Penelope Keith in a gripping account of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.
But from the Sixties, Bate worked principally in the television studio where he was cast in a wide variety of major drama series. These included MacDuff to the Lanarkshire-born actor Andrew Keir’s Macbeth; Javert in Les Misérables; Huxley in Darwin’s Bulldog; Nikolai in Fathers and Sons; and Dr Dorn in The Seagull. To that must be added important TV roles in The Saint, The Avengers and The Champions. It was a remarkable list of high quality dramas and Bate impressed with his clear-cut good looks and incisive characterisations.
The 1979 series of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was one of the most popular dramas ever to grace British television. Bate played under-secretary Oliver Lacon who, as the civil servant responsible for the Intelligence Services, recruited George Smiley to hunt the mole. While Alec Guinness’ performance was warmly praised, Bate was the very embodiment of a cool, calculating mandarin. As Lacon, he captured the detached and relentless ambition of the character with a subtle accuracy. He underplayed his superiority (one character describes Lacon as “Whitehall’s head prefect”) and delivered such lines as, “It’s the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies?” with a strong undercurrent of double meaning.
In 1977 Bate was in ITV’s Philby, Burgess and Maclean with Derek Jacobi and Michael Culver. Jacobi was a wonderfully flamboyant Burgess but Bate delivered a careful and studied interpretation of the devious Philby.
In 1988, Bate returned to the world of espionage and appeared in a Granada adaptation of Len Deighton’s Game, Set and Match.
More recently he appeared in programmes such as Poirot, Prime Suspect, Midsomer Murders and Silent Witness. Bate was in a memorable episode of A Touch of Frost in 1997 when he played an unhinged former military officer. He and David Jason, in the lead role, played out a tense and dramatic scene with a cool disdain.
Bates’ film appearances began with Dentist in the Chair (1960) and included: Ghost Story (1973); Bismarck (1975); Give My Regards to Broad Street (1982); A Flight of Fancy (2002); and the Oscar-winning Nowhere in Africa (2003).
For many Bate will be remembered for his appearances in the daytime television courtroom drama, Crown Court in which he was seen for six years from 1976. The series gained a considerable following as it was shown over three afternoons and while the lawyers were all professional actors, the jury was selected from the general public. So the power of the arguments presented by Bate and his fellow advocates proved crucial to the success of the endeavour.
Anthony Bate married, in 1954, Diana Fay, who survives him along with their two sons.
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