Obituary: Bernard Horsfall, Skye-based actor known for character roles on stage, film and TV

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Born: 20 November, 1930, in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. Died: 28 January, 2013, on Skye, aged 82.

Bernard Horsfall was a character actor who became a familiar face in British films and television during a screen career spanning half a century. Although born in Hertfordshire and claiming descent from William the Conqueror, he made his home on Skye, where he did his best to promote Scottish culture and campaigned for Gaelic road signs.

He cut his teeth with Dundee Repertory Theatre in the early 1950s, played the Ghost to Richard Burton’s Hamlet at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1953 and went on to specialise in no-nonsense authority roles such as lawyers, doctors and military officers.

In the 1980s he played generals in both Gandhi and the Jewel in the Crown. By the mid-1990s he had set his sights even higher, claiming the Scottish throne itself, as John Balliol in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning historical epic Braveheart.

He was born, Bernard Arthur Gordon Horsfall, in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire in 1930. His father was an RAF officer and his mother an opera singer. He went to Rugby School, spent some time in Canada, with his maternal uncle, and worked as a lumberjack.

Back in London, he trained at the Webber Douglas drama school and then joined Dundee Rep, appearing in a variety of productions between 1952 and 1954, ranging from George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House to the pantomime Aladdin.

Over the next 20 years or so appeared on stage all over England and Scotland. He was in The Hidden King at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1957 and Bell, Book and Candle at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow the following year.

By the second half of the 1950s Horsfall was also beginning to get work in television and films and he landed the plum role of Margery Allingham’s gentleman detective Albert Campion in the television serials Dancers in Mourning and Death of a Ghost. Like Horsfall, Campion was an old boy of Rugby. The character was later played by Peter Davison.

Horsfall also played the title role in the 1960 BBC series Captain Moonlight: Man of Mystery and made guest appearances in many of the most popular series of the decade, including Dixon of Dock Green, The Saint, Dr Finlay’s Casebook and The Avengers, on which he played three different characters in three different stories.

He was in the Cybernauts episode in 1965, which fans have argued sowed the seeds for the more famous Cybermen villains on Doctor Who, a series with which Horsfall would develop a lengthy association and a considerable fan base.

During the 1960s and 1970s he appeared in several different Doctor Who adventures, playing different characters each time, including Lemuel Gulliver and a Time Lord. He was Taron, an alien leader who allies himself with the Doctor in Planet of the Daleks in 1973, but he was intent on killing the Doctor a few years later in The Deadly ­Assassin.

There was controversy over one violent altercation in which Horsfall’s character attempts to drown the Doctor (Tom Baker) and holds him under water. It served as the cliffhanger ending of one episode. Mary Whitehouse complained that children would not know whether or not the Doctor survived and might be traumatised.

Older viewers would probably have guessed that the Doctor had a decent chance of making it through to the next show and might have been able to reassure their offspring. But the BBC was taking no chances and the scene was edited out for repeat screenings, although it was restored for later video release.

Horsfall also appeared in that film other great institution James Bond. In the 1969 film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he played a British secret agent based in Switzerland, where Bond is sent to infiltrate Blofeld’s lair. This was George Lazenby’s sole outing as Bond after Sean Connery left the series. The filmmakers rather cheekily called Horsfall’s agent Shaun Campbell and had him killed by SPECTRE guards.

In the late 1970s Horsfall had one of the main roles, as the doctor, in Enemy at the Door, the hit series about the Nazi ­occupation of Guernsey.

He continued acting on stage too and was Pistol in the RSC’s acclaimed 1984 production of Henry V with Kenneth Branagh. During the 1980s he also played the title role of Cymbeline and Capulet in Romeo and Juliet in RSC productions.

He had married Jane Jordan Rogers, an actress with whom he had worked in theatre and television. He had always had a love of the outdoor life, moved with his family to Skye and took readily to island life, growing his own vegetables at his home in Lower Breakish, just outside Broadford.

He continued his acting career from his island base and later credits include a TV adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles and the TV dramas Thatcher: The Final Days, in which he was the Tory MP and diarist Alan Clark, and Queen of the East, playing the Prime Minister Pitt the Younger.

In 1998 Horsfall toured Scottish theatres and halls in a Stellar Quines production called The Clearing, a love story set in Ireland during the unrest of Oliver Cromwell’s time. The tour began at the Traverse in Edinburgh before criss-crossing Scotland, including a couple of nights on his beloved Isle of Skye. One of his final credits was the film Stone of Destiny, which screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2008.

He is survived by his wife, daughters Hannah and Rebecca and five grandchildren.

BRIAN PENDREIGH