Died: 24 April, 2004, in London, aged 76
WITH his gaunt and invariably haggard looks, Philip Locke was ideal casting for nervy, rather saturnine villains, corrupt Mafia bosses or somewhat refined bullies. He brought an evil streak to his characters that brought them alive. However, this tall and imposing man also had a fine line in comedy.
His major cinema credit was as Vargas, the silent assassin who fell foul of James Bond’s spear-gun in Thunderball. His list of television credits was substantial and varied (The Avengers seemed to employ him as their resident baddie for a while) and he was often seen to great advantage in the theatre - especially London’s Royal Court in the Sixties.
Philip Locke trained at RADA in the Fifties and he was soon being cast in minor roles at the Royal Court, then soon to enter its golden decade. In 1959, he was in the premire of John Osborne’s The World of Paul Slickey, a musical satire about gossip columnists and critics. It was given a real pasting by the critics - indeed, Noel Coward and John Gielgud were said to have led the booing on the first night - but many still recall the satanic dance Locke performed in the second act.
From the Royal Court, he went on to play at the National Theatre and at the Royal Shakespeare Company (he was Quince in Brook’s famous Midsummer Night’s Dream). His career was to burgeon and Locke was seldom out of work: he played Horatio in Peter Hall’s production of Hamlet which opened the National Theatre in 1975 and four years later he was again directed by Hall in the premire of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. In the latter, he played Salieri’s valet and spent much of the time feeding Mozart cream buns.
Locke’s TV appearances never let up. He was much in demand for the fondly remembered Armchair Theatre plays and was often seen on the wrong side of the small screen’s best-known detectives, including Inspector Morse, Bergerac and Poirot. He also turned up in Minder, played a newspaper editor alongside Michael Caine in Jekyll and Hyde (LWT, 1990) and was a rather camp uncle in Jeeves and Wooster (Granada, 1993).
His most striking film appearance was undoubtedly in Thunderball (1965), in which he made a particularly sinister appearance in dark glasses and black polo-neck jumper. However, a few years later, he showed his lighter side in the movie version of Porridge. In a favourite scene, Ronnie Barker’s Fletcher asks how Locke can face the prison grub, and Locke laconically replies: "I was at a top English public school and the food was very similar."
Strangely, Locke was at only one Edinburgh Festival, in 1954, with the Old Vic Company in a star-studded production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Scottish National Orchestra was in the pit and Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann were to dance within the play. It was a bold plan to fuse music, drama and dance.
Locke played Puck and although Shearer, in an article in The Scotsman in 1976, recalled that Festival with "particular surprised pleasure" she did refer to the production as "rambling". However, it filled the Empire (now the Festival Theatre) to capacity.
Locke was always a support actor, never a major star, but he had the ability to bring a certain touch of wicked style or a chilling frisson to a role. The fact that he appeared in so many high-profile and prestigious productions in a career spanning 50 years is a sure reflection of the standing he enjoyed in his profession.