Peter Bowles Anecdote – The Beaux’ Stratagem Oxford Playhouse (1957)
Ian Hendry and Peter Bowles first worked together when they were both young actors starting out in repertory theatre.
Picture: Cast and Acts/ Scenes from the original programme – The Beaux’ Stratagem, Oxford Playhouse (1957)
Their paths would cross again later, in the film Live Now Pay Later (1962) and The Informer (1966).
Peter was involved in a humorous moment with Ian when both were starring in The Beaux’ Stratagem at the Oxford Playhouse in May 1957.
Michael Billington of The Guardian recalls:
“When Peter Bowles was playing The Beaux Stratagem in rep, his fellow actor Ian Hendry missed an entrance. “My companion is delayed,” cried Bowles before rushing into the wings and going in frantic quest of the absent Hendry.
He returned just in time to see Hendry, by now desperately ad-libbing to cover Bowles’s defection, rushing into the opposite wings to look for his fellow actor…”
Peter and Ian would go on to also work together on The Man Who Came To Dinner at the Oxford Playhouse in June 1957.
Delena Kidd, who studied with Ian at the Central School of Speech and Drama and a young Neil McCarthy – also in The Hill (1965) – appeared in both plays at Oxford.
Playing the archetypal English gent, with caddish moustache and dapper Savile Row suit, finally brought Peter Bowles to the notice of the viewing nation in 1979 after some twenty years toiling in repertory theatre and in countless supporting roles on television. Although a contemporary of Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Peter O’Toole at RADA, he remained outside the undefined theatrical club of his colleagues, whom he watched move swiftly on to stage and film success.
Throughout the 1960s Peter amassed a long line of smoothie villains and swarthy rogues in various ITV action dramas such as No Hiding Place (1959-67), Crane (1963-65), Public Eye (1965-75) and the cross-Atlantic series Danger Man (1960-61; 1964-66), The Saint (1962-69) and The Baron (1966-67). During this seemingly hectic yet thankless period, one of his more enjoyably manic roles turned up in the offbeat ‘Escape in Time‘ episode (tx. 27/1/1967) for The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69) in which he gave a vigorous performance as an eyeball-rolling psychopath with over-heated designs on Diana Rigg.
The path from almost unknown supporting actor to household name may not have taken so long if, in 1975, he had not turned down the Paul Eddington role in The Good Life (BBC, 1975-77) in order to gain some artistic credibility by appearing on stage in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends. Fortunately, by the end of the 1970s he was cast in the semi-regular role of the arch-smarmy Guthrie Featherstone QC in Rumpole of the Bailey (ITV, 1978-92).
It was during the 1979 run of Rumpole that he was offered the part of the oily nouveau riche Richard DeVere in To The Manor Born (BBC, 1979-81). The theatrical class snobbery sitcom, written by Peter Spence and intended originally as a radio series, seemed the ideal vehicle for the talents of Penelope Keith after her success in The Good Life. They made a perfect television comedy team and their characters’ relationship, alternating between antagonism and affection, enthralled the nation. The series’ finale attracted some 24 million viewers (See also: BFI – Peter Bowles )
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry
A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography: