His Master’s Voices – Remembering Barry Morse (1918 – 2008)

Posted in Remember by - April 28, 2014
His Master’s Voices – Remembering Barry Morse (1918 – 2008)

Supremely gifted character actor Barry Morse was noted for being able to imitate almost any accent. When I was younger I never really knew where he was from, as every time I saw him on screen he seemed to be talking in a different style. In an acting career spanning more than 70 years, Barry starred in over 3000 live television, radio and stage productions, including many movies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born Herbert Morse in London’s East End on June 10th, 1918, Morse graduated from drama school at 15, and worked steadily on the London stage and in live TV broadcasts throughout the 1930’s, before making his screen debut in the 1942 Will Hay comedy ‘The Goose Steps Out’. Barry would spend the next few years primarily in television, and in 1951 moved to Canada where he continued to work largely in television. Barry’s most familiar role at this time, and the one which most people remember him from, was that of “Lt. Philip Gerard”, in the cult television series ‘The Fugitive’ (’63-’67). 1963 also saw Barry in his first big screen role when he played Ah Zok, in the exciting Yul Brynner adventure; ‘Kings of the Sun’. Barry’s other early big screen roles were that of a Colonel, in George Cukor’s 1969 drama ‘Justine’, starring Dirk Bogarde and Anouk Aimée, and as a doctor in the under-rated fashion saga ‘Puzzle of a Downfall Child’ (’70), with Faye Dunaway and a young Roy Scheider.

In 1971 and not afraid to stretch himself, Morse had a memorable role in the very obscure yet highly entertaining sexploitation picture ‘The Telephone Book’. It tells the funny story of a pretty young woman in New York who falls in love with the worlds most obscene phone caller. Playing a stag film-maker named Har Poon, it was certainly strange seeing a near-naked Barry writhing around the floor with a bevy of naked women. Back in the UK, I loved his penniless tailor; Bruno, in the excellent Amicus anthology ‘Asylum’ (’72). In the film’s second segment; ‘The Weird Tailor’, Peter Cushing’s grieving father orders a specifically made coat for his son’s coffin, with deadly consequences. Barry gave a memorable performance and once again his convincing European accent helps make his frightened character come to life.

Still in the UK, Barry was “The Tiger”, an aging intelligence officer, in the fun but short-lived TV series ‘The Zoo Gang’, with John Mills, Brian Keith and Lilli Palmer as his fellow operatives. Another recurring role came the following year, with the hugely popular sci-fi series ‘Space 1999’, playing Professor Bergman. Among his many Canadian productions at this time include the Dan Akroyd romantic comedy ‘Love at First Sight’ (’77), the 1978 political thriller ‘Power Play’, alongside Peter O’Toole and David Hemmings, and the genuinely scary ghost story ‘The Changeling’ (’80), playing a parapsychologist.

After playing The Marquis in the first-rate TV movie ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (’80), Morse made the 1982 doomsday comedy “Whoops Apocalypse”, a six part series in which he played US President; Johnny Cyclops. Continuing to keep busy, Barry had prominent roles in numerous television mini-series, including the Robert Mitchum starrers ‘The Winds of War’ (’83) and ‘War and Remembrance’ (’88). In between these, he took a small role in 1985’s ‘A Woman of Substance’, with Deborah Kerr and Jenny Seagrove. Not forgetting his stage roots, Barry portrayed famed playwright George Bernard Shaw in a 1995 production of ‘The Private Life of George Bernard Shaw’, in Toronto, before taking the show to London in 1997. In 1999 Barry had a nice little role playing Billy Zane’s great-great-great-grandfather (as a ghost) in the pleasant fantasy drama ‘Promise Her Anything’. Morse’s final role came in the 2007 Neve Campbell comedy ‘I Really Hate my Job’.

Married for 60 years, with 3 children, Barry Morse died on February 2nd 2008, aged 89. In a long and fruitful career Barry brought to life many characters over many genres, and was a complete all-rounder. A versatile talent indeed, on both sides of the pond.

Favourite Movie: The Changeling
Favourite Performance: Asylum

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