Supporting Roles – Remembering Jack Watson (1915 – 1999)

Posted in Remember by - June 27, 2014
Supporting Roles – Remembering Jack Watson (1915 – 1999)

Towering, stocky and serious looking, British character actor Jack Watson was a familiar face on screen for over forty years. He cropped up in comedy, thrillers and horror, but would mostly be remembered for his co-starring roles in a handful of memorable war and adventure pictures, which suited his physique perfectly.

Born Hubert Watson in Cambridge, on May 15th 1915, to showbiz parents (his music-hall comedian father Vernon went by the name ‘Nosmo King’ – get it?), Watson began in the Navy as a physical training instructor. Inheriting his father’s talents, Jack found work on BBC radio in such popular programmes as ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ and ‘Take it from Here’. Early television parts came when he had villainous roles in popular serials ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and ‘Z-Cars’, series in which he would later return for further appearances.

Watson’s first notable film role was as a police inspector in Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’, after which he played Len Miller, the captain of Richard Harris’s rugby team, in Lindsay Anderson’s excellent drama ‘This Sporting Life’ (’63). Around this time, I fondly remember Jack from his physical role as the no-nonsense Jock McGrath, in Sidney Lumet’s brilliant but rather neglected military drama ‘The Hill’ (’65), with Sean Connery and Harry Andrews. Next, he was in John Frankenheimer’s realistic racing pic; ‘Grand Prix’ (’66), playing British team manager Jeff Jordan. After playing a sergeant major in the Rock Hudson starrer ‘Tobruk’ (’67), Watson had a decent role as Quince, a corrupt police officer, in ‘The Strange Affair’ (’68), with Michael York. Another military part followed when he was cast as one of William Holden’s rag-tag group in ‘The Devil’s Brigade’ (’68), a watchable but poor man’s ‘Dirty Dozen’.

A brief bit in the saucy Marty Feldman comedy ‘Every Home Should Have One’ (’70) was followed by the oft-filmed Scottish adventure ‘Kidnapped’ (’71), with Michael Caine and Trevor Howard. Another good role that year came in the Scottish P.O.W drama ‘The McKenzie Break’, playing a general aiding Brian Keith’s Captain Connor, in finding a group of escaped prisoners. Jack then played the wonderfully named Hamp Gurney, a dreary sailor in the equally dreary horror ‘Tower of Evil’ (’72). A couple of minor parts came next when he played an occultist in the Amicus anthology ‘From Beyond the Grave’ (’74), and then the chief engineer of a luxury liner threatened by a terrorist, in Richard Lester’s all-star thriller Juggernaut (‘74). Back in horror territory I enjoyed his unsmiling, ‘red-herring’ role in Pete Walker’s fun horror ‘Schizo’ (’76), after which he had a recurring part as the cowardly Morris, in the 1977 TV adventure series ‘Rob Roy’.

Watson was soon back on familiar ground when he co-starred in a trio of Roger Moore escapades; ‘The Wild Geese’ (1978), ‘The Sea Wolves’ and ‘North Sea Highjack’ (both ’80), all pretty good with ‘Wild Geese’ standing out as the most enjoyable. Watson’s last role of note was as union leader James Godbolt, in the superb 1985 mini-series ‘Edge of Darkness’, starring Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker. After a few more television appearances (‘Minder’ & ‘Heartbeat’), Watson retired from the screen in 1994.

A good, solid supporting presence in many a production, Jack Watson died in Somerset, England, on July 4th 1999, aged 84. With his well-worn face and muscular physique, Watson lent strong support in some fine military drama’s and a wrath of old-school adventures. A dependable supporting actor who often played parts that suited his looks, he certainly made ‘imposing’ look easy.

Favourite Movie: ‘The Hill’
Favourite Performance: ‘The Hill’

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