Robert Fyfe (Phillipson, Gone Away) dies aged 90

ROBERT DOUGLAS FYFE, who appeared in the third episode of the first series of Survivors, has died at the age of 90.

Fyfe became best known to TV viewers for his longstanding role as the timid lothario Howard in the BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. Fyfe first appeared in a stage production of the show in 1984. The following year, Fyfe joined the regular TV cast, and remained part of the series’ ensemble until the final episode broadcast in 2010.

Born in Scotland in 1930, Fyfe’s TV career began in the early 1960s with small roles in shows like The Big Pull (1962) and Moonstrike (1963). It was a pattern that continued through the sixities and into the early 1970s. He secured one-off appearances in The Onedin Line (1971), The Regiment (1972) and The View from Daniel Pike (1972) and many other series.

In keeping

Fyfe’s single episode turn in Survivors was very much in keeping with his pattern of working at that time. In the early 1980s, he would appear in one-off roles in series including Angels (1980), Third Time Lucky (1982) and Jury (1983). Being cast in Last of the Summer Wine was a career-changer for Fyfe, who would go on to appear in 230 episodes of the sitcom.

The role would open up new opportunities for Fyfe, who would secure a recurring role in No Strings (1989), a short run in Coronation Street (2012) and minor and supporting roles in the films Burke and Hare (2010), The Decoy Bride (2011) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016).

Fyfe (pictured right, above) appeared in Survivors episode Gone Away (1975) in the role of Phillipson, a survivor who has a brief confrontation with Tom Price after the young boy in his care helps himself to a chicken that Price has shot dead at an abandoned farm that he looted.

Taking shelter

Price chases the boy down a hillside to a make-shift encampment where the young lad and Phillipson are taking shelter. “The boy needs food,” Phillipson pleads when Price attempts to take the chicken carcass back.

Price is soon scared off when Phillipson raises the risk of infection, warning him that the pair may by typhoid carriers. Price leaves, abandoning the chicken (and the ailing human pair) to their fate. When he later discusses the encounter with Greg, he portrays himself as a selfless and merciful individual who willingly gave up the bird on the basis of greater need.

When Abby learns that the young lad was a schoolboy, of about her missing son’s age wering a blazer, she insist on visiting the site with Jenny and Greg. When Greg discovers that both Phillipson and the boy have died, Abby is both distressed and relieved to discover that the dead child is not Peter Grant.

As Phillipson corpse was not shown on screen, Fyfe was not required by director Terence Williams for the night shoot. His is a very brief appearance in Survivors, but Fyfe’s peformance in Gone Away hits just the right combination of desperation and resignation. In terms of the wider concerns of the series at the point, Phillipson’s fate serves to reinforce the theme that immunity from The Death is no guarantee of survival in its aftermath.

Robert Fyfe (25 September 1930 – 15 September 2021)

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