Morris Perry – an actor’s life

THE RESPECTED CHARACTER actor Morris Perry, who died on 19 September 2021 at the age of 96, enjoyed a long and diverse career on television and on the stage.

Fans of Survivors are likely to know Perry best from his extraordinarily well-judged performance in the third series episode Mad Dog as the misanthrope former academic Dr Richard Fenton. But this kind of exemplary character acting was the signature of a small-screen career that spanned several decades.

On TV, Perry was rarely – if ever – awarded “leading man” status. But he excelled in those supporting and guest roles that required presence, substance and intellectual or emotional intelligence – and, when the script required it, a sense of controlled menace.

Television remained a perennial feature of Perry’s working life. But while TV acting gave him the most national exposure, it was love of the theatre that shaped Perry’s career more significantly. “There’s no doubt the theatre is much more interesting, most of the time,” he reflected later.

Stage and screen

Born on 28 March 1925 in Bromley, Kent (as Frank Morris Perry), as a young man he learnt his acting craft at The Old Vic Theatre School, “one of the most successful and well-respected conservatoire drama schools in the UK”. In 1953, Perry married the British actress Margaret Ashcroft. The couple had four children, and remained together until Ashcroft’s death in 2016.

After graduating from The Old Vic, Perry began a career that combined work on stage and screen. In the theatre, Perry pursued his deep interest in the writings of Shakespeare, appearing in numerous productions of The Bard’s work.

He excelled in those supporting and guest roles that required presence, substance and intellectual or emotional intelligence

In the late 1950s, Perry appeared in minor and supporting roles in a number of TV productions, including The Man Who Was Two (1956), Charlesworth at Large (1958) and The Life and Death of Sir John Falstaff (1959). During the 1960s, Perry continued to feature in similar one-off appearances in TV shows, including Sergeant Cork (1964) and The Protectors (1964).

But he had also begun to secure more substantial small-screen commissions. In 1964, he appeared as Baron Danglars, the instigator of the plot to frame Dantès for treason, in a BBC serialisation of The Count of Monte Cristo, adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ novel. He took the role of Dr. Heddle in the 1966 BBC serial Lord Raingo, an adaptation of Arnold Bennett’s fictionalised account his wartime government service, which starred Kenneth Moore; and in 1967 appeared as the Reverend Philip Nyren in the serial Witch Hunt, a story of pastoral isolation threatened by the spectre of the black arts.

Recurring TV roles

During the 1970s, Perry’s TV career reached a new peak, with substantial and recurring roles in shows such as the police serial Special Branch (1969-1970), Doctor Who (“Colony in Space”, 1971), The Sweeney (1975-1976), and Secret Army (1979). “Around that period I did quite a lot of telly,” he remembered later. “So you’re sort of ‘known’ by people”, he suggested – most usefully by television producers and directors.

One such TV director Michael Briant, who hired Perry to appear in “Colony in Space”, said of his passing: “he was such a powerful man both physically and mentally. I liked and admired him greatly.”

Morris Perry was 52 when director Tristan de Vere Cole hired him to appear in one of the three episodes of the third series of Survivors he had been commissioned by producer Terry Dudley to deliver. The world-weary, cynical and dismissive former academic Doctor Richard Fenton, instrumental to every strand of the fabric of Mad Dog, was a first-class creation. A superbly crafted role, Fenton was gifted with finely honed dialogue throughout what was arguably writer Don Shaw‘s most accomplished script for the show. Yet it was Perry’s acutely observed portrayal of this most cynical of hermits that made his single appearance in Survivors so memorable and so impactful.

“At the time I hadn’t seen any episodes of the series”, he recalled many years afterwards. “I watched some later and it appealed to me. It’s a rich theme – humanity released from its usual restraints in a melancholy English landscape.”

Everyone involved with the (wholly location based) production of Mad Dog acknowledges that it was a tough and demanding shoot – with cast and crew required to work on day and night shoots in the wilds of the Derbyshire Peak District in the depths of a freezing winter. Leading man Denis Lill (Charles Vaughan) later recalled that the episode was “one of the most exhausting jobs I have ever done” with physical demands that were akin to “living on an assault course”.

Perry’s acutely observed portrayal of this most cynical of hermits made his single appearance in Survivors so memorable

But alongside Lill, Perry had an especially demanding time of it – required to depict the suffering of a rabies carrier in the full throes of contagion; to be bound and dragged prone through slush and snow; to be drenched in icy water; and finally to collapse to the freezing mud after Fenton is shot and killed.

When Shaw visited the shoot at Monsal Dale and Ilam, he was deeply impressed by Perry’s uncomplaining commitment to the demands of the role. When he met him again, during one of Perry’s appearance in a production of Shakespeare at Stratford, he reminded him of the challenges of the shoot. “My god, you were hours being dragged around by a horse in the snow… supposed to be suffering from rabies – you must have been absolutely frozen.” Shaw remembers that Perry was sanguine. “‘Well’, he said, ‘it comes with the job – you do it.'”

An agreeable shoot

When talking to fans, Perry was keen to downplay any sense that the actors suffered the privations of the cold on Mad Dog. “They usually have blankets standing by for that kind of thing,” he explained. “There are members of the crew who dash after you as soon as you’ve stopped filming and throw things over you – and your horse! And then take them away again before you’re on to the next take.” While he did accept that “it was good to get back to the hotel where I remember low rafters and real blazing fires”, his abiding memory of working on Mad Dog was that he “found it very agreeable.”

In August 2005, at the age of eighty Morris Perry was reunited with director Tristan de Vere Cole at a sound studio in London to record an audio commentary for Mad Dog, for inclusion in the special features of the DDHE DVD release of the third series of Survivors. The following day, Perry joined the cast of his next London-based theatrical production to continue working.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to moderate that Mad Dog commentary session, and was greatly impressed by the detailed reminiscences of both these Survivors‘ alumni of a one-week shoot that they were involved with some 28 years earlier. It was such a pleasure to be able to contribute, in a small way, to the creation of a ‘time capsule’ of memories of what, for many fans of Survivors, is one of the most highly regarded episodes of the show’s three year run.

Perry’s theatre work continued unabated in the decades following Survivors, over time eclipsing his more infrequent TV appearances. “I haven’t done much telly lately,” he noted in a letter from the late 1990s. “I seemed to be into priests and judges for a bit but that’s dried up.” At the same time, theatrical roles, large and small, continued to draw his interest. “I did my second King Lear recently at The Tabard,” he explained in the same correspondence. “Currently, I’m doing a butler in An Ideal Husband at The Old Vic.”

Perry was keen to downplay any sense that the actors suffered the privations of the cold on Mad Dog

Throughout this, his close attention to the nature of the actor’s craft remained keenly in focus. Reflecting on roles in The Merchant of Venice and The Honest Whore at the signature Globe Theatre in 1998, he observed: “It’s important to get really prepared to go on stage, getting the mind right. It means getting your imagination into a state that is responsive. You probably need to be much more alert than usual.” 

Perry’s intellectual curiosity, and in particular his fascination with words and language, continued through his eighties and into his nineties. “He’s the kind of chap who is… learning Latin and Ancient Greek in his spare time”, Toby Hadoke noted, when promoting a podcast interview with Perry in 2016.

Those who worked with Morris Perry are most likely to recall a gregarious actor possessed of talent, quiet professionalism and a warm and self-effacing demeanour. To return to the words of Don Shaw, Morris Perry can quite properly be remembered as a: “Great trooper, wonderful actor, and a delight to work with.”

Morris Perry (28 March 1925 – 19 September 2021) 

Morris Perry (Fenton, Mad Dog) dies aged 96

Tristan de Vere Cole and Morris Perry at the Survivors series three DVD special features studio day in 2005

MORRIS PERRY, THE celebrated theatre and television actor who played the role of the misanthrope Dr Richard Fenton in the acclaimed third series Survivors episode Mad Dog, has died at the age of 96.

Expressing his sadness of Perry’s passing, Toby Hadoke praised him as: “A very subtle actor with presence and elan, memorable in so much excellent TV.”

An appreciation of the stage and screen life of Morris Perry will be published on this site in the next few days.

Photo: Director Tristan de Vere Cole (left) and actor Morris Perry reunited at a London studio in 2005 to record an audio commentary track for the episode Mad Dog for inclusion in the DDHE DVD release of the third series of Survivors. Credit: Rich Cross

Big Finish podcast spotlights fourth series of Survivors audios – with discount offer

Big Finish - Survivors - series four - audios - cover

THE LATEST BIG Finish podcast (13 June 2021) picked the fourth series of Survivors audio adventures for a one-week price discount.

In each episode of the Big Finish podcast, hosts Nicholas Briggs and Benji Clifford used the super-secret technology of the Randomoid Selectortron to pick a title from the Big Finish back catalogue.

The pair then share recollections of the making of that Big Finish release, and then offer listeners a seven-day-only 25% discount on the list price of that title.

This week’s podcast 2021-06-13 War Doctor Begins saw the Randomoid Selectortron choose Survivors: Series 4 for the discount offer.

“Excellent fun. Always loved working on the Survivors stuff,” says Clifford of the selection, as he recalls his musical and vocal contributions to the series’ sound design. After a replay of the original pre-release trailer, Briggs notes that the release received “great reviews”, and reads out several glowing review quotes from the genre press (including one from the writer of this site that was published in Starburst). “Some winning stuff there,” Clifford agrees.

To take advantage of the offer, following the simple instructions on the podcast page (up until Sunday 20 June, when a new title will be selected).

In other Survivors-related Big Finish news, Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant) returns to the latest series of The Robots (volume four) “from the worlds of BBC Doctor Who” as the character of Ullmann. This latest instalment in the The Robots saga is released later this month and is available for pre-order from the Big Finish site.

Cover of Big Finish's The Robots: Volume Four

Myra Frances (Anne Tranter, Survivors S1) dies aged 78

Myra Frances - Anne Tranter - Genesis - Survivors

MYRA FRANCES, WHO played the role of Anne Tranter in two episodes of series one of Survivors, has died of cancer just weeks after her seventy-eighth birthday.

Frances’ death, at 01:30 on Tuesday 30 March 2021, was announced on social media today by her husband of 45 years the actor Peter Egan. The couple had married on 13 February 1977, and had a daughter, Rebecca Egan – who has also pursued a career as an actor.

The news of Frances’ passing was quickly picked up by news agencies, including the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, OK, The Independent and Metro. Frances’ obituary in The Guardian (13 April 2021) has the most detailed discussion of her “powerful portrayal… as a screen villain” in Survivors.

The character of ‘spoilt rich girl’ Tranter first appeared in Survivors‘ second episode “Genesis”, when she flags down Greg’s car on the main road next to a quarry. Wrapped in a fur coat, and with an immaculate appearance, her character makes an immediate impression. She insists that Greg help her, by freeing her partner Vic Thatcher who’s become trapped under an overturned tractor.

Tranter, who had enjoyed a life of privilege and indulgence before The Death, soon has Greg lined up to replace the now seriously injured Vic. When Greg insists on leaving, she abandons the patient to his fate telling the returning Greg, now in the company of Jenny Richards, that the injured Vic was already dead.

Myra Frances - Anne Tranter - and Ian McCulloch - Greg Preston - in Genesis - Survivors

Tranter later refuses to join Greg and Jenny as they head off into the night to trace the source of the signal from Abby’s fire. Her disappearance is referred to in the next episode “Gone Away”, when Greg confirms to Abby that she was no longer in the barn the trio were overnighting in when Greg made good on his pledge to return to collect her.

Frances’ formidable character returns in the eleventh episode “Revenge”, when Tranter arrives at the Grange settlement in the company of the good-natured tanker driver Donny. With Vic rescued from his isolation at the quarry and now living as part of Abby’s community, the scene is set for a confrontation between Vic and Anne – with him determined that she must account for her wickedness and cruelty in leaving him “to die in his own filth”.

When the two are finally reconciled by their recognition of the value of life itself, she heads off alone towards an unknown future – but with a reaffirmed sense of self.

Myra Frances - Anne Tranter - Revenge - Survivors - 01
Myra Frances - Anne Tranter - Revenge - Survivors - 02

Prior to her retirement, Frances had enjoyed a successful and varied screen career.

As well as her appearance in Survivors, she also memorably guest-starred in the 1979 Doctor Who story ‘The Creature from the Pit’ in the role of Lady Adrasta.

Frances also played the role of Stella Clisby, in series four of Hadleigh, and appeared in a number of episodes of the lunchtime legal series Crown Court.

In addition, she appeared in episodes of The Sweeney, Z-Cars, Angels, Within These Walls, The Newcomers and The Organisation – the show on which she met her future husband.

The day before her death, MyLondon coincidentally ran a short feature recalling the controversy that surrounded Frances’ appearance alongside Alison Steadman in the BBC drama Girl, where their characters shared what was claimed to be the first lesbian kiss on British television.

On the big screen she took roles in films including Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something!, Very Like a Whale and Remembrance.

In retirement, and alongside her husband, Myra Frances devoted considerable time and effort supporting animal charities and campaigning for better treatment of animals.

UPDATED 24 April 2021

Carolyn Seymour: In Conversation – cover and trailer released

Carolyn Seymour: Survivor cover design

BIG FINISH HAVE released the cover image for next month’s digital audio release Carolyn Seymour: In Conversation, and the first teaser trailer.

Big Finish’s ‘In Conversation’ series provides an opportunity for an in-depth one-on-one question-and-answer session with actors famous for their genre work on screen and an audio.

This latest release features Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant, Survivors – on screen and on audio) in conversation with Toby Hadoke.

The list for Carolyn Seymour: In Conversation on the Big Finish site explains:

Known best to Big Finish listeners as Abby Grant in Survivors, Carolyn Seymour is an actress who is equally at home in a Hollywood blockbuster, a British cult comedy or drama series. She played Jenny in Take Three Girls, Zita in the Steptoe & Son movie, and starred on the silver screen alongside Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Michael Keaton in a career that has lasted five decades.

Now she opens up in an exclusive two-hour interview with writer, actor and comedian Toby Hadoke, talking with openness and honesty about her astonishing career and life outside of the spotlight.

Please note release contains discussion of alcoholism and attempted suicide and therefore is not suitable for younger listeners.

Big Finish have also released the first trailer from the release, which can also be listened to on, and downloaded from, the Big Finish site.

Carolyn Seymour: In Conversation will be released next month, and is available for pre-order from Big Finish.

Further information about the release was first released in a Big Finish press release back in February.

In conversation – Carolyn Seymour: Survivor

Carolyn Seymour

BIG FINISH HAVE today announced the release of a two-hour ‘in conversation’ session with Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant).

For this digital-download-only release, Carolyn was interviewed by writer, actor and comedian Toby Hadoke in January 2021.

Carolyn Seymour: Survivor is available for pre-order from the Big Finish site, and will be released in April 2021.

Known best to Big Finish listeners as Abby Grant in Survivors, Carolyn Seymour is an actress who is equally at home in a Hollywood blockbuster, a British cult comedy or drama series. She played Jenny in Take Three Girls, Zita in the Steptoe & Son movie, and starred on the silver screen alongside Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Michael Keaton in a career that has lasted five decades.

Now she opens up in an exclusive two-hour interview with writer, actor and comedian Toby Hadoke, talking with openness and honesty about her astonishing career and life outside of the spotlight.

In the Big Finish press release, Tony Hadoke says –

I knew Carolyn would be interesting but was thrilled by her openness, her refreshing honesty and the way she was happy to field any question I wanted to throw at her. She’s definitely a survivor. This may be a one woman show – and what a woman – but there are a host of supporting players and she brings them all to life; from HG Wells (well, bits of him) to Terence Dudley via Michael Bryant and Peter O’Toole. The time we spent chatting just flew by.

Big Finish - In Conversation logo

Photo of Carolyn Seymour (c) Tony Whitmore

Survivors remake retrospective in SFX magazine

Survivors remake retrospective feature in SFX August 2020, No 329

THE AUGUST 2020 edition of SFX magazine features a six-page retrospective feature on Adrian Hodges’ 2008-10 remake of Survivors.

The article includes recollections and reminiscences from Hodges, Paterson Joseph (Greg Preston), Julie Graham (Abby Grant) and Robyn Addison (Sarah Boyer).

It’s clear from the feature that Hodges’ disappointment at the abrupt cancellation of the show at the close of the second series is still keenly felt. Although he suggests that the Survivors‘ prospects suffered as a result of management changes at the BBC, he concedes that lower-than-hoped-for viewing figures played a key role in the axeing of Survivors. “The show had probably not managed to get the kind of numbers the BBC wanted,” he reflects, “it certainly wasn’t a show that had a massive audience.”

As the showrunner Hodges reveals some of the key components of his plans for the show if a third (and subsequent) series had been commisioned.

He also accepts that closing the second series with a (now never to be resolved) cliffhanger left many loyal viewers dissatisfied. “With the benefit of hindsight, I perhaps should have given it a slightly more rounded ending”, Hodges says.

Written by Steve O’Brien, research for the SFX feature also informed the brief retrospective on the Survivors remake published in The Guardian back in May.

Steve O’Brien. 2020. ‘Survivors unseen’, SFX, No 329, August, pp.60-65.

Carolyn Seymour joins online Star Trek Q&A session

Carolyn Seymour join online Star Trek Q&A session, 15 July 2020

CAROLYN SEYMOUR (ABBY Grant) will join a three-person panel for an online Star Trek question-and-answer session on 15 July.

Hosted by Wizard World Virtual Experiences, Seymour will appear alongside fellow Star Trek cast members Anthony Montgomery and Alan Van Sprang for an hour-long web session, starting at 21:00 UK time.

The session will be free to view online, although a range of associated merchandise is available to pre-purchase: including signed (and, if desired, dedicated) photos, video chats (scheduled for 18 July) and pre-recorded video messages.

The free Q&A session will be available to view in real-time through the Wizard World Virtual Twitch channel, and the company’s presence on Facebook and YouTube.

UPDATE: 16 July: Wizard World Virtual Experiences have now uploaded a recording of the live session to YouTube:

Wizard World Virtual Experiences - Star Trek Panel - 15 July 2020 - Carolyn Seymour

Lucy Fleming reads ‘Posting’ letter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

An behind-the-scenes in-studio image from the Today programme on BBC Radio 4

LUCY FLEMING READ an extract from a letter that her mother Celia Johnson sent to her father Peter Fleming just after VE Day on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news progamme Today this morning (4 May 2020).

The Today show is featuring a number of different readings this week, as part of the wider BBC shedule of event to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day.

Fleming appears towards the end of the programme (at around the 2hrs 50m mark). Listeners in the UK can stream or download the programme from the BBC Sounds service. Today’s edition will be available to access until 3 June 2020.

Fleming and her husband Simon Williams have been touring the spoken-word production of Posting Letters to the Moon, which is based on the wartime correspondence between her mother and father.

An additional run of planned performances of Posting Letters to the Moon has had to be postponed as a result of the current Covid-19 closedown, but it is hoped that dates later in the year will go ahead as scheduled.

Carolyn Seymour joins New Counter-Measures audios

Carolyn Seymour and the New Counter Measures team at the Big Finish studios
Carolyn Seymour and the New Counter Measures team at the Big Finish studios

CAROLYN SEYMOUR RETURNS to the world of Big Finish audios, in two adventures from The New Counter-Measures series that have just been released.

These two instalments were recorded back in June 2019, several months after the completion of Seymour’s work on the ninth and final series of Survivors audio box sets.

Seymour reprises the role of Lady Suzanne Clare, the Counter-Measures team’s recurring nemesis. Clare is a scheming and ruthless arms-dealer and trader in alien technology, who’s possessed of both cunning and charm.

Clare’s schemes lead her to become entangled with both the Movellans and the Daleks, and to become a (somewhat untrustworthy) associate of the Counter-Measures group.

Seymour’s character appears in both of the new stories, which bring to an end the current run of The New Counter-Measures audio adventures. The cast also includes Simon Williams, husband of Lucy Fleming, who plays the role of Group Captain Gilmore.

My reviews of The New Counter-Measures: The Movellan Manoeuvre and The New Counter-Measures: The Dalek Gambit have been published on Cultbox today.

Carolyn Seymour, The New Counter Measures Team, Nicholas Briggs and Cyril Nri
Carolyn Seymour, The New Counter Measures Team, Nicholas Briggs and Cyril Nri
The New Counter-Measures: The Dalek Gambit cover