Barry Morse (1919-2008)

The British actor Barry Morse, who died early in February aged 89, was a highly prolific performer who is reputed to have played more than 3,000 roles on radio, television, stage and screen over the last 70 years. Remembered by Space:1999 fans as the avuncular Professor Victor Bergman throughout the series’ first season, he was better-known internationally for his role as Lieutenant Philip Gerard in the popular American series The Fugitive.

Born in Bethnal Green, London, on 10th June 1918, Herbert ‘Barry’ Morse left school at 15 and two years later won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There he gained experience in productions of Twelfth Night, Romeo And Juliet and Measure For Measure and took the title role in a Royal Command Performance of Henry V. Graduating in 1936, he won the BBC’s Radio Prize and made his professional debut the same year, taking the lead in The Fall Of The City by Archibald MacLeish. Among Morse’s many other BBC radio roles were the leads in The Hippolytus Of Euripades, Hamlet, and the title character of the 1945 detective series Send For Paul Temple Again. Between 1937 and 1941 he also worked extensively in repertory theatre in Croydon, Coventry, Leeds, Bradford, Harrogate, York, Sunderland and Newcastle. while performing in Peterborough he met Canadian actress Sydney Sturgess and they married early in 1939.

Two years later Morse made his screen debut in Michael Powell’s 49th Parallel (1941), a war drama set on the Canadian border, but he received his first on-screen credit as Kurt in the Will Hay comedy The Goose Steps Out (1942). He went on to appear in Roy Boulting’s Thunder Rock (1942), Lance Comfort’s Squadron Leader X (1942) and Karel Lamac’s Schweik’s New Adventures (1943) among many others. His West End stage debut came in 1942 in School For Slavery and he subsequently appeared in literally dozens of stage productions over the next eight years, including War And Peace, The Picture Of Dorian Gray and The Importance Of Being Earnest. in 1949 he also turned his hand to directing with The Voice of The Turtle, and later directed productions of A Phoenix Too Frequent and The Browning Version.

Following a visit to his wife’s relatives in Canada Morse decided to emigrate there with his young family in 1951, making himself available for work in the burgeoning Canadian television industry. With a personal letter of recommendation from the BBC’s head of drama, he secured both radio and television work with the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and enrolled in the station’s training course for television directors. Following numerous appearances in one-off dramas and a stint as the host of Haunted Studio Morse became one of Canada’s most familiar television actors and his own 13-part series, Presenting Barry Morse, appeared in the summer of 1960. Two years earlier, he had guest appearances on American television in U.S. Steel Hour, Naked City and Playhouse 90, then greater exposure in The Untouchables, The Defenders, The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The New Breed and The Outer Limits.

His appearances in The Untouchables and The New Breed brought Morse to the attention of Quinn Martin, the executive producer of both series, and in 1963 Martin cast Morse in The Fugitive. Morse played the relentless police detective Lieutenant Gerard on the trail of David Janssen’s Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife. Running to four seasons and watched by some 28 million viewers at the height of its popularity, the series made Morse an international household name even though he appeared in only 37 of the series’ 120 episodes (he also directed The Shattered Silence in which he did not appear). The final episode made television history, winning the highest viewing figure of any single television episode to date – 30 million. When The Fugitive ended Morse had two further associations with Quinn Martin, guesting in episodes of The Invaders and The F.B.I.

The irregular nature of his Fugitive appearances enabled Morse to guest star in other television series on both sides of the Atlantic, and he was seen in episodes of Seaway, The Saint and Vendetta. More importantly for Morse, his Fugitiveschedule also enabled him to maintain his prolific theatre career throughout the run of the series, appearing in Man And Superman, Saint Joan, Gaslight and his own one man show Merely Players, which he had originally performed in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1959. An examination of the lives of actors and others from Elizabethan times to the present day, Merely Players became a signature work for Morse which he revived in 1984 and subsequently performed throughout the United States, Canada and the UK many times over the next twenty years, often as a fundraiser for local theatres and charities.

In the early 1970s, Morse was increasingly seen in British film and television productions. In 1971 he co-starred with Gene Barry in the ITC series The Adventurer, also sharing the screen with Catherine Schell who would later replace him in Space:1999. Horror anthology Asylum (1972) followed and then a six-part BBC adaptation of Henry James’s The Golden Bowl. In 1973 he joined the cast of another ITC series, The Zoo Gang, portraying Alec Marlowe, one of four surviving members of a wartime French resistance unit who were reunited on the Cote d’Azur to combat crime and corruption in the interest of raising funds to build a hospital in the memory of a fallen colleague. Based on a best-selling novel by Paul Gallico, The Zoo Gang was originally envisaged as a much longer series but difficulties in co-ordinating the schedules of the four leads resulted in only six episodes being made.

The failure of The Zoo Gang was a blessing to Space:1999 as Morse was now available to take on the role of Professor Bergman in Gerry Anderson’s lavish live-action science-fiction series. An elderly civilian scientist with a mechanical heart, Bergman was one of the survivors of the breakaway disaster which hurled the Moon out of Earth orbit, taking the personnel of Moonbase Alpha with it. Regarded as the father of Moonbase Alpha, having been closely involved in the construction of the base in the early 1990s, Bergman proved to be a vital member of the lunar community in the first year of the Moon’s odyssey through deep space, a man whose ingenious solutions to many dangerous situations encountered by the Alphans saved hundreds of lives, over and over again.

Morse appeared in all 24 episodes of the series’ first season, giving particularly memorable performances in Black Sun, Another Time, Another Place, Death’s Other Dominion and War Games. However, to the disappointment of many fans, he did not return for the series’ second season. According to Morse, he decided that he had had enough of what he perceived as a childish show and wished to return to more challenging roles in serious drama. However, producers Gerry Anderson and Fred Freiberger always maintained that Morse’s agent demanded too much money and they simply couldn’t afford him.

While the second series of Space:1999 went into production without him, Morse took on roles in the TV movie Truman At Potsdam (1976), the mini-series The Story Of David (1976), the feature films The Ugly Little Boy (1977) and Love At First Sight (1977) as well as Peter Sasdy’s ingenious but little-known science-fiction chiller Welcome To Blood City (1977). These were followed by other genre roles including Dr John Caball in the pitifully poor space opera The Shape Of Things To Come (1979) and a parapsychologist in Space:1999 director Peter Medak’s The Changeling (1980).

A more noteworthy role was that of colonist Peter Hathaway in The Martians, the final instalment of NBC ‘s 1979 TV adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Sharing the screen with Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall and Nyree Dawn Porter, Morse gave a touching performance portraying a doctor who has retired to Mars and replaced his dead family with robot replicas. By complete contrast, in 1982 he gave a memorably barmy performance as inept American President and former matinee idol Johnny Cyclops in LWT’s six-part Cold War sitcom Whoops Apocalypse!

Over the last 25 years Morse restricted his career almost exclusively to the stage and television. In the theatre he championed the work of George Bernard Shaw, portraying the Irish playwright himself in a variety of productions. On television he appeared in a number of one-off dramas, TV movies and mini-series, notably in The Winds Of War, A Woman Of Substanceand Master Of The Game. He also guested in episodes of The Twilight Zone, Dracula: The Series, The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Space Island One, Nikita and Waking The Dead. His last screen appearance was as Joseph Cherkassov in Icon, Hallmark’s 2005 Frederick Forsyth adaptation.

Barry Morse died at University College Hospital, London, on 2nd February 2008, following a brief illness. He leaves a son, the actor Hayward Morse. His wife Sydney predeceased him in 1999 and his daughter, actress Melanie Morse MacQuarrie, predeceased him in 2005.

Originally published in FAB 59.