Veteran character actor Cyril Shaps, who died in January, aged 79, provided the voices for Professor Popkiss and Masterspy in the final 13 episodes of Gerry Anderson’s 1960 Supermarionation series Supercar and also made a guest appearance as a blood plasma expert in A Matter Of Life And Death, an episode of Gerry Anderson’s The Protectorsseries. He was perhaps best known to the British public for his long-running regular role as Rabbi Levi in the ITV sitcom Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width (from 1967 to 1971) in which he co-starred with John Bluthal (the voice of Commander Zero in Fireball XL5). However, he was also a familiar face for his role as Beryl’s father Mr. Hennessey in the first two seasons of the BBC sitcom The Liver Birds (1969 to 1971), while his voice was known as the narrator of a long-running series of commercials for Mr. Kipling’s “exceedingly good cakes”.
Born in Highbury, London on October 13th, 1923, Cyril Shaps spent nearly his entire life in London and was an actor for more than 50 years. Specialising in roles that required him to appear as absent-minded, cowardly, nervous or devious characters – many of them scientists – who would often be victimised by those around him, Shaps appeared in over 40 feature films including Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966), To Sir, With Love (1966), The Odessa File (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), The Spaceman And King Arthur (1979), Erik The Viking (1989), The Madness Of King George (1994), The End Of The Affair (1999) and, most recently, The Importance Of Being Earnest (2002).
He was seen in over 50 television series including Quatermass II, Man In A Suitcase, Spyder’s Web, Department S, The Persuaders!, Jason King, QB VII, Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, The Sweeney, Jesus Of Nazareth, Holocaust, The Young Ones, Private Schultz, Lovejoy and Midsomer Murders. He also guested in four different Doctor Who serials (The Tomb Of The Cybermen, The Ambassadors Of Death, Planet Of The Spiders and The Androids Of Tara).
In Supercar, Shaps portrayed the jovial Austrian scientist co-creator of Supercar, Professor Popkiss, as well as the Supercar team’s villainous arch-enemy Masterspy in the voice recording sessions for the series’ second production block. The original voice artist for these characters, George Murcell, had bowed out two episodes before the end of the first production block, and in his portrayals, Shaps managed to provide such remarkably similar vocalisations that most viewers were unaware of the changeover. He also voiced a number of other characters in the series, including the villainous Lieutenant Soir in Hijack, the sinister mad scientist Professor Karloff in Calling Charlie Queen, Professor Carl Karzinsky and Dr. Clive Maslin in 70-B-Lo and the alien ruler Planitimus in The Day That Time Stood Still.
Cyril Shaps’s final role was as Mr. Grun in The Pianist, Roman Polanski’s highly acclaimed portrayal of the Holocaust. He died on 1st January 2003, following a short illness.
Originally published in FAB 46.