Harry Towb (1925-2009)

Less well known for his Gerry Anderson connection than he was for his many theatrical, television and film character parts, Harry Towb was one of the few surviving cast members from Gerry Anderson’s first cinema production, 1960’s Crossroads To Crime. This was a B-movie in the truest sense of the word – it was produced for Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy’s Anglo-Amalgamated distributors to act as a support feature. Although the low budget crime thriller failed to make much of a splash, it did provide Gerry Anderson with the core voice cast for the next puppet series, Supercar. It also provided Harry Towb with an opportunity to act with his friend David Graham; the two remained lifelong friends, with David speaking at his funeral.

A master of accents, especially convincing as Americans and Londoners, some will be surprised to learn that Harry was actually an Ulsterman, born in Larne, County Antrim on 27th July 1925. He starting acting after meeting avant-garde producer Herbert C. Wilmot, who was keen to work with amateurs on new drama productions. Towb was hooked, selling his picture enlarging business and moving south of the border to join the Dublin Repertory Players. He moved to England in the early 1950s and broke into films with a good role in John Gilling’s 1951 film The Quiet Woman. He was keen to keep working, urged on by the financial poverty of his background, so took roles which failed to advance his career when others advised him to wait for the right offer. Harry was reliable and very talented, never failing to stand out in even the smallest role in series from Billy Bunter to The Avengers to Doctor Who (where he was memorably eaten by a sofa in the 1971 story Terror Of The Autons).

He also successfully avoided typecasting and was as convincing as an Irish police constable in an advert for Flash floor cleaner as he was alongside his old flatmate Edward Woodward as the American gun expert Judd in Callan. His stage career was extremely busy and varied and he became a regular performer with both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, with which he acted in many productions, especially towards the end of his career.

He even acted on the Broadway stage in New York several times and extended his talents to musicals, including Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978), Anything Goes (1989) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2004). Harry Towb was much loved within the acting profession and among audiences who appreciate the craft of the character actor. He liked to keep working and latterly was to be seen in Eastenders before making is final stage appearance, appropriately in his home town playing Tiresias in Antigone at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast.

Originally published in FAB 64.