Time for another viewer request - Frank Middlemass, who you probably know better as Rocky Hardcastle in As Time Goes By.
Middlemass, who was born in Durham in 1919, entered the acting world at the relatively late age of 30, after 20 years of service in the British army, during which time he was wounded at the Battle of Dunkirk. He ended his army career as a Lieutenant Colonial, then took off to Cornwall where he joined a repertory theatre in Penzance.
There was no better actor training than weekly rep and by the 1950s Middlemass was ready to move onto bigger things when he joined the Old Vic Company, performing around the world. In 1961, Middlemass was cast opposite film star Vivien Leigh in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Leigh played Viola and Middlemass played her drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch. The role was tailor-made for the affable, avuncular Middlemass, whose likeability never waned. Such was the gregarious Middlemass’s charm that 40 years after he asked his friend Geoffrey Toone if he could stay in his spare room for a couple of weeks, he was still there! To the acting friends’ amusement, the never-married Middlemass and Toone were often mistaken for being a "couple"; they never were, but were the loyalist of friends.
As well as Leigh, Middlemass also performed alongside such stellar actors as Bette Davis, Ian McKellen and Peter O’Toole, who he performed opposite in Waiting for Godot. In 1984, when most men in their 60s are about to settle into retirement, Middlemass joined The Royal Shakespeare Company. His roles included, Friar Lawrence in Romeo & Juliet, Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Polonius in Hamlet, all of them very "talkative" characters, which attests to the agility of Middlemass’s memory.
During the course of his fifty-odd year acting career, Middlemass became a familiar face on British television screens. His first television appearance was in 1958, in the police drama Dixon of Dock Green, with his most memorable role being that of the bumbling headmaster in R F Delderfield's To Serve Them All Our Days. You may also have seen him in Last of the Summer Wine, Yes Minister, Upstairs, Downstairs, Poldark, Miss Marple, and Midsomer Murders – to name just a few.
Middlemass’s appearance in the 2002 As Time Goes By two-part Reunion special was the actor’s last television appearance. He joined the cast in 1993 playing Lionel’s motorcycle-riding father and would sadly die in 2006.
As Time Goes By airs weekday afternoons at 3pm on Afternoon Tea. If you have a favorite Afternoon Tea actor you’d like to find out more about, drop me a line.
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