The recent death of novelist PD James, creator of the Adam Dagliesh mysteries, got me wondering about the actor who first played Dagliesh: Roy Marsden. Since being replaced in the series by Martin Shaw when it moved over to the BBC, Marsden has rarely been seen on television. The last time was in The Escape Artist, staring David Tennant, where he played the lawyer of the murder suspect. He also appeared in an episode of New Tricks in 2010 and like most British actors, appeared in an episode of Doctor Who. As Marsden points out though, his "whole life has been the theatre really. Television has only been a period away from it, one which has been very enjoyable."
Marsden, whose last name was originally Mould, was born in London's East End during the second world war. Even as a young boy he loved the theatre. So much so that his parents sent him to London's top children's stage school, Italia Conti. He was there for eighteen months and at the age of just eight started earning a living, when he was paid £74 to play the role of a magician’s assistant in a film made at Ealing Studios. It must have seemed a huge amount, considering his father was only making seven pounds a week as a caretaker. Marsden also earned money as soloist in the choir at Southwark Cathedral. His vocal talents were so good that he was chosen to be in the choir selected to sing at Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953.
After leaving school, Marsden was accepted into the world renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but left early as he felt “uncomfortable in what was then a class-conscious institution". It didn't take him long to find acting work though, and he honed his skills as a classical actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company. That was in the early 1960s.
The 6' 3" actor was first seen on television in this country in 1972, in a Masterpiece Theatre production of Vanity Fair. It was the BBC's first color telecast and in it he played the role of George Osborne opposite Susan Hampshire's Becky Sharp. In 1978, Marsden got his big break, starring as Neil Burnside in The Sandbaggers, a spy thriller series that got limited exposure in this country, but made him a household name in the U.K.
Along with television fame came financial success which Marsden used for philanthropy. He and brother Michael Mould paid £100,000 each to purchase a derelict whisky distillery in Newcastle-on-Tyne, which they turned into a large non-profit community arts complex. With three theaters, a recording studio and work spaces for a variety of potters, goldsmiths, silversmiths and cabinetmakers, the venture won Prince Charles's seal of approval.
Then came Dagliesh. I'll have more about Marsden and the role he's most associated with next week. In the meantime, if there's an actor you haven't seen for a while on MPT and you'd like to know what they're up to nowadays, drop me a line.
To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117