Obituary: Anthony Valentine, actor, starred in hit series 'Callan' and 'Colditz'
Actor who was voted the top television rotter of all time and who had starring roles in hit series 'Callan' and 'Colditz'
Anthony Valentine, the actor who died on Wednesday aged 76, was one of the best known television baddies, the suave villain of numerous drama series from the 1960s to the 1990s.
He established his reputation as the psychopathic killer Toby Meres in Callan (ITV, 1967-69), became a household name as the sadistic German Luftwaffe officer Major Horst Mohn in the BBC series Colditz (1972-74) and was the gentleman jewel thief and ladies' man in the Yorkshire Television hit series Raffles (1977).
In a 2002 Radio Times poll, Valentine's Major Mohn was voted the 'top television rotter of all time'.
In spite, or perhaps because of his often sadistic small screen persona, Valentine acquired a fanatical following of female fans. "Girls would write to me, saying things like, 'My husband is away on Friday night. Will you come and beat me up?'" he once recalled. In 2006, a spokeswoman for a UK carpet chain explained that the retailer had stopped using celebrities to open stores after a bizarre incident in the 1970s when Valentine, then starring as Mohn, was scared by a throng of amorous fans. "They were frenzied women. The store's glass bent," she recalled. "He was worried what these women would do if they got their hands on him."
Valentine continued to work into his seventies, appearing as the arch villain George Webster, adept at giving customs officers the slip, in the hard-hitting Customs and Excise drama The Knock (ITV, 1996). By the time he made his debut in 2009 in Coronation Street as George Wilson, the OAP-about-town with whom Ken Barlow's acid-tongued mother-in-law Blanche Hunt (Maggie Jones) becomes smitten, he had shed most of his villainous persona, if not his power to charm.
Anthony Valentine was born on August 17, 1939 at Blackburn, Lancashire, where his parents worked in a cotton mill. When he was six the family moved to London where he was educated at Acton County Grammar School.
He made his acting debut as a 10-year-old as a "little boy" in the film No Way Back (1949), and aged 12 was a youthful sleuth in The Girl on the Pier (1953). He went on to appear in several BBC children's television shows, most notably as Captain of the Remove Harry Wharton, one of the Fat Owl's chums in the BBC's long-running Billy Bunter series (1952-61) .
But he came into his own as Edward Woodward's fellow Secret Service agent and rival Toby Meres in the first two series of Callan, a character he brought to life as a supercilious upper-class thug whose urbane demeanour somehow fails to conceal his total lack of moral compass. The series was created in 1967 by James Mitchell as an antidote to the more glamorous The Saint and The Avengers (in which Valentine had also appeared).
With its distinctive title sequence showing a swinging lightbulb exploding in slow motion at the sound of a gunshot, it took a while to gain a following, but eventually became one of television's most popular dramas.
Meres departed for a posting in the US when Valentine left to appear in the espionage thriller Codename on the rival BBC network.
Valentine's other television credits included Dr Finlay's Casebook, Softly Softly, Lovejoy, The Detectives, Tales of the Unexpected and Robin of Sherwood (ITV 1984-86), in which he played the nobleman and master of the black arts Baron de Belleme. He also appeared frequently in the West End in shows including No Sex Please, We're British, Sleuth and Half a Sixpence.
The role of Meres established Valentine as television producers' suave British baddie of choice, and as such he might have chosen a career in Hollywood.
But after making a pilot episode of NBC's The Fifth Corner as a gangster called 'The Hat', he turned down the chance of Hollywood stardom to avoid being parted from his wife, the actress Susan Skipper, whom he married in 1982.
The couple had first met on the set of Raffles and then appeared together three years later on the television film of Ivor Novello's show The Dancing Years. In an interview in 1995, Valentine recalled that he had experienced two brushes with death - once aged 26 when he was struck down by meningitis and doctors thought he would die, the second time in 1974, when he was caught up in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and holed up in a holiday hotel as gun battles raged outside.
"I've always felt that everything since has been an incredible bonus," he said. In 2012, however, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His wife survives him.