Celebrated Actor Philip Madoc dies aged 77

Posted on 7 March 2012

Celebrated Merthyr-born actor, Philip Madoc, an alumnus of the University of Wales, has died aged 77. 

He played a Mohican warrior, Trotsky, King Lear and Lloyd George, but will arguably be best remembered for appearing as a U-boat captain in an episode of Dad’s Army in 1973.

Yet Madoc’s range as an actor was far more extensive than this episode would suggest.

When once asked by a journalist why he had entered the profession, Madoc answered:

“Prospero’s final speech in The Tempest and the chance of doing it properly is the reason I became an actor. You put up with all the hassle which accompanies this business – the disappointments, the insecurity, the frustrations – for speeches and roles like that.”

Philip Arvon Madoc was born in Y Bryn Street, Merthyr Tydfil on July 5 1934 and was intensely proud of his name, explaining: “It comes from Madog, meaning 'man of bravery.’”

He showed an early aptitude as a linguist at Cyfarthfa High School, Merthyr Tydfil, and went on to study Languages at the then University of Wales Cardiff (now Cardiff University) before enrolling at the University of Vienna, where he became the first foreigner to win the Diploma of the Interpreters Institute.

He eventually amassed competency in seven languages, including Russian and Swedish, and had a working knowledge of Huron Indian, Hindi and Mandarin.

Having embarked on a career as an interpreter, he found the work soul-destroying:

“I did dry-as-dust jobs like a sewing machine conference and political interpreting. You get to despise politicians when you have to translate the rubbish they spout.”

He was offered a job lecturing at Gothenburg University, but decided on a change of course and applied successfully for a scholarship at Rada.

Madoc went on to take many leading stage roles, among them as Iago in Othello; Antony in Antony and Cleopatra; George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; the Duke in Measure for Measure; Macbeth; Shylock; and Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

On television he played Magua in the BBC series The Last of the Mohicans, and won particular acclaim in the title role of the BBC drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

In the 1990s he starred as DCI Noel Bain in four series of A Mind to Kill, which was particularly successful in the United States, where it was favourably compared to Morse. Each scene of the series was filmed first in Welsh, then in English, prompting Madoc to muse that identical lines and characters were often transformed by the different languages.

His many other television appearances included The Avengers; The Saint; Poldark; Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased); The Goodies; Dr Who; Porridge; and Fortunes of War.

On the big screen, Madoc featured in, among others, Zina; The Quiller Memorandum; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; and Operation Daybreak.

With his sonorous voice, Madoc was particularly prolific in audio, recording the works of Dylan Thomas; Morte d’Arthur; Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; The Canterbury Tales; and many others. For BBC Radio he played King Lear, and Prospero in The Tempest; recently he had portrayed Stalin in Life and Fate.

He is survived by his two children.



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