Saturday, 1 June 2013

Biography of British film and TV actor John Bailey

This is the family 'story' that I have published on our private family tree ('Alison Bailey Castellina') at It is about my father's first cousin, film and TV actor John Bailey. This may be the first time John Bailey's acting career has been evaluated. Through researching it, I've discovered one or two gems of British TV and cinema, particularly the gripping British film 'High Treason' about terrorism and the secret operations in the Woolwich Arsenal.

John Albert Bailey (26 June 1912 in London, England - 18 February 1989) was a British screen and TV actor with a forty year screen career. The family name is actually 'Baley', the Baley/Goldpspink line coming from our great, great grandfather, a china merchant, Samuel Baley of Harleston, in Norfolk. Samuel's  descendants all moved to London to find work. John's grandfather, John Baley (known as Bailey) was landlord of the 'Earl Derby' still standing in Plumstead. He was a leading light in the first Arsenal Football Club which first met over the pub which catered for Arsenal workers. His grandfather was a first 'sharer' in Aresenal, the local football club. He was the first publican to entertain customers by reading out 'away' scores, using a telegraph, from the bar and there may have be a bit of an 'actor' in him. A cul-de-sac on the site of this grandfather's house in Welling, is still named after John's grandmother's home town, Sharnbrook in Bedfordshire ('Sharnbrooke Close') where she had been a skilled lacemaker, aged six. John's own father, Albert, was a watchmaker and young John Bailey (born 1912) was brought up in Welling in south east London. I've not researched his war service, but by the early 1950s, in his late thirties, John was quite well known in Britain, as a screen actor. My mother (not related) admired him on screen before she met my father, his first cousin, who in his youth looked very like him - with similar thin, dark looks.

Generally speaking, John Bailey's acting ability was highly regarded by the BBC's drama department which cast him as artist Aubrey Green in The Forsyte Saga and as the leading actor in the highly acclaimed Wednesday Night Play, The Good Shoe Maker and the Poor Fish Pedlar (1967) which considers the serious issue of the death penalty. I've not yet seen the latter (though CDs are available via Amazon of these plays).

I'm very impressed by John's performance as the Russian villain in the tense British spy film, Roy Boulter's High Treason (1951) beautifully set in austere early 1950s London. John plays a foreign assassin, alias 'Stringer', who speaks in a perfect Russian accent (his appearance starts after 50 minutes). The tense plot centres on MI5 countering a small cell group driven by a Communist ideology which aims at world dominion through the demise of democracy. They are prepared to blow up the power station of London (at Battersea) to create anarchy to undermine the elected government. Somehow, it seems topical! John Bailey embodies the sinister, cold nature of the anarchist-terrorist.

John could also play a rigid, stiff formal Englishman on the upper side of upper middle class. His clipped English accent in The Franchise Affair (1951) (John appears at 7 mins 30 secs as Inspector Grant) seems too studied but it faithfully reflected the style of the day. John mixed with some of the leading Hollywood and British actors and clearly valued class and refinement, but this did not put him above playing the villain, perhaps Italian or Eastern European with dark, slightly swarthy looks. So he created a stage presence which could be either refined, artistic or villainous. His vocal delivery tended to be precise, clipped, controlled - but to my ears, melodious.

The pinnacle of his acting career was the gritty BBC TV Wednesday play about Sacco and Vanzetti (1967). Written by Jean Benedetti, the play was entitled The Good Shoe Maker and the Poor Fish Pedlar. John Bailey took the lead role, Bartolomeo Venzetti, an Italian immigrant to America, whose execution is widely regarded as having been a miscarriage of justice. It was immensely topical at the time, as the death penalty was 'the' hot issue of the day.

John was also (as a kindly contributor has offered in a comment on this blog) in a good number of episodes of BBC's 'Doctor Who'. He played Edward Waterfield, the father of Victoria, the companion of the second Dr Who, in three stories:  'The Sensorites 1964', 'The Horns of Nimon' (1980) and in 'The Evil of the Daleks' (1967).  The last is missing from the BBC's archives but Episode 2 (of 7) exists on 'Lost in Time', a boxed 'Doctor Who' set.  All these are available via Amazon.  His performance in 'The Horns of Nimon' is regarded by Doctor Who fans as 'a class apart'.

John never married nor had children and he was very private, mixing with similar artistic people. Hattie Jacques and John Le Measurer are two names mentioned.  Sadly, our side of the family knows little or nothing more about his life. My mother, always a fan of John's, met and introduced herself to him in 'Peter Jones' in Chelsea, where he probably had a flat during the late 1980s.  He was still involved in films in 1987.

The Franchise Affair (1951) (see link below) as Inspector Grant
Circle of Danger in 1951 with Marius Goring and Ray Milland, playing Pape Llewellyn
High Treason (1951) Roy Boulting's masterpiece, wonderfully reflecting everyday life in London in the early 1950s

He also played the royal physician in Rasputin with Renee Acherson (see link below); Aubrey Green in the highly acclaimed original BBC version The Forsyte Saga (1967). He made various appearances in Doctor Who such as in The Sensorites (1964), as Edward Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks (1967) and The Horns of Nimon (1979) with Tom Baker playing Dr Who. He was in several episodes of The Avengers.

His wider select filmography is: It Happened in Soho (1948) Man on the Run (1949) Cairo Road (1950) Circle of Danger (1951) High Treason (1951) Venetian Bird (1952) So Little Time (1952) Operation Amsterdam (1959) Moment of Danger (1960) Never Let Go (1960) Rasputin (1966) Personal Services (1987)

Film clips of John Bailey acting and speaking:

a) John plays a communist Russian with an impeccable accent in Ray Boulting's High Treason (1951). His appearance starts after 50 minutes.
b) John plays Inspector Grant, a detective from Scotland Yard in The Franchise Affair. His appearance starts after 7 mins and 30 seconds.
c) John plays a royal physician with Renee Acherson in Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966). His appearance starts after 41 minutes
d) John's voice with still photos as Edward Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks. John wears a bowtie.

Wikipedia entries for
Venetian Bird (1951) British film set in Venice with Richard Todd, in which John Bailey played Lieutenant Longo, an Italian.
So Little Time (1952) British romantic drama set in Belgium during the war with the lead role played by Marius Goring in which Germans are portrayed quite sympathetically, which met with some protest. John Bailey played Phillippe de Malvines.
Operation Amsterdam (1959 ) war film with Richard Todd set in 1940's Holland in which John plays an officer.
Never Let Go (1960) a non-comic British film with Peter Sellers, Richard Todd and Tony Britton in which John played MacKinnon.
Personal Services (1987) starring Julie Walters, a comedy about a prostitute. He is not listed in the cast list here.

1 comment:

  1. This is a lovely piece about Mr Bailey, a man who has a special place in the hearts of Doctor Who fans as the man who played the ill-fated father of one of the Second Doctor's companions, Victoria. He appeared in three stories, and his first (The Sensorites, 1964) and his last (The Horns of Nimon, 1980) are available on DVD. His second appearance (as Victoria's father Edward Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks, 1967) is sadly largely missing from the BBC archives. Only episode 2 of 7 exists, but John features quite prevelantly in it. This episode is available on the Lost in Time Doctor Who box set.
    Of all of John's roles in Doctor Who, it is Waterfield that fans hold dearest. The Horns of Nimon is not Doctor Who at its best, but John's performance in it is a class apart.