The Love of Mike

 

Michael Medwin was one of the British cinema’s most recognisable actors, appearing in more than eighty films over a period of sixty years. He was also a stage, radio and television actor and in later life became a film and theatre producer. “Acting has always been in my bones”, he once said. Michael Darvell pays tribute to a popular performer and a very astute businessman. 

 

 

MICHAEL MEDWIN (18 July 1923-26 February 2020)
For much of his long film career the British actor Michael Medwin, who has died aged 96, was one of that breed of actors who crop up regularly on screen in supporting roles, providing the backbone of the casting industry. Just think of the times Michael Balfour, Sid James,
Michael MedwinDenis Shaw, Michael Brennan or Sam Kydd appeared lurking in the background of old British ‘B’ pictures. In the case of Michael Medwin, it was usually a pleasure to see him in anything because he was an excellent foil providing either comic relief or dramatic intensity to any production. Apart from his regular appearances in British films, he also had a substantial stage career and a small screen following and he subsequently became a film and theatre producer.

 

From 1957 to 1961, he played Corporal Springer, the lead in Granada’s sitcom The Army Game alongside Alfie Bass, Bill Fraser, William Hartnell, Bernard Bresslaw. Norman Rossington, Dick Emery and Charles Hawtrey etc. He even took the show’s theme song into the pop charts. Later on he played radio boss Don Satchley in the BBC series of Shoestring with Trevor Eve, and appeared in Mel Smith’s comedy series Colin’s Sandwich. Other television work included Dick and the Duchess, The Love of Mike, Three Live Wires and Michael Mills’ 1960 spoof Alice Through the Looking Box, in which Medwin played the Knave, with Dora Bryan as the Queen, Bernard Bresslaw as the March Hare, Ronnie Corbett as the Dormouse, Jeannie Carson as Alice and Fanny Cradock as the Duchess! Medwin was also in Channel 4’s 1998 version of Alice playing the Red King with Kate Beckinsale as Alice, Geoffrey Palmer and Penelope Wilton as the White King & Queen, and Siận Phillips as the Red Queen.

 

Many guest appearances on TV included Minder, Boon, Super Gran, Lovejoy, Murder in Mind, Holby City, The Bill, Doctors, Heartbeat and Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. On radio he was part of the comedy series set in the advertising world called Something To Shout About, with Fenella Fielding and Eleanor Summerfield, which has lately been repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Michael Hugh Medwin was born in London, educated at Canford School in Dorset and the Institute Fischer in Montreux, Switzerland. He trained as an actor at the Italia Conti Stage School who arranged his theatre debut in Where the Rainbow Ends. He has said that “acting has always been in my bones” and he proved to be both good and popular working in the West End in plays by Shaw, Sheridan, Brecht, Bill Naughton, Joe Orton and Michael Frayn. He was also a member of the National Theatre company in plays by Harley Granville Barker, Ben Jonson, Ibsen, Beckett, John Osborne, Pinter, Stoppard, Coward, O’Casey, Ayckbourn, Ferenc Molnar and Howard Brenton among others. He also worked for the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in The Taming of the Shrew, Oh! What a Lovely War and Merlin the Magnificent, and he appeared in Stairway to Heaven, the musical at the King’s Head, Islington.
 
In the cinema, Medwin’s first appearance was an uncredited role in the 1946 Anna Neagle film Piccadilly Incident. He
then worked constantly in the cinema so that by 1950 he had been in over twenty films. These included The Courtneys of Curzon Street (Neagle again), Alexander Korda’s An Ideal Husband, Julien Duvivier’s Anna Karenina with Vivien Leigh, Val Guest’s Just William’s Luck, Terence Young’s Woman Hater with Stewart Granger, Look Before You Love with Margaret Lockwood, Charles Crichton’s Another Shore, Thorold Dickinson’s The Queen of Spades, Cavalcanti’s For Them That Trespass, Trottie True with Jean Kent, and Boys in Brown with Richard Attenborough.

Among the many films that Michael Medwin made during the 1950s were Somerset Maugham’s Trio, The Long Dark Hall with Rex Harrison, Curtain Up with Robert Morley, Miss Robin Hood with Margaret Rutherford, Hindle Wakes with Lisa Daniely, Muriel Box’s Street Corner, Genevieve with Kenneth More, and The Oracle with the voice of Gilbert Harding. Medwin gave one of his best performances in The Intruder,
Intruder, TheGuy Hamilton’s second feature as a director in 1953 (with Jack Hawkins, right). Medwin played an ex-soldier turned burglar who happens to rob the home of his former wartime officer played by Hawkins. It showed that Medwin could be very good in a dramatic part as well as the usual knockabout comedy roles he was often offered. More drama in Lance Comfort’s Bang! You’re Dead with Jack Warner, The Green Scarf with Michael Redgrave, The Teckman Mystery, Above Us the Waves, A Hill in Korea and Checkpoint. He did a couple of Doctor films and Carry On Nurse, played Tommy Steele’s valet in The Duke Wore Jeans, and appeared in The Army Game spinoff film, I Only Arsked, in which Bernard Bresslaw was the star!

The 1960s brought more television work for Medwin, as well as films including Ken Annakin’s The Longest Day and his Crooks Anonymous too, Muriel Box’s Rattle of a Simple Man and Karel Reisz’s Night Must Fall with Albert Finney. In 1965 he formed Memorial Enterprises with Finney and they produced firstly Peter Watkins’ Privilege, and then Charlie Bubbles for which Finney directed the screenplay by Shelagh Delaney and appeared as the titular star with Liza Minnelli. Memorial and Medwin went on to produce Lindsay Anderson’s if.... and O Lucky Man!, Bill Naughton’s screenplay of his Spring and Port Wine, Stephen Frears’ Gumshoe, Ivan Passer’s Law and Disorder and David Gladwell’s Memoirs of a Survivor with Julie Christie, among other productions. He also formed a partnership with theatre producer David Pugh and they staged Bill Naughton’s Spring and Port Wine, Ted Whitehead’s Alpha Beta, Julian Mitchell’s Another Country and Peter Nichols’ A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and Forget Me Not Lane.
 

Michael Medwin carried on acting and producing well into his eighties and often appeared in the films he produced. As well as appearing in Scrooge with Finney, The Sea Wolves with Gregory Peck and Lindsay Anderson’s Britannia Hospital, he also played an English Producer in Jana Bokova’s Hôtel du Paradis, was in Christine Edzard’s The Fool with Derek Jacobi, took direction from Martin Clunes in Staggered, and was the Registrar in Kay Mellor’s Fanny and Elvis. His last work as an actor was in 2008 with Keira Knightley in The Duchess and, finally, he played a doctor in Jon Kirby’s Framed.

 

He recalls that the greatest influences on his acting were Edward G. Robinson and Charles Laughton. His least favourite time was working on a film in 1967 starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren, Chaplin’s A Countess From Hong Kong, when nobody got on with the director who was far too controlling. He had expected something better from the ‘genius’ filmmaker. Michael Medwin married Sunny Sheila Back in 1960 but they divorced in 1971. He was made an OBE in the 2005 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for his services to drama.

 

  

Michael Hugh Medwin: born 18 July1923; died 26 February 2020. R.I.P.