Peter Cushing on Doctor Who? Discover the surprising roles played by some of the original trilogy's most familiar faces.
Eastenders. Z Cars. Crown Court. Crossroads. These words might mean less than nothing to some readers, but to UK Star Wars fans of a certain vintage they evoke some very specific memories. For the young eagle-eyed Star Wars fans of the '70s and '80s they were a treasure trove as a number of very familiar GFFA faces made appearances outside of their galactic selves.
With the original trilogy made here in the UK across a number of London studios including Ealing, Shepperton, and Elstree, the talent pool used was predominantly British. For George Lucas, this meant that the majority of his cast was largely unknown to American viewers -- all the better to help immerse the audience into his space fantasy without unnecessary distaction -- but for audiences here in Britain it was a very different story. Indeed, you could argue that to win over the UK public to the degree that it did was almost more impressive, as so many of the supporting cast were very familiar to the cross-generational audience.
I could write all day long about the many and various character actors seen across the seven films who are well known to UK fans in other shows -- Milton Johns as Imperial Officer Bewill from The Empire Strikes Back, a.k.a. Corner Shop owner Brendan Scott in 32 episodes of Coronation Street, or Sheev Palpatine himself Ian McDiarmid in a 1979 episode of The Professionals. How about The Force Awakens actress Daisy Ridley in Silent Witness and Mister Selfridge or perhaps Bravo 5 from The Phantom Menace, Celie Imrie, better known as Miss Babs from Victoria Woods' brilliant Acorn Antiques sketches. But I'll focus on one scene in particular: the Death Star briefing room scene from A New Hope, where Vader makes his first iconic demonstration of the power of the Force by choking Admiral Motti in a scene the wider UK public know well, as it was parodied in an ad for Tunes throat lozenges back in the '90s ("they come in three fruity flavors").
Eight characters populate the scene: Lord Darth Vader, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, Admiral Conan Antonio Motti, General Cassio Tagge, Chief Moradmin Bast, Commander Siward Cass, Hurst Romodi, and General Wulff Yularen. Let's focus on the first five of those characters and start with the Dark Lord himself.
Already known to British audiences as a championship weightlifter and the Green Cross Code Man, David Prowse's face was hidden from viewers by Darth Vader's mask. But eagle-eyed readers of the end credits would recognize his name from a number of UK shows, and popular ones at that. Like many prominent British celebrities, Prowse would appear on the Saturday morning kids show Tiswas alongside future Who Wants To Be A Millionaire host Chris Tarrant, comedian Jasper Carrot, and many '70s boys first crush, Sally James. He also appeared on the hugely popular Morecambe & Wise Show in '76 and '80, as well as The Benny Hill Show in both '69 and later in '80. In '73 he would appear as Android in the four part Medusa Strain arc of The Tomorrow People and a year later in Edward Woodward's hard-hitting series Callan (Woodward would be better known to American audiences a decade later as The Equaliser). And of course he appeared in Doctor Who during the reign of the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, as the Minotaur in "The Time Monster."
Peter Cushing was one of the film's leading actors, a popular and accomplished screen and stage presence known internationally. But, as with many of his British counterparts, he would also make television appearances that viewers outside of the British Isles would likely not be aware. Like Prowse, Cushing was a part of Doctor Who history, playing the first Doctor in the 1965 movie Dr. Who and the Daleks and replacing TV Doctor William Hartnell due to his wider American popularity. In '76 Cushing appeared in both The New Avengers as Von Claus in the episode "The Eagle's Nest" and in Space: 1999 as Raan in "Missing Link." Audiences worldwide knew him best on television for his memorable 1968 portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, but UK audiences will remember him most fondly for his recurring appearances on The Morecambe and Wise Show. Cushing would often joine the duo on stage seeking payment for his first Morecambe and Wise appearance back in '69, asking, "Have you got my five pounds yet?" When Eric and Ernie moved from BBC 2 to Thames Television in '78, Cushing appeared in their first special, still asking to be paid and by the Christmas special he finally got his money, crying out, "Paid, at last!"
By '77, Richard LeParmentier (Admiral Conan Antonio Motti) was a regular fixture here in the UK, steadily building a body of work in film and television. In '77 he appeared as Ed Malcolm in the "Dorzak" episode of Space: 1999 and in '79 was in the 10th episode of the second season of the popular series Hazell, in "Hazell Gets the Part" as Mort Berman. By '82 he was Chuck in the hit UK series Shine on Harvey Moon, but as fans of LeParmentier know, his future in television would ultimately lie behind the camera as opposed to in front of it.
General Tagge was portrayed by the hugely popular Don Henderson, a stalwart of the UK television scene and a compelling and memorable actor. Like fellow Star Wars actor Jeremy "Gold Two" Sinden (and The Empire Strikes Back's Wes Janson, Ian Liston), he appeared in popular early evening soap Crossroads as Mr. Black and in a number of episode of lunchtime court procedural series Crown Court. (It's worth noting that this is back in the days when TV would go off for a number of hours after lunchtime before kids' programming started up again late afternoon.) In '74 he was in Dixon of Dock Green, one of the UK's longest running series (which had run from '55 and would end in '76), but his most memorable UK TV role was Det. Sgt. George Bulman (later Det. Chief Inspector) in 30 episodes of '82's Strangers, and later in '87 for 20 episodes of Bulman. His widow Shirley Stelfox plays Edna Birch in the long-running soap Emmerdale.
Chief Bast was a constant fixture at the side of Grand Moff Tarkin during A New Hope, and similarly, the actor who portrayed him was a constant fixture on the UK television scene. In '68 and '69 Leslie Schofield played two different roles in Dixon of Dock Green (remember, this is before video recorders and regular repeats, so viewers wouldn't be distracted by the same actor playing two roles) and in '73 and '75 did much the same in two episodes of police drama Z Cars (pronounced Zed Cars, which had featured a young Brian Blessed). He appeared in Doctor Who, first in '69's Second Doctor arc "The War Games" as Leroy and again in '77 as Calib in the Fourth Doctors four part arc "The Face of Evil." A stint in Blakes 7 as Sub-Commander Raiker in the episode "Space Fall" followed in '78, and by '79 he was a part of one of British TV's great comedies, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin for seven episodes as Tom alongside the genius Leonard Rossiter. 1978 to '81 saw three different roles on Crown Court, before '92 and '93 brought him to the world's longest running TV series Coronation Street. And to complete a rare TV double, he also became a recurring cast member for 152 episodes of Eastenders as Jeff, Pauline Fowler's partner.
There's every likelihood that after reading this you will be hitting Google and YouTube hard to see just how these iconic actors appeared outside of their memorable moments in A New Hope. Take the time and make the effort. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Mark is a long-time contributor to Star Wars Insider, the co-owner of Jedi News, a regular contributor to the UK’s biggest free newspaper The Metro and co-host of RebelForce Radio’s UK-centric RADIO 1138 podcast. When he’s not talking or writing about Star Wars, he can usually be found sleeping, where he’ll most likely be dreaming about Star Wars.