Obituary – Bernard Kay (1928 – 2014)

bernard kay - colony in space

I was sorry to hear about the recent death of Bernard Kay.  He had a lengthy career with some notable film appearances (such as Doctor Zhivago & Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger) but many of his best performances were on television.

And one of his finest small-screen appearances must be the Tweedledum episode of Colditz (transmitted on the 21st of December 1972).  Michael Bryant played Wing Commander George Marsh, who decided to fake madness in order to get released from Colditz and gain repatriation to Britain.  Kay was Hartwig, the German soldier assigned to watch him.  Initially, Hartwig was convinced that Marsh was a fake and sought to prove this by various humiliating means.  Eventually though, he’s convinced and it’s Kay’s compassion that moved the story to another level.

Bernard Kay would become a familiar screen presence for decades, appearing in many popular series such as Out of the Unknown, Redcap, No Hiding Place, The Baron, Adam Adamant Lives!, Softly Softly, The Champions, Budgie, Z Cars, The Sweeney, Space 1999, Survivors, The Professionals, Grange Hill, Dick Turpin, Tales of the Unexpected, The Bill, Juliet Bravo, Remington Steele, London’s Burning, Coronation Street, Jonathan Creek, Foyle’s War and TV Burp amongst many, many others.

He also made four appearances in Doctor Who, between 1964 and 1971.  The first, The Dalek Invasion of Earth was opposite William Hartnell and he played Tyler – a member of the Earth resistance fighting the Daleks.  A few months later he returned to the series, as Saladin in David Whitaker’s The Crusade.

Since Kay (along with several other actors) was browned-up in The Crusade, this might mean that some people would view the story today as politically incorrect, but Whitaker’s script certainly wasn’t.  Kay’s Saladin isn’t a monster – indeed he seems to be just as rational as Julian Glover’s Richard the Lionheart (possibly more so).  As Richard blusters, Saladin is content to remain cold and logical.  It’s Kay’s best Doctor Who performance.

A few years later, he played Inspector Crossland opposite Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in The Faceless Ones and would make his final appearance in the series in 1971.  Jon Pertwee was the Doctor at the time and whilst the story (Colony in Space) is a little dull, Kay was, as usual, very good – this time as Caldwell, a man who finds himself increasingly at odds with his IMC (Interplanetary Mining Company) colleagues.

Kay was born in Bolton in 1928, and following his National Service he trained to become an actor at the Old Vic Theatre School.  Although the majority of his work was either on television or film, he was no stranger to the Theatre.  One notable early performance was as Macbeth in the Nottingham Playhouse’s production of  1952.  When the actor playing Macbeth had to pull out, Kay stepped into the part – with only 24 hours to learn the role.

Bernard Kay was always somebody who spoke his mind – and this is demonstrated in these fascinating interviews, conduced by Toby Hadoke for his Who’s Round Project – Part One and Part Two.  At times painfully frank, they provide a good insight into the personality of a fine character actor.

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