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Anthony Ainley obituary

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Obituary: Anthony Ainley: As the Master in Doctor Who, he sent shivers down the spines of a generation

The Master was to BBC Television's Doctor Who what Moriarty was to Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The time-travelling hero met his Reichenbach Falls moment with his arch enemy when, in 1981, Tom Baker was toppled from a radar dish by Anthony Ainley, who has died aged 71.

The renegade time lord, Ainley's best-known acting role, had been portrayed with great success by Roger Delgado until his death in a car crash in 1973. Ainley embraced the part with gusto, appearing as a semi-regular in the television series, from the encounter with Baker until its 26-year run came to an end in 1989.

Born in London, the son of the silent-film and West End actor Henry Ainley, Anthony made an uncredited appearance as a young boy in the war propaganda film The Foreman Went To France (1942), before studying at Rada. Subsequent repertory led to occasional film roles, including bit parts in You Only Live Twice (1967) and Oh! What A Lovely War (1969), though his main career was in television.

An early break came in It's Dark Outside (1965), in which he played a detective sergeant to William Mervyn's chief inspector. Roles in such anthology series as Out Of The Unknown and Play For Today led, in 1972, to more prominent parts, among them Clive Hawksworth, in the thriller series Spyder's Web, and Ferdinand Gadd, in Herbert Wise's production of Pinero's Trelawny Of the Wells.

During the 1970s, Ainley carved himself a niche playing aristocratic, often villainous, parts in high-profile costume dramas, including three episodes of Upstairs Downstairs (1971, as Lord Charles Gilmour), Nicholas Nickleby (1977, as Sir Mulberry Hawk) and Lillie (1978, as Lord Carrington in an account of the career of Lillie Langtry). On film, his most prominent role was as a sadistic Nazi officer in The Land That Time Forgot (1975).

Ainley would not have known when playing the calculating Rev Emilius in the television dramatisation of Trollope's political novels, The Pallisers (1974), that its young production manager, John Nathan-Turner, would eventually be in charge of Doctor Who. However, Nathan-Turner remembered Ainley's performance with such admiration that he offered him the role of The Master without an audition.

While Delgado had been an urbane, sinister presence with a steely stare, Ainley's performance was more pantomimic, imbuing his Master with a cat-like purr and malevolent chuckle. Lurking in the shadows, he had a line in mellifluous threats and a predilection for sadism that sent a whole generation of children scurrying behind the sofa.

He played opposite Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvestor McCoy, his appearances occasionally cosmetic rather than plot-driven. Fittingly, he was the main villain in the series' last adventure in 1989.

Although an intensely private man, Ainley was happy to mix with fans, giving great value in question and answer sessions at Dr Who conventions. But he could also be undiplomatic, as when giving notes to his unappreciative fellow actor Jon Pertwee during the 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors, in 1983.

It could not be said that acting was Ainley's lifeblood: he often turned down roles to spend time playing sports, notably as a member of the London Theatres Cricket Club. He never married.

Anthony Ainley, actor, born August 20 1932; died May 3 2004

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hadoke, Toby (2004-05-15). Anthony Ainley obituary. The Guardian p. 27.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hadoke, Toby. "Anthony Ainley obituary." The Guardian [add city] 2004-05-15, 27. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hadoke, Toby. "Anthony Ainley obituary." The Guardian, edition, sec., 2004-05-15
  • Turabian: Hadoke, Toby. "Anthony Ainley obituary." The Guardian, 2004-05-15, section, 27 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Anthony Ainley obituary | url= | work=The Guardian | pages=27 | date=2004-05-15 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 May 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Anthony Ainley obituary | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 May 2024}}</ref>