Ashton-under-Lyne actor Brian Wilde must surely possess one of the most instantly recognisable sad faces on television.
He was lugubrious prison officer Mr Barrowclough in Porridge, the world-weary Walter ‘Foggy’ Dewhurst in Last of the Summer Wine and refuse inspector Bloody Delilah in the Granada sitcom The Dustbinmen.
Wilde took his gloomy on-screen persona to the ultimate degree in the 1971 historical drama Elizabeth R starring Glenda Jackson and Robert Hardy.
He played the notorious Elizabethan priest-hunter and torturer Richard Topcliffe, who was charged with giving inmates a most uncomfortable time in the Tower of London.
Wilde also appeared in the Granada crime series The Man in Room 17 in the 1960s, as well as Ace of Wands, Special Branch and The Avengers.
In addition to his TV work, Wilde made a number of films including Night of the Demon in 1957, Carry On Doctor in 1967 and Connecting Rooms in 1970.
Born in Ashton-under-Lyne in June 1927, Wilde trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) before landing his first screen role in the 1954 crime movie Forbidden Cargo.
He played a small-time crook alongside Jack Warner, of Dixon of Dock Green fame, and Nigel Patrick.
Wilde’s first major TV role was that of Chief Inspector Carter in the 1964 thriller Melissa, written by Francis Durbridge. He also worked with comedian Tony Hancock on his ATV series.
In 1969, Wilde took over the role of Bloody Delilah, the cleansing department inspector in the Granada sitcom The Dustbinmen. Wilde’s character was actually called Bernard Pooke, but every inspector in the series was referred to as Bloody Delilah!
The Dustbinmen was created by Cheetham Hill writer Jack Rosenthal and starred Bryan Pringle, Trevor Bannister, Tim Wylton and Graham Haberfield as the refuse crew operating the dustcart Thunderbird 3.
The sitcom was adapted from the one-off TV film There’s a Hole in Your Dustbin, Delilah. It ran for three series between 1969 and 1970.
One of Wilde’s best-known roles was that of prison officer Mr Barrowclough in the sitcom Porridge alongside Ronnie Barker as inmate Norman Stanley Fletcher and Richard Beckinsale as Lennie Godber.
Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, Porridge became one of the most popular programmes on TV and ran for three series from September 1974 to March 1977.
Porridge started life as an episode of the Ronnie Barker sketch series Seven of One. It featured Fletcher being escorted across the country by two prison officers – Mr Barrowclough and principal officer Mr McKay played by Fulton McKay.
The episode proved so successful and the characters gelled so well that a full series was commissioned.
Where Mr McKay was direct and disciplined, Mr Barrowclough was timid and concerned – always worried about the various scrapes perpetrated by Fletcher and Godber.
The two officers worked well as comic foils, with Wilde’s flustered countenance conveying pathos as well as moments of great humour. A film version of Porridge was made in 1979.
Wilde moved seamlessly from playing Mr Barrowclough to taking on the role of Walter ‘Foggy’ Dewhurst in the long-running BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine.
The series was already well into its stride by 1976 with Michael Bates playing the original third member of the gentle trio of old men at the heart of the action in Holmfirth, East Yorkshire.
Bates portrayed the uptight Cyril Blamire while Bill Owen played the mischief-making Compo Simmonite. Peter Sallis was the laid-back Norman Clegg.
When Bates left, Wilde filled the gap as earnest war veteran Foggy. A stickler for detail, he tried to organise the lives of his two friends with disastrous results.
There were countless failed projects and misadventures, some involving guest appearances from famous personalities. One storyline saw comic actor Norman Wisdom cast as piano player Billy Ingleton.
Nora Batty, brilliantly played by Dukinfield actress Kathy Staff, was at the centre of many of the trio’s schemes – not least because she was the object of Compo’s undying affection.
There were always elaborate plots to smuggle Nora’s long-suffering husband Wally away from her to spend time with the three friends. Each scheme ended up doomed!
Wilde was written out of the series in 1985 after he decided to work on other projects. The explanation was that Foggy had moved to Bridlington to take over the family egg-painting business.
But Wilde was back in 1990 and stayed on until 1996, when he was forced to leave due to a bout of shingles. He never returned.
The actor with the most famous sad face on TV died in his sleep in March 2008.
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