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18 March 2011

Michael Gough (1916 - 2011)

Michael Gough Melissa Stribling and Peter Cushing in Dracula

Jonathan Rigby pays tribute to the star of Dracula and The Phantom Of The Opera, who died yesterday.

In 1957, Michael Gough’s casting in Dracula was typical of Hammer’s tendency to employ the very best the British theatre had to offer. His recent stage successes had included Coward’s The Vortex and Ibsen’s The Wild Duck; now he was the bereaved Arthur Holmwood, initially a somewhat priggish figure but eventually proving a stalwart ally to Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing.

By 1961 he was back with director Terence Fisher for Hammer’s underrated take on The Phantom Of The Opera. Here he was the utterly despicable Lord Ambrose d’Arcy, seducing aspirant divas and stealing other composers’ operas with unconcealed relish (click on thumbnail below to view photo). This was Gough at his oleaginous best, and proof positive that Hammer’s greatest monsters were always drawn from the aristocracy.

Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1916, Gough made his Broadway debut in 1937 and his London bow a year later. On stage and screen, his mellifluous voice and melancholic presence, together with the neurotic edge he brought to many of his roles, soon became unmistakable. After Hammer had shown the way in Dracula, Gough’s qualities were put to good use by other horror film producers, for whom he gave deliciously over-ripe performances in such lurid titles as Horrors Of The Black Museum, Konga, Black Zoo, The Corpse, Horror Hospital and Satan’s Slave. In view of all this, Hammer asked him back in 1968 to lend gravitas to Eve, the first episode of their ambitious Journey To The Unknown TV series.

Elsewhere on TV, followers of The Avengers will remember Gough as the insane Dr Armstrong, creator of The Cybernauts in 1965, while for Doctor Who fans he will always remain the Mandarin-robed Celestial Toymaker, whom he played, opposite William Hartnell’s Doctor, in 1966. His stage career culminated with a Tony award in 1979 for his role in Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce, while on film his horror celebrity did nothing to deter casting directors from putting him into such mainstream features as The Go Between and The Dresser, or avant-garde ones like Caravaggio and Wittgenstein.

But it was certainly his horror roles that endeared him to director Tim Burton, who cast him as Bruce Wayne’s bespectacled butler, Alfred, in his 1989 film Batman, a role Gough would reprise three times. Ten years later, Burton added authenticity to his elaborate Hammer pastiche, Sleepy Hollow, by casting not only Christopher Lee but also the equally symbolic Gough. It was his last feature film appearance.

As well as being one of Hammer’s best villains, Michael Gough was also one of Britain’s most accomplished actors. Seeing his name on a cast list, even in some of his hokier horror films, was an unfailing guarantee of quality.

Michael Gough
23 November 1916 - 17 March 2011

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