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25 May 2013

Gordon Harker

Gordon Harker (1885 – 1967) was a popular English film actor who specialized in Cockney roles. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, he seemed to appear in every crime film produced in England. Between 1921 and 1959, he appeared in a total of 68 films, including four directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Gordon Harker
British postcard by De Reszke Cigarettes, no. 14. Photo: Gaumont.

Gordon Harker
Vintage card.

Cockney Characters
In 1885, Gordon Harker was born in London’s Eastend into a well-known family of stage actors. He began his career as a prompter to Fred Terry in 1902. The following year he made his stage debut when he walked on in an Ellen Terry show. He became a popular theatre actor who specialized in endearing Cockney characters. He made his film debut in the silent comedy General John Regan (1921, Harold M. Shaw) starring Milton Rosmer. Next, he made The Crooked Billet (1927, Adrian Brunel) with Madeleine Carroll. That year he worked for the first time with the then 28 years old Alfred Hitchcock. The Ring (1927) is a silent sports film, both directed and written by Hitchcock. After directing Downhill (1927) and Easy Virtue (1928), two stage adaptations for the Gainsborough company, Hitchcock was frustrated and jumped at the chance to develop an idea of his own. Surprisingly, The Ring is Hitchcock's one and only original screenplay. The film's title refers not only to the boxing arena, but also to the wedding ring - and to a suggestive snake bracelet. This bracelet becomes a symbol of the love triangle between a fairground boxer (Carl Brisson) whose lover (Lillian Hall-Davis) falls for the charms of a professional boxer (Ian Hunter). Harker played the trainer of Brisson’s character. The film was a major critical success on its release. It features photography tricks Hitchcock would use again years later in films like The Man Who Knew Too Much, most notably during the climactic boxing sequences. Harker then appeared in Hitchcock’s romantic comedy The Farmer's Wife (1928, Alfred Hitchcock) starring Jameson Thomas and Lillian Hall-Davis. Harker played a comic surly servant called Churdles Ash. He also appeared in The Wrecker (1929 Géza von Bolváry) with a spectacular staged steam locomotive crash. The third Hitchcock film was the silent comedy Champagne (1928, Alfred Hitchcock) starring Betty Balfour as a spoilt rich girl forced to get a job after her father (Harker) tells her he has lost all his money. Hitchcock's attempt at a change of pace with a comedy was poorly received when released. Although his expanding visual technique continued to draw recognition and praise, they were not enough to distract the audience from the film's lack of usual suspenseful plot lines.

Gordon Harker
British Raphael Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph postcard, no. 18. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Gordon Harker, Alfred Drayton, Owen Nares
British postcard by S.C. Allen & Company, Ltd., Belfast and London for Wyndham's Theatre, London. Photo: publicity still for the play The Calendar (1931).

Gordon Harker
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. 717. Photo: Gaumont British.

A Red-Herring Suspect
Gordon Harker’s film career went full speed ahead in the sound era. Her made a cameo appearance in Elstree Calling (1930, Andre Charlot, Jack Hulbert, Paul Murray, Alfred Hitchcock). This lavish musical film revue was Britain's answer to the all-star revues which had been produced by the major Hollywood studios, such as Paramount on Parade (1930). He had a supporting part in the spy film The W Plan (1930, Victor Saville) with Brian Aherne. In Escape (1930, Basil Dean) escapes a man (Gerald du Maurier) from Dartmoor Prison and is hunted across the moors by policemen to whom it is an unpleasant reminder of their experiences during the First World War. Another crime film was Shadows (1931, Alexander Esway) about an estranged son of a newspaper owner who returns to his father's good favour by unmasking a gang of criminals. In these films, he often was the comic relief, but also sometimes a red-herring suspect. Among his many notable film credits were Rome Express (1932, Walter Forde), The Phantom Light (1935, Michael Powell), and the Will Hay vehicle Boys Will Be Boys (1935, William Beaudine). Brian McFarlane in Encyclopedia of British Film: “Lugubrious, shifty, aggressive, occasionally chirpy, Cockney Gordon Harker, of the protruding lower lip, was a cherished fixture in British films”. He was noted for his performance as Inspector Hornleigh in a trilogy of detective films with Alastair Sim as Sergeant Bingham. The first was Inspector Hornleigh (1938, Eugene Forde), followed by Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday (1939, Walter Forde) and Inspector Hornleigh Goes To It (1940, Walter Forde). For the Ealing Studios, he appeared in yet another Walter Forde film, Saloon Bar (1940). After the war, he played Alfred Doolittle in an early TV performance of Pygmalion (1948) opposite Margaret Lockwood. He did a lovely cameo as a casually corruptible pub-keeper in Bang! You're Dead (1953, Lance Comfort); and starred in Small Hotel (1957, David MacDonald). Here he played a devious waiter, matching wits with Marie Löhr, in the role he had created on stage. His final film was the satirical comedy Left Right and Centre (1959, Sidney Gilliat) about the events of a by-election in a small English town. Gordon Harker died in 1967 in London. He was 81.

Gordon Harker
British Raphael Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph postcard, no. 126-S. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Gordon Harker
British Real Photograph postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons, no. 19-S. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Gordon Harker
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. 717A. Photo: Cannons.

Sources: Brian McFarlane (Encyclopedia of British Film), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), BritMovie, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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