26 January 2017

Terence Morgan

Tall, dark and charming English actor Terence Morgan (1921-2005) played many attractive villains and criminals in British films. But he is probably best remembered for his starring role in the TV historical adventure series Sir Francis Drake (1961-1962), about the first Englishman to sail round the world. After this success, parts started to dry up as Morgan was no longer seen as ‘the bad guy’.

Terence Morgan
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. D 172. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation LTD.

Terence Morgan
British Greetings card. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Daring, dashing and tempestuous

Terence Ivor Grant Morgan was born in Lewisham, London, in 1921. He was the nephew of British character actor Verne Morgan. He started work as a shipping clerk at Lloyd's of London before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

After training at RADA, Morgan began as a repertory theatre actor. His career was interrupted by two years in the army in World War II before he was invalided out with claustrophobia and returned to the stage. He played in Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play There Shall Be No Night in London's West End.

Laurence Olivier spotted the handsome Morgan and gave him the role of Cain in Thornton Wilder's classic Skin of Our Teeth. This 1945 production which also starred Vivien Leigh, proved a huge boost to his career. Morgan joined the Old Vic Company alongside Olivier, playing parts in Richard Brinsley Sheridan and William Shakespeare.

He made his film debut in the role of Laertes opposite Olivier’s Hamlet in the film adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948). Ronald Bergan in The Guardian: “His Laertes (…) was everything a Laertes should be: daring, dashing and tempestuous. And, at 27, he was young enough to make a convincing student, 14 years younger than Olivier's over-age Hamlet. He wields his sword with aplomb before dying beautifully in Peter Cushing's arms.”

Morgan was probably the first actor in the part to get fan mail from teenage girls. Hamlet is still the Shakespeare film that has received the most prestigious accolades, winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Terence Morgan
British postcard by L.D. LTD., London, in the Film Star Autograph Portrait series, no. 55. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation LTD.

Terence Morgan in Dance Little Lady (1954)
Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 1004. Photo: Rank Film. Publicity still for Dance Little Lady (Val Guest, 1954).

Nasty roles and dramatic exits

Terence Morgan signed a contract with the Rank studio. He played a support to Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo in the American adventure film Captain Horatio Hornblower RN (Raoul Walsh, 1951), made in England. In Mandy (Alexander Mackendrick, 1952) he played the insensitive father of a deaf girl.

In Gigolo And Gigolette, one of the three W. Somerset Maugham stories in Encore (Harold French, 1951) he played a cad risking the life of his wife (Glynis Johns). In 1953 he again played a villain in Turn the Key Softly (Jack Lee, 1953) as a crook who gets his well-bred girlfriend (Yvonne Mitchell) a prison sentence for helping him in a burglary.

More nasty roles quickly followed with Always a Bride (Ralph Smart, 1953) where he played a Treasury Investigator who turns bad, as well as Forbidden Cargo (Harold French, 1954) as a smuggler, and Tread Softly Stranger (Gordon Parry, 1958) where he is an embezzler and murderer, who robs a steel mill in order to keep his girlfriend Diana Dors in fancy clothes.

He was often given dramatic exits: Dance Little Lady (Val Guest, 1954) saw him fry in the conflagration at the end, The Scamp (Wolf Rilla, 1957) had him suffer a fatal fall down a flight of stairs, and in Forbidden Cargo (Harold French, 1954), he attempted to drive across Tower Bridge as it was opening and drowned in the Thames.

Two films he made in 1955 saw him cast in more positive roles - in the espionage melodrama They Can't Hang Me (Val Guest, 1955) he starred as a dapper Special Branch officer charged with discovering the identity of an enemy agent, and in The March Hare (George More O'Ferrall, 1956) he played an impoverished aristocrat riding a horse for the Derby.

One of his nastiest roles was in crime drama The Shakedown (John Lemont, 1959), when he played a pornographer and blackmailer. He just played a petty thief planning a big haul in the thriller Piccadilly Third Stop (Wolf Rilla, 1960) with Yoko Tani.

In 1958, Morgan bought a small hotel in Hove, Sussex, and ran the hotel for 16 years.

Terence Morgan
Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 473.

Terence Morgan
British autograph card. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

The villainous brother of the mummy

When his Rank contract finished, Terence Morgan had his biggest screen success. He landed the title role in the British adventure television series TV series Sir Francis Drake (Clive Donner, Harry Booth, 1961-1962).

Drake is the commander of the sailing ship the Golden Hind during the 1500s and one of the most famous explorers of the high seas. As well as battles at sea and sword fights, the series also deals with intrigue at the court of Queen Elizabeth (Jean Kent).

During his career, Morgan appeared in 20 films and later notable roles included the villainous brother of the mummy (Rameses VIII) in the Hammer horror film Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (Michael Carreras, 1964), Lord Blackwood in the successful French-Spanish-Italian adventure film Surcouf, le tigre des sept mers/The Sea Pirate (Sergio Bergonzelli, Roy Rowland, 1966) starring Gérard Barray, and an estate agent who is forced to watch as his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) is abused by thugs in the shocker The Penthouse (Peter Collinson, 1967).

Since roles dried up, he spent an increasing amount of time as a property developer in Brighton and Hove. Incidentally he appeared in films like Hide and Seek (David Eady, 1972) with a young Gary Kemp, and The Lifetaker (Michael Papas, 1976), which had him back as the bad guy again where as a wealthy business man he plans ritualistic revenge on his wife and her lover.

Later he gave a haunting performance on television as an ageing, homosexual matinee idol being blackmailed in an episode of King and Castle (1986) and he had a small part in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Timothy Forder, 1993), based on the novel by Charles Dickens.

In 2005, Terence Morgan died of a heart attack in Brighton, England. He was 83. Since 1945, he was married to actress Georgina Jumel. The couple had a daughter.

Long scene from Tread Softly Stranger (1958) with Diana Dors. Source: Paul Thompson (YouTube).

Trailer of The Penthouse (1967). Source: DEATHTRAP TRAILERS (YouTube).

Sources: Ronald Bergan (The Guardian), Anthony Hayward (The Independent), The Telegraph, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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