Frederick Treves

Frederick Treves
Frederick Treves

Frederick Treves was born in 1925 in Margate, Kent. He made his film debut in “Wheel of Fate” in 1953. Other movies included “The Elephant Man” in 1980.   He died in 2012.

Gavin Gaughan’s “Guardian” obituary:

In an acting career that lasted for well over half a century, Frederick Treves, who has died aged 86, specialised in playing men in positions of authority – senior police officers, peers, admirals, colonels and scientists. He was a tall man with a heavily jowled, amiable face, a hawk-like profile and a patrician bearing. A regular National Theatre player, he supported many television dramas, including The Regiment (1973), a BBC series set in India; Destiny, David Edgar’s 1978 Play for Today; The Jewel in the Crown (1984); The Invisible Man (1984); Poirot (1991); Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (1997); and The Rector’s Wife (1994). In all of these disparate productions, he played a colonel.

Treves was the great-nephew of Sir Frederick Treves, the surgeon who rescued Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man” (he also had a role as an alderman in David Lynch’s 1980 film about the case). He was born in Margate, Kent, the son of a doctor, and saw second world war service in the royal and merchant navies. When his ship was sunk in a torpedo attack on its way to Malta, Treves rescued several comrades, and was awarded the British Empire Medal. He later wrote a play about the incident, Operation Pedestal (1974), broadcast on Radio 4.

In 1948 he joined Newquay repertory theatre in Cornwall, treading the boards with Kenneth Williams. He made his West End debut in Adventure Story, by Terence Rattigan, at the St James’s theatre in 1949. From 1956 until 1962, he was part of the Repertory Players, a “Sunday play-producing society” intended as a shop window for actors and playwrights that staged six new plays a year.

Treves’s director at Newquay had been Richard West, who gave him his first television part, in the early BBC soap The Grove Family, in 1956. He appeared in the TV series Maigret (1960) and in the stage play Maigret and the Lady (Strand theatre, 1965), both with Rupert Davies in the title role. He was Jenny Agutter’s imprisoned father in the BBC serial of The Railway Children (1968). One of Alun Owen’s last television plays, Lucky (1974), was set in a prison with Treves as the governor. Memorably, he was a plain-clothes inspector confronting Quentin Crisp (John Hurt) in The Naked Civil Servant (1975).

In 1979 he played Anthony Head, secretary of war, in Ian Curteis’s large-scale Suez 1956. Then he was Gayev, with Judi Dench as his sister, in The Cherry Orchard (1981), adapted by Trevor Griffiths and directed by Richard Eyre.

Treves worked on several occasions with John Thaw. After playing a villain in a helicopter in The Sweeney (1976), he was at his most august in the film spin-off Sweeney 2 (1978). In an early episode of Inspector Morse (1987), he was a dean to whom Morse discloses his suspicions. As Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, he differed on tactics with Thaw, in the title role, in Bomber Harris (1989). He was notable as a Polish doctor accused of having conducted experiments in Dachau, in Kavanagh QC (1997).

Private Dreams, Public Nightmares (1957), combining the voices of Treves and Andrew Sachs with electronic effects, was among the first productions of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. As a member of the BBC radio drama repertory company, Treves featured in several of the Paul Temple adventures. His long association with radio also extended into writing scripts. He wrote and co-starred with June Whitfield in My Favourite Broad (Radio 4, 1969), a light comedy about a botched honeymoon.

Highlights of his four National Theatre seasons included David Hare’s Plenty (1978) and Bill Bryden’s staging of The Passion in 1980. He was cast by Peter Hall as Menenius Agrippa to the Coriolanus of Ian McKellen in 1984. Despite injuring his back and having to be replaced by his understudy, he returned when the play was restaged in Athens in 1985.

One of Treves’s best roles was as the father of Sarah Layton (Geraldine James) in The Jewel in the Crown. Against type, he was a killer unmasked by Miss Marple in Sleeping Murder (1987). In Game, Set and Match (1988), adapted from Len Deighton’s spying trilogy and starring Ian Holm, he was the head of Berlin station. He seemed to be required casting in dramas depicting political chicanery such as For the Greater Good (1991); To Play the King (1993); and The Politician’s Wife (1995). He had a regular role in the period drama The Cazalets (2001).

Treves is survived by his wife, Jean, along with two sons, Simon (who followed him into acting) and Patrick; a daughter, Jeni; and 11 grandchildren.

• Frederick William Treves, actor and writer, born 29 March 1925; died 30 January 2012

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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