Popular television and film actor George Baker,
who appeared in three James Bond films, has died
George Baker MBE (1931-2011)
7th October 2011
English actor George Baker, who appeared in
three James Bond films, has died aged 80. He was perhaps best
known for his television
role as Chief Inspector Reg Wexford in "The Ruth Rendell Mysteries",
but Baker had a long and varied career on stage, television and
Baker was born in Varna, Bulgaria, on
1st April 1931 to his English father Frank Baker, who was
a British diplomat, and
his Irish mother Eva who was a nurse with the Red Cross.
At the outbreak of World War II, his mother took him and
Patrick & Terence along with sister Eve to England
in a journey across war-torn Europe. Just as they left
France, it fell to the Nazis. George never saw his father
again. The family moved around a lot during the War years,
between Yorkshire, Ireland and ultimately Sussex.
of his school years were in York, where he battled with
dyslexia to enjoy literature, before completing his studies
at Lancing College.
After brief work as a machine tool engineer and a stint
in the Poplar Borough Council, Baker took advice to pursue
his acting dream and landed a part in the production of "Life
With The Carter's" in Kent. Despite his lack of formal
acting education, he went to London to find his fortune
armed with letters of recommendation.
He started his career as an
assistant stage manager at The Richmond Theatre before he received
his national service call up papers
in 1949 and reported for duty at Winchester and began his training
in the Rifle Brigade. Tehre he met Julia Squires - who would
become first wife - at Cadet School in Aldershot before being
in Hong Kong with the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. The pair married
in Christmas 1950 and left Hong Kong after Baker contracted a
tropical disease. He was demobbed in March 1952 and went straight
back to theatre and the West End.
Bond director Guy Hamilton spotted Baker during
a production of "Aren't We All?" and cast him in a
small role in "The Intruder" (1954), which Baker followed
up with a role as Flight Lieutenant Maltby in the classic "The
Dam Busters" the same year.
It was during this production that Baker
met sex symbol Bridgette Bardot, who was working on a different
Baker disclosed their six week fling
in his autobiography 'The Way To Wexford': "Bardot, the
number one screen sex bomb at the time in a clinch with
Baker, jobbing actor."
"I was completely
dazzled by her and hopelessly in lust, but it wasn’t
really a love affair because, to be honest, I think Brigitte
regarded me simply as someone to provide a sort of dalliance
while she was filming. But it was a great fillip to my
Above: Kwouk (left) and Baker (right)
in "The Curse of the Fly".
After a string of films, Baker moved to television
in 1959 where he appeared in several drama series and specials.
One notable film role during this television period was "Curse
of the Fly" (1965) opposite Bond alumni Burt Kwouk.
Baker formed his own theatrical company in 1966,
Candida Plays, and produced a successful season at The Theatre
Royal in Bury St. Edmunds, but suffered a heart attack during
Above: George Baker and Sean
Connery in a publicity shot for "The Square Ring" (1960)
just a year before the pair would both be considered
for the role of James Bond.
had to break the news to wife Julia that actress Sally Home,
whom he had met in the movie "The Prisoner of Zenda",
was expecting his child. Sally ultimately became Baker's second
wife in 1974. During his recovery, Candida produced 35
plays before winding up in 1971.
His first brush with James Bond came in 1967
when he played an uncredited NASA Engineer in the 1967 Sean
Connery outing "You
Only Live Twice". Ian
Fleming had eyed Baker as a potential
007 before the series got underway, but Baker was tied to a contract
with a rival studio and was ruled out of the running. But it
was the next film in the series where Baker made his mark
he played Sir Hilary Bray opposite George
Lazenby in "On
Her Majesty's Secret Service". Some could argue that
Baker evetually played Bond, as he dubbed for Lazenby during
the period of the film where 007 is impersonating Bray at Piz
Above: George Baker as Sir Hilary
Bray in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969)
Baker also took
the spoof role of Jamus Bondus in the comedy series "Up
Pompeii!" a year later. When director Lewis Gilbert returned
to the series ten years on from "Twice" to helm a spiritual
remake for Roger Moore, Baker
was brought back to the fold once again - this time to play Captain
Benson in "The
Spy Who Loved Me".
Another notable film role immediately followed as Sir Walter
Bullivant in "The 39 Steps".
After wrapping up work on "Spy", Baker flew
to New Zealand to shoot four adaptations of Ngaio Marsh’s
Inspector Alleyn novels where he played the lead role.
Subsequently, Baker spent more time writing and directing
to complement his television acting gigs. His play "The
Fatal Spring", about three World War I poets, won
the U.N. Media Peace Prize Award of Merit.
His second wife Sally died of cancer in 1992, and he remarried
for a third time eighteen months later to Louie Ramsay,
who played his screen wife Dora in the "The Ruth Rendell
Mysteries" series. Rendell herself attended the ceremony.
had his own battle with cancer, which he beat, in 1999.
television work continued at pace through the 1970s
up until 2000 when he reduced his workload.
Baker appeared in dozens of popular series over his TV career,
including: "Maigret", "The Prisoner", "The
Goodies", "The Persuaders!", "Some Mothers
Do 'Ave 'Em", "The Protectors", "Z Cars", "I,
Claudius", "Triangle", "Robin Hood", "Minder" and "Doctor
Who" - for which Baker also submitted a script in 1980.
But it was his role as Detective Chief
Inspector Reg Wexford that Baker really imprinted himself
on the British public,
starring in 49 episodes of the "Ruth Rendell Mysteries" between
1987 and 2000.
Following the end of that series, Baker
made guest appearences in "Coronation Street", "Midsomer
Murders", "Spooks", "Heartbeat",
and finally "New Tricks" in 2007.
He spent his final years in West Lavington, Wiltshire,
England, where his fund raising activities for the local
youth club earned him an MBE in 2007.
His third wife
Louie died in early 2011.
George Baker passed away
on 7th October 2011 from pneumonia following a recent
stroke. He is survived by his five daughters.