JACKSON, GORDON

Scottish Actor

Gordon Jackson was one of the stalwarts of British television in the 1970s, though he also had extensive stage and screen experience going back to the 1940s. A Scot, he began his career playing small parts in a series of war films made by the Ealing Studios and others, initially typecast as a weakling but gradually winning recognition as a useful character actor specializing in stern, well-mannered gents of the "stiff upper lip" variety, often lacking in a sense of humour. His rich Scottish accent, however, balanced this with a certain charm and it was this combination of sternness and warmth that characterized most of his roles on stage and screen.

During the 1950s, Jackson continued to develop his film career and was also busy in repertory theatre, making his debut on the London stage in the farce Seagulls Over Sorrento in 1951. Other acclaimed roles on the stage included an award-winning Horatio in Tony Richardson's production of Hamlet in 1969, Tesman in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, and Malvolio in Twelfth Night. In the cinema he gradually moved from young soldiers and juvenile leads in the likes of Millions Like Us, Tunes of Glory, and Whisky Galore to major supporting parts in such films as The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was adapted from the novel by Muriel Spark. By the 1960s it was apparently automatic for Jackson's name to crop up whenever a genial, but crusty Scotsman was required, whether the production under discussion was a wartime epic or something more homely.

As a television star, Jackson really came into his own in 1971, when he made his first appearances in the role of Hudson, the endearingly pompous butler in the classic period drama series Upstairs, Downstairs. Over the next five years, Jackson, as one of the central characters in this hugely popular series about Edwardian life, became a household name--a status formally acknowledged in 1975 when he won the Royal Television Society's Best Actor Award (followed later by his being made an Officer of the British Empire). As Hudson, a character the actor himself professed to dislike, Jackson was in turn supportive and dependable and dour and infuriating, not least through his old-fashioned attitudes to the other servants and any inclination they showed to forget their station.

Not altogether dissimilar in this regard was Jackson's other most famous television role, the outwardly contrasting part of George "The Cow" Cowley in the action adventure series The Professionals, which was first seen in 1977. As Cowley, a former MI5 agent and now head of the specialist anti-terrorist unit CI5, Jackson combined a hard-bitten determination and impatience with his wayward operatives Bodie and Doyle (Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw) with genuine (if grudging) concern for their well-being when their lives were in danger. This too became favourite viewing for peaktime audiences in the 1970s, as much through the chemistry of the three main performers as through the somewhat formulaic car-chases and action sequences that were included. Not that the series did not have its critics--many people protested at the violence of many episodes (leading the producers to limit explosions to two per story) and others refused to accept that Jackson, still firmly associated in their minds with the stuffy Mr Hudson, could ever be convincing as a tough anti-terrorist chief, notwithstanding his early experience in the Ealing war films.

Also worthy of note were Jackson's always reliable appearances in other classic television programmes, which ranged from Doctor Finlay's Casebook to the Australian-made A Town Like Alice and Stars on Sunday (as host).

-David Pickering

 


Gordon Jackson
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute

GORDON CAMERON JACKSON. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, 19 December 1923. Attended Hillhead High School, Glasgow. Married: Rona Anderson; children: Graham and Roddy. Engineering draughtsman and actor for BBC radio in Glasgow, from 1939; film debut, 1942; debut on London stage, 1951; subsequently specialized in Scottish character roles in films, television and on the stage; best known to television audiences for the series Upstairs Downstairs and The Professionals. Officer of the Order of the British Empire, 1979. Recipient: Clarence Derwent Award for Best Supporting Actor, 1969; Royal Television Society Award for Best Actor, 1975; Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor, 1976. Died 14 January 1990.

TELEVISION SERIES

1970-75 Upstairs Downstairs
1977-83 The Professionals

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1968 The Soldier's Tale
1977 Spectre
1979 The Last Giraffe
1981 A Town Like Alice
1986 My Brother Tom
1987 Noble House

FILMS

The Foreman Went to France, 1942; Nine Men, 1943; Millions Like Us, 1943; San Demetrio--London, 1943; Pink String and Sealing Wax, 1945; The Captive Heart, 1946; Against the Wind, 1948; Eureka Stockade, 1948; Floodtide, 1949; Stop Press Girl, 1949; Whisky Galore, 1949; Bitter Springs, 1950; Happy Go Lovely, 1951; Lady with a Lamp, 1951; Castle in the Air, 1952; Death Goes to School, 1953; Malta Story, 1953; Meet Mr Lucifer, 1953; The Love Lottery, 1954; The Delavine Affair, 1954; Passage Home, 1955; Windfall, 1955; The Quatermass Experiment, 1955; Pacific Destiny, 1956; Women Without Men, 1956; The Baby and the Battleship, 1956; Sailor Beware, 1956; Seven Waves Away, 1957; Let's Be Happy, 1957; Hell Drivers, 1957; The Black Ice, 1957; Man in the Shadow, 1957; Scotland Dances (voice only), 1958; Blind Spot, 1958; Rockets Galore, 1958; Three Crooked Men, 1958; Yesterday's Enemy, 1959; The Bridal Path, 1959; Blind Date, 1959; The Navy Lark, 1959; Devil's Bait, 1959; The Price of Silence, 1960; Cone of Silence, 1960; Snowball, 1960; Tunes of Glory, 1960; Greyfriars Bobby, 1961; Two Wives at One Wedding, 1961; Mutiny on the Bounty, 1962; The Great Escape, 1963; The Long Ships, 1964; Daylight Robbery, 1964; Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, 1965; The Ipcress File, 1965; Operation Crossbow, 1965; Cast a Giant Shadow, 1966; Fighting Prince of Donegal, 1966; Night of the Generals, 1966; Triple Cross, 1967; Danger Route, 1967; Three to a Cell, 1967; Casting the Runes, 1967; Talk in Craig, 1968; The Eliminator, 1968; Negatives, 1968; On the Run, 1969; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1969; Run Wild Run Free, 1969; Wind v Polygamy, 1969; Hamlet, 1970; Scrooge, 1970; The Music Lovers, 1970; Singing Sands, 1970; Rain, 1970; Allergy, 1970; Dickens Centenary, 1971; Kidnapped, 1971; The Befrienders, 1971; Budgie, 1971; The Man from Haven, 1972; Madame Sin, 1972; Square of Three, 1973; Places Where They Sing, 1973; Places in History, 1974; J. M. Barrie Lived Here, 1975; Russian Roulette, 1975; The Treasure, 1976; Supernatural, 1977; The Golden Rendezvous, 1977; The Medusa Touch, 1978; Captain Beaky, 1980; Father's Day, 1982; Strange But True, 1983; The Shooting Party, 1984; Shaka Zulu, 1985; The Masks of Death, 1985; The Whistle Blower, 1986; Gunpowder, 1987.

STAGE (selection)

Seagulls Over Sorrento, 1951; Moby Dick, 1955; Hamlet, 1969; Macbeth; Hedda Gabler; What Every Woman Knows; Noah; Twelfth Night; Cards on the Table; Mass Appeal.

 

See also Upstairs, Downstairs