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Peter Miles 1928-2018

Obituary for Peter Miles, 1928 - 2018
by Toby Hadoke

Peter Miles, who has died at the age of 89, made two memorable appearances in Blake’s 7 - in the 6th episode of both the first and second seasons - as calculating politician Secretary Rontane.

In his debut episode, Seek-Locate-Destroy, Rontane is a mouthpiece for the unseen Federation president. He outlines the delicate balance of the Federation’s power and provides the necessary exposition to emphasise the ruthlessness of the (then) new character Space Commander Travis. Like a good politician, Rontane maintains a civil front whilst negotiating and then absolves himself of any responsibility should things go wrong. Instead he confers that responsibility onto another key character whom he is instrumental in introducing - Servalan.

As was common in Miles’ performances, there is much going on underneath Rontane’s surface courtesy and it is a brief but memorable appearance in a key episode, despite limited screen time.

He has more to do - and more fun - in his second appearance, Trial, in which he is reunited with his Seek-Locate-Destroy co-star John Bryans as Senator Bercol. It’s a thoughtful turn, exhibiting a calculating coolness as he muses on Servalan’s motives, but one that has room for humour too as he banters and commentates with Bryans. It’s a shame that the characters perish thanks to Blake’s well-intentioned but disastrous intervention, as the series could have sustained return appearances from these two well played figures who gave us a look into the wider hierarchy of the Federation.

Thankfully, Big Finish allows dead characters to live again, and in the Liberator Chronicles Miles was given the opportunity to play Rontane from an earlier time: an opportunity he seized with his trademark gusto.

Peter was born, and spent his life, in Ealing, London (also the birthplace of Blake himself - Gareth Thomas) to an English father and French mother. His father had offered to send him to RADA, obviously noticing something in his son that Peter himself had not, because he turned the offer down and went into teaching. It was only an epiphany in his late 20s that made him realise what he was missing out on and with help and advice from some friendly actors he found himself auditioning for repertory theatre. It should be no surprise to those who have seen his subsequent precise and incisive performances that he was, almost instantly, a successful applicant.

His stage career was extensive and began in Birmingham - he then enjoyed stints at Lincoln, Liverpool, Bath and London, but undoubtedly peaked with a season at the RSC which included playing the major role of Lord Stanley opposite Antony Sher’s career defining Richard III. His French background came in useful in Henry V in which he played M. le Fer, the French soldier, in a scene which found him playing opposite another telefantasy favourite, Bernard Horsfall.

Indeed, he seemed to have a particular affinity for cult television, and it for him. He played some of his best roles in Doctor Who - notably as the cruel Nazi facsimile Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks (1975), one of the programme’s all time classics. His cold efficiency, and his loyalty to debutant iconic character Davros, made him very memorable - an inscrutable sadist with an iron cross and a clinical ruthlessness. But whilst the part was undoubtedly good on paper, Miles’ delivery of lines such as, “Thank you, that’s what I wanted to know” when dropping a facade of friendliness to expose a traitor and the detached and almost childlike, “Shall I kill him?” when musing over said traitor’s unconscious form made him unforgettable.

It was his third appearance in the show, but his brilliance as Nyder shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow his fine turn in Doctor Who and the Silurians. Dr Lawrence starts proceedings as a disdainful and inflexible senior scientist who gradually unravels as events spiral beyond his understanding. His death scene, ravaged by plague as his body and his grip on reality unravels around him is superbly played. He plays another scientist, Whitaker, in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, which is a slightly more sardonic turn (in reality Peter had a keen and playful sense of humour).

His other telefantasy roles included Doomwatch (1970, in Hear No Evil, one of the opening season’s sadly missing episodes), Moonbase 3 (as a scientist cagey about the research he is conducting) and Survivors (as the emotionally disturbed but ultimately pathetic Lincoln in the episode Gone to the Angels, 1975). A fan favourite, he was happy to take part in the burgeoning audio renaissance, not only contributing to Big Finish’s Doctor Who range but also crossing swords with Bernice Summerfield. He also appeared in the BBV video More Than A Messiah opposite Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, played yet another Doctor Who villain on radio in The Paradise of Death, and reprised the role of Nyder on stage for Hyde Fundraiser’s Trial of Davros (receiving an ovation on his first entrance, a testament to how much fans loved to hate this particular villain.)

Elsewhere on television he appeared in practically every popular drama anyone ever remembers: Armchair Theatre (1968), Sherlock Holmes (two roles in quick succession 1968), Colditz (as a German officer, of course, 1972), Mogul (1969), Dixon of Dock Green (1971), Crown Court (1973), The Sweeney (1975, in which he executes an excellent comedy drunken fall having been plied with alcohol by John Thaw’s Regan), Poldark (1976), Z-Cars (the last of several appearances was in 1977), The Sandbaggers (1978), Hazell (1978) and Bergerac (1990). He was seen less frequently on the big screen, but nonetheless popped up as Hitler in The Eagle Has Landed (1976) and as Mr Dubbin in Christine Edzard’s critically acclaimed Little Dorrit (1987).

A fascinating adjunct to his sterling work as a character actor over the years is his friendship with Dusty Springfield. Miles was a fine jazz singer and even recorded with his childhood friend - their duet performing Can’t We Be Friends is available to listen to on You Tube here: Can't We Be Friends.

He was still singing every Thursday and continued to make personal appearances at conventions when invited, and was an enthusiastic interviewee (his Who’s Round is here: Who's Round). Peter Miles will be missed as much for his character and enthusiasm off-screen as for his unquestionably fine work on it.

He never married, but is survived by two nieces and a nephew. Thanks to one of those nieces, Jenny (whose three children Peter was especially close to) and to Peter’s good friend Alex Moore for their help with preparing this tribute.

Dusty Springfield - Can't We be Friends (ft. Peter Miles) created with mp32tube.com


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