Anthony Bate

An immaculate gent of sober appearance and cultivated presence, Bate was seemingly destined to play spymasters and senior civil servants. Lean, pale-eyed and of deceptively mild intonation, he was capable of unnervingly icy composure, never more effectively displayed than as the chameleon-like Soviet mole Kim Philby in ITV’s telemovie Philby, Burgess and Maclean (1977). In similar vein, Bate played the enigmatic, debonair American-born spook, Bret Renssalaer, in Len Deighton’s Game, Set, and Match (1988). Most famously, he added an authentic touch to the affable, officious Home Office security undersecretary, Sir Oliver Lacon — “Whitehall’s Head Prefect” – in John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979), and its sequel, Smiley’s People (1982).

Anthony Bate began working life behind the bar of a hotel owned by his family on the Isle of Wight. After completing his national service with the Royal Navy Volunteers in 1947, he started dabbling in amateur dramatics and then took the next step to formal training at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating a gold medal winner. After the obligatory sojourn in repertory theatre, he made his West End debut in a 1960 dramatisation of the famous 1925 Scopes Trial, “Inherit the Wind”, at St. Martin’s Theatre. Over the next three decades, he drew many excellent notices for such classical roles as Don Pedro in “Much Ado About Nothing”, for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In occasional films from 1957, Bate popped up as straight man in minor comedies, like Dentist in the Chair (1960). However, in due course, he found his niche to be on the small screen, where he was increasingly sought-after by producers for a wide variety of characters of, either, furtive, stern, starchy, supercilious or sinister disposition. Besides crime and espionage, Bate was a ubiquitous protagonist in screen adaptations from the classics: the obsessive Inspector Javert on the trail of Frank Finlay’s Jean Valjeon, in a 1967 version of Victor Hugo’s oft-filmed masterpiece; as the intrepid Dr. Livesey of Treasure Island (1977); and as the Knight’s Templar, Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert, chief nemesis of Ivanhoe (1970). Another of his outright villains was treacherous London gangster Eddie Edwards, taking advantage of his boss’s (Ray McAnally) incarceration to usurp his criminal empire. In Intimate Strangers (1974), Bate was given a rare starring role, as a middle-aged family man, re-evaluating his life after a heart attack. This introspective and nuanced performance was, arguably, one of his best. The cool, unflappable Mr. Bate also portrayed such historical personae as Joseph Stalin, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt and Eduard Shevardnadze — all with equal vigour and conviction. One of the unsung heroes of British television, Anthony Bate passed away in June 2012 at the age of 84.

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