Alan Wheatley

Last updated

Alan Wheatley
Alan Wheatley - Sponsor, July 25, 1959.jpg
Born(1907-04-19)19 April 1907
Tolworth, Surrey, England
Died30 August 1991(1991-08-30) (aged 84)
Westminster, London, England
OccupationActor and radio announcer

Alan Wheatley (19 April 1907 30 August 1991) was an English actor. He was a well known stage actor in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, appeared in forty films between 1931 and 1965 and was a frequent broadcaster on radio from the 1930s to the 1990s, and on television from 1938 to 1964. His most prominent television role was the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood , with Richard Greene as Robin Hood; Wheatley played the sheriff in 54 episodes between 1955 and 1959. Earlier, he had played Sherlock Holmes in the first television series featuring the great detective.


In addition to acting, Wheatley was a radio announcer during the Second World War, broadcasting to occupied Europe, where he became a well known voice. Poetry was another of his interests: he translated the poetry of Federico García Lorca and was a frequent reader of poems on air. In his later years he worked mainly in radio, as a narrator, a verse-reader and an actor.

Life and career

Early years

Wheatley was born in Tolworth, Surrey, on 19 April 1907, the son of William Henry Wheatley and his wife Rose Eva (née Towers). He was educated at Tiffin School, and was then employed in industrial psychology. [1] He made his first appearance on the stage at the Festival Theatre, Cambridge in October 1928, as Randall Utterword in Heartbreak House , after which he was a member of the repertory company at that theatre and later in Hull. In 1930 he toured as Sir Roger Fairfax in Sweet Nell of Old Drury with Fred Terry, and in 1931 in The Quaker Girl. [1]

In November 1931 Wheatley performed in London at the Embassy and St Martin's theatres, as the Journalist in Britannia of Billingsgate. [1] In other London productions in 1932–33 he played the Guide in Miracle at Verdun, Master Klaus in The Witch and Godfrey Perry in Wild Justice. He appeared at the Malvern Festival in August 1933, [1] before returning to the West End, where his roles included Edgar in King Lear to the Lear of William Devlin. [2]

For nine months in 1934–35 Wheatley was leading man at the Croydon Repertory Theatre, [1] and in 1936 he made his first appearance with the Old Vic company. He made his Broadway debut in the same year, in the Old Vic's production of St Helena , playing Las Cases to the Bonaparte of Maurice Evans. [3] He subsequently toured in Scandinavia and adjoining countries, as Major Petkoff in Arms and the Man and Arnold Champion-Cheney in The Circle . [1]

After returning to London, Wheatley's last stage roles of the 1930s were Disraeli in Mr Gladstone, with Devlin; Mosca in Volpone, with Donald Wolfit,; Frank Harris in Oscar Wilde with Francis L. Sullivan; Sebastian in Walk in the Sun, with Terence de Marney; and Sir Patrick Cullen in The Doctor's Dilemma , with Clifford Evans. [1] He appeared in several films in the 1930s (see Filmography below), and, already a frequent broadcaster on BBC radio, he made his first television appearance in August 1938, playing Lane in The Importance of Being Earnest . [4] In the same year he played Sam Weller in Bardell against Pickwick, adapted from The Pickwick Papers . [5]

War and post-war

In September 1939 at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War Wheatley joined the BBC Drama Repertory Company. From May to September 1940 he was an announcer on the BBC Overseas Service and then until March 1945 he was principal announcer and newsreader for the BBC European Service. [1] The Times said of him, "His clarity of diction and balanced speaking voice became well known in war-time Europe, where people in occupied countries turned to the BBC for information". [6]

While serving with the European Service Wheatley met Rafael Nadal, a friend of Federico García Lorca, and developed an interest in the poet's works. [7] He made English translations of several of them; "Lament on the Death of a Bullfighter" was the first to be completed, and was broadcast by the BBC in 1946. [7] He recorded nine of his translations for the gramophone in 1953, released in Britain on the Argo label and in the US by Westminster Records. [8]

When BBC television resumed after its suspension during the war, Wheatley played a wide range of characters, from Sam Weller again (1946), to the humorously cynical schoolmaster Rupert Billings in The Happiest Days of Your Life (1949) and the tragic king in Richard II (1950). [9] The Manchester Guardian called the last "a brilliant performance: television acting at its best". [10] Wheatley's film credits in the 1940s include Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), The Rake's Progress (1945), Appointment with Crime (1946), Brighton Rock (1947) and Calling Paul Temple (1948). [9]

In 1945 Wheatley rejoined the Old Vic company, touring as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet . At the end of the year he joined the company at the Mercury Theatre, London, where his roles included the Greek and Tegeus in a double bill of W. B. Yeats's The Resurrection and Christopher Fry's A Phoenix Too Frequent , [11] Julian in Ronald Duncan's This Way to the Tomb (which the cast also played at the Studio Champs-Elysées in Paris and the Garrick Theatre, London), and Harry in T. S. Eliot's The Family Reunion . [1] In 1949 he played the title role in Hamlet at the Richmond Theatre. The reviewer in The Stage thought Wheatley displayed "a good voice and presence" in the role but was "rather lightweight". [12]


In 1951 Wheatley played Sherlock Holmes in a series of six televised dramatisations of Conan Doyle stories. Holmes had been played on television before, in one-off adaptations, but this was the first series to feature him. [13] Wheatley's co-stars were Raymond Francis as Dr Watson and Bill Owen as Inspector Lestrade. The Times commented that as Holmes, Wheatley "catches the essential character. He is a figure, not merely of wonder or of fun, but of romantic possibility". [14] No audio or video recordings of the productions are known to exist.

Between 1955 and 1959 Wheatley is recorded by the British Film Institute as appearing in 54 episodes of the ABC television series The Adventures of Robin Hood as the Sheriff of Nottingham, the perpetual adversary of Robin (Richard Greene). [9] He played the role "with many a villainous smile", as The Times said, but eventually withdrew from it. [6] His colleague Peter Cotes said that the part made him into a well known "personality", [13] and although he was regarded by colleagues as "the best high comedy actor in Britain", [15] and "daring", "haunting" and "moving" in various roles, [16] nonetheless, after the Robin Hood series he was, in the words of an obituarist, "more inclined to be cast as a suave villain than as a hero". [6] Concurrently with some of the Robin Hood series, Wheatley played Pontius Pilate in a BBC television religious drama series, Jesus of Nazareth first shown in 1956. [17] His other television roles of the 1950s included Rupert Cadell in Rope (1953) and the murderous Jonathan Brewster in the comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (1958). [9] His film roles included Inspector Braddock in The Limping Man (1953) and Inspector MacLennan in The House Across the Lake (1954). [9]

Wheatley's entry in Who's Who in the Theatre records no stage appearances by him between 1952 and 1959. [1] In February 1959 he played Edgar Marr in an American thriller, House Without Windows. [1] In December of the same year he played Abanazar in Aladdin, a lavish show at the London Coliseum, with songs by Cole Porter, production and choreography by Robert Helpmann, and co-starring Bob Monkhouse, Ian Wallace and Ronald Shiner. [18]

Later years

In the 1960s Wheatley continued to broadcast frequently on television and radio. He played Richard D'Oyly Carte in a three-part BBC television series Gilbert and Sullivan: The Immortal Jesters (1961), and appeared in episodes of Maigret (1962 and 1963), Doctor Who and Compact , both in 1964. [17] In the same year he played Prince Rohat, Minister of the Interior, in Victor Canning's six-part drama The Midnight Men. [17] His last cinema role listed by the British Film Institute was Major Ronald Grey-Simmons in Clash by Night (1965). [19]

In later years Wheatley worked mostly on radio, as narrator and poetry-reader as well as actor. In 1975 he played Judas Iscariot in the 12-part cycle The Man Born to be King by Dorothy L. Sayers. He acted in adaptations of plays by writers including Noël Coward and Somerset Maugham, and of novels by Alexandre Dumas, James Hilton, Anthony Powell and C. P. Snow among others. [17] He made his final appearance in 1991 in a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of A Day by the Sea , with Wendy Hiller and Michael Hordern, both old friends of his. [16]

Wheatley died of a heart attack in Westminster, London on 30 August 1991, aged 84. [6] [20]


1931 Out of the Blue ExtraUncredited
1931 The Love Race ExtraUncredited
1936The Conquest of AirBorelli
1937William TindaleWilliam Tindale
1944 Love Story PartygoerUncredited
1945 The Rake's Progress Edwards
Caesar and Cleopatra Persian
1946 Appointment with Crime Noel Penn
Spring Song Menelli
1947 Jassy Sir Edward Walker
The End of the River Irygoyen
Brighton Rock Fred Hale
1948 Corridor of Mirrors Edgar Orsen
Counterblast M.W. Kennedy
Calling Paul Temple Edward Lathom
Sleeping Car to Trieste Karl / Charles Pool
1949 It's Not Cricket Felix
For Them That Trespass LibrarianUncredited
1951 Home to Danger Hughes
1952 Whispering Smith Hits London Reith
The Pickwick Papers Fogg
1953 Spaceways Dr Smith
The Limping Man Inspector Braddock
Small Town Story Nick Hammond
1954The Javenese DaggerVictorShort
The Diamond Thompson Blake
The House Across the Lake Inspector MacLennan
Delayed Action Mark Cruden
Elizabethan Express NarratorVoice
1955 Simon and Laura Adrian Lee
1958 The Duke Wore Jeans King of Ritallia
1960 Inn for Trouble Harold Gaskin
1961Frederic ChopinUnknownshort film
The Shadow of the Cat Inspector Rowles
1963 Master Spy Paul Skelton
Tomorrow at Ten Assistant Commissioner Bewley
1964 A Jolly Bad Fellow Epicene
Clash By Night Ronald Grey-Simmons

References and sources

Related Research Articles

Basil Rathbone English actor

Philip St. John Basil Rathbone MC was an English actor. He rose to prominence in the United Kingdom as a Shakespearean stage actor and went on to appear in more than 70 films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers, and, occasionally, horror films.

Leo McKern Australian actor (1920–2002)

Reginald "Leo" McKern, AO was an Australian actor who appeared in numerous British, Australian and American television programmes and films, and in more than 200 stage roles. His notable roles include Clang in Help! (1965), Thomas Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons (1966), Tom Ryan in Ryan's Daughter (1970), Paddy Button in The Blue Lagoon (1980), Dr. Grogan in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Father Imperius in Ladyhawke (1985), and the role that made him a household name as an actor, Horace Rumpole, whom he played in the British television series Rumpole of the Bailey. He also portrayed Carl Bugenhagen in the first and second instalments of The Omen series.

Timothy West English film, stage, and television actor

Timothy Lancaster West, CBE is an English film, stage, presenter and television actor, with more than fifty years of varied work in the business. As well as many classical theatre performances, he has appeared frequently on television, including spells in both Coronation Street and EastEnders, and also in Not Going Out, as the original Geoffrey Adams. He is married to the actress Prunella Scales; since 2014 they have been seen travelling together on British and overseas canals in the Channel 4 series Great Canal Journeys.

Jeremy Brett English actor

Peter Jeremy William Huggins, known professionally as Jeremy Brett, was an English actor. He played fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in four Granada TV series from 1984 to 1994 in all 41 episodes. His career spanned from stage, to television and film, to Shakespeare and musical theatre. He also played the smitten Freddy Eynsford-Hill in the 1964 Warner Bros. production of My Fair Lady.

The Adventure of the Empty House Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Empty House", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in Collier's in the United States on 26 September 1903, and in The Strand Magazine in the United Kingdom in October 1903.

A Scandal in Bohemia Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring Sherlock Holmes

"A Scandal in Bohemia" is the first short story, and the third overall work, featuring Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. It is the first of the 56 Holmes short stories written by Doyle and the first of 38 Sherlock Holmes works illustrated by Sidney Paget. The story is notable for introducing the character of Irene Adler, who is one of the most notable female characters in the Sherlock Holmes series, despite appearing in only one story. Doyle ranked "A Scandal in Bohemia" fifth in his list of his twelve favourite Holmes stories.

<i>The Pickwick Papers</i> 1837 novel by Charles Dickens

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was Charles Dickens's first novel. Because of his success with Sketches by Boz published in 1836, Dickens was asked by the publisher Chapman & Hall to supply descriptions to explain a series of comic "cockney sporting plates" by illustrator Robert Seymour, and to connect them into a novel. The book became Britain's first real publishing phenomenon, with bootleg copies, theatrical performances, Sam Weller joke books, and other merchandise. On its cultural impact, Nicholas Dames in The Atlantic writes, “Literature” is not a big enough category for Pickwick. It defined its own, a new one that we have learned to call “entertainment.” Published in 19 issues over 20 months, the success of The Pickwick Papers popularised serialised fiction and cliffhanger endings.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring Sherlock Holmes

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is one of 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the eighth story of twelve in the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was originally published in Strand Magazine in February 1892.

Robin Ellis British actor

Anthony Robin Ellis is a British actor and cookbook writer best known for his role as Captain Ross Poldark in 29 episodes of the BBC classic series Poldark, adapted from a series of books by the British author Winston Graham. He also appeared in Fawlty Towers, Cluedo, The Good Soldier, Elizabeth R, The Moonstone, Bel Ami, Sense and Sensibility, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, She Loves Me and Blue Remembered Hills. In 2015–17 and 2019 he appeared in Poldark as Reverend Halse.

John Woodnutt English actor

John Edward Arthur Woodnutt was an English character actor, often cast in villainous roles.

Clive Merrison is a Welsh actor of film, television, stage and radio. He trained at Rose Bruford College. He is best known for his long running BBC Radio portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, having played the part in all 64 episodes of the 1989–1998 series of Sherlock Holmes dramatisations, and all 16 episodes of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2002–2010).

Tim Pigott-Smith British actor and author

Timothy Peter Pigott-Smith, was an English film and television actor and author. He was best known for his leading role as Ronald Merrick in the television drama series The Jewel in the Crown, for which he won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor in 1985. Other noted TV roles included roles in The Chief, Midsomer Murders, The Vice, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, King Charles III and two Doctor Who stories. Pigott-Smith appeared in many notable films including: Clash of the Titans (1981), Gangs of New York (2002), Johnny English (2003), Alexander (2004), V for Vendetta (2005), Quantum of Solace (2008), Red 2 (2013) and Jupiter Ascending (2015).

The stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been very popular as adaptations for the stage, and later film, and still later television. The four volumes of the Universal Sherlock Holmes (1995) compiled by Ronald B. De Waal lists over 25,000 Holmes-related productions and products. They include the original writings, "together with the translations of these tales into sixty-three languages, plus Braille and shorthand, the writings about the Writings or higher criticism, writings about Sherlockians and their societies, memorials and memorabilia, games, puzzles and quizzes, phonograph records, audio and video tapes, compact discs, laser discs, ballets, films, musicals, operettas, oratorios, plays, radio and television programs, parodies and pastiches, children's books, cartoons, comics, and a multitude of other items — from advertisements to wine — that have accumulated throughout the world on the two most famous characters in literature."

John Carlisle (actor) English actor (1935–2011)

John Carlisle was an English television and stage actor.

Paul Daneman English actor

Paul Frederick Daneman was an English film, television, and theatre actor. He was successful for more than 40 years on stage, film and television.

Douglas Wilmer British actor (1920 – 2016)

Douglas Wilmer was an English actor, best known for playing Sherlock Holmes in the 1965 TV series Sherlock Holmes.

Sian Brooke is a British actress, known for portraying Eurus Holmes in Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes is a British mystery television series that was produced by the BBC featuring Alan Wheatley as Sherlock Holmes and Raymond Francis as Dr. Watson. This was the first series of Sherlock Holmes stories adapted for television.

The Hound of London is a television film directed by Peter Reynolds-Long and starring Patrick Macnee as Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Herbert, p. 1243
  2. "A Young King Lear", The Illustrated London News, 27 October 1934, p. 666
  3. St Helena, Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 25 September 2020
  4. "The Importance of Being Earnest", BBC Genome. Retrieved 25 September 2020
  5. "Bardell against Pickwick", British Film Institute. Retrieved 25 September 2020
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Alan Wheatley", The Times, 4 September 1991, p. 16
  7. 1 2 Notes to Argo LP RG19, 1953 OCLC   20976258
  8. WorldCat OCLC   20976258 and OCLC   62429183
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 "Alan Wheatley", British Film Institute. Retrieved 25 September 2020
  10. "King Richard II", The Manchester Guardian, 8 November 1950, p. 3
  11. "The Mercury", The Stage, 2 May 1946, p. 7
  12. "At Richmond", The Stage, 16 June 1949, p. 7
  13. 1 2 Cotes, Peter. "Holmes and Machiavelli", The Guardian, 3 September 1991, p. 35
  14. "Return of Sherlock Holmes", The Times, 23 October 1951, p. 6
  15. Basil Ashmore, quoted in "Entertainment", Buckinghamshire Examiner,14 November 1975, p. 12
  16. 1 2 Gauld, Graham. "Alan Wheatley", The Times, 22 October 1991, p. 16
  17. 1 2 3 4 "Alan Wheatley", BBC Genome. Retrieved 26 September 2020
  18. "Aladdin at the Coliseum", The Sphere, 26 December 1959, p. 28
  19. "Clash by Night (1965)", British Film Institute. Retrieved 29 September 2020
  20. GRO Register of Deaths; SEP 1991 15; 1514 Westminster; Alan Wheatley; DoB = 19 Apr 1907; aged 84