Philip Latham


Actor Philip Latham, who once donned the robes as Doctor Who’s wily old mentor Borusa in Doctor Who, died back in June. Due to current events in the world – I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s been a hell of a pandemic lately – coverage of the death of long retired old school actors was knocked off the page by the latest death count in UK hospitals. Or more on Brexit. Brexit never ends…

And so, as the months passed by, it looked increasingly like Latham would be another ignoble addition to the List of the Lost. Much to the disdain of the team runner 12 Lords a Leaving, 8 Ladies Dying who called him a DDP unique. Stewards inquiries, swift and fiery, inquisitions and suppositions…no, wait, that’s the lyrics of Bottle of Smoke by the Pogues. But by September when the odds on a Philip Latham qualifying obit made “twenty fucking five to one” look frankly generous, the Telegraph have provided the actor with an obituary, and the angry phone calls from Maryhill can cease. Although how getting the manager of Partick Thistle to intervene would bring DDP points forthwith I don’t know… ahem.

Philip Latham was a screen regular on film and TV throughout the 1960s to 1980s. He was Robert Shaw’s boss in Force 10 from Navarone, and had a lead role in The Pallisers, one of the most successful BBC period dramas of the 1970s. The Avengers and Hammer Horror films (Dracula:Prince of Darkness, as Christopher Lee’s loyal servant) could be his haunt as easily as prestige dramas like a 1970s adaptation of Middlemarch or big dramas like The Troubleshooters. He was Hargreaves in The Two Faces of Evil (one of the more unnerving episodes of Hammer House of Horror), and his credits also included The Saint and UFO. He was also one of the few living stars left who had a role in The Dam Busters.

In Doctor Who, he played the last (to date) appearance of Borusa, the Doctor’s school teacher and mentor, in 20th anniversary get together The Five Doctors. (All of the doctors were involved, including the First – as William Hartnell was too dead to take part, they replaced him with Richard Hurndall, a man who not only looked nothing like Hartnell, but took the method acting a step too far by dying himself before the paycheck was even in the mail…) In a stunning swerve suitable of Vince Russo, Latham turned out to be the villain of the piece, in what was the biggest error made on that show since someone became convinced Adric could act…

Recurring royalty checks from appearances in a number of reliably repeated TV shows gave Philip Latham the opportunity, at the age of 60, to retire completely and put his feet up. Which he swiftly did for the next 30 years. A private man, he didn’t even bother to correct the habitual premature death notices which snuck online in the 90s and 00s. While it’s always a shame to see a familiar face from yesteryear fade from the stage, it is nice to see that one of them went after three decades of joyfully tending to their beloved garden, rather than any of the many hideous demises that befall others.

No immortality then. Still, to lose is to win, and he who wins shall lose….

Philip Latham
17 January 1929 – 20 June 2020
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