Roy Castle was one of the UK’s biggest TV stars of the 1960s and ’70s. An accomplished jazz musician, dancer and actor, a generation of Brits grew up with him as the presenter of the hugely popular Record Breakers.
Surprisingly, perhaps, he made only four feature films over 10 years, but each one of them is a real gem in my opinion. I guess TV work kept him so busy, he had little time for big-screen projects, but he chose well – his four films being well worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of horror, scifi, or comedy. (And as you’re here, there’s a good chance you are.)
I was lucky enough to meet him when he presented some corporate communications awards in Torquay in the early 1990s, and it was very sad that he died soon afterwards, in 1994, aged just 62, from lung cancer. A lifelong non-smoker, it is believed the cancer was caused by decades of playing smoke-filled clubs.
Here’s my rundown of Roy’s four features and his roles in them:
Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
A significant British horror movie that marked the first of Amicus’ portmanteau movies, which followed a familiar pattern – a group of strangers meet; there are stories about each; then a big twist (they’re all dead). In this case, Roy plays jazz trumpeter Biff Bailey, one of five train passengers, who meet the mysterious Dr Schreck (Peter Cushing) and his tarot cards which tell their ‘futures’.
Biff’s story is a daft, semi-comic, one involving voodoo, but it’s memorable for the music – featuring the Tubby Hayes Quintet as his band and another famous TV face of the era, Kenny Lynch, as singer Sammy Coin.
Dr Who and The Daleks (1965)
Another genre landmark movie – the first big-screen (and colour) appearance for TV’s popular scifi series, Doctor Who. It’s often decried by fans of the show, mainly because it doesn’t fit into the “Whoniverse”. Here, instead of a Time Lord, the Doctor is an eccentric (human) scientist (it’s Peter Cushing again!), who builds a time machine.
Roy plays Ian, the boyfriend of the Doctor’s oldest granddaughter, and they all head off to the planet Skaro, where they help the peace-loving Thals against the evil Daleks.
Carry On Up The Khyber (1968)
Arguably the best (I’d argue it) Carry On film of all, and according to Colin McCabe, professor of English at Exeter University, one of the top 10 films of all time (along with Carry On Cleo)! Roy plays the leading man here, opposite Angela Douglas (a role normally filled by Jim Dale), an Army captain in colonial India, where the Brits face a rebellion with stiff upper lips, and no underwear beneath their kilts.
The Carry On films were made on a shoestring – exotic North Wales substituted here for the Indian locations – and the humour was crude and often childish; but this is a joyful spoof of British values, and Roy pitches his performance just right.
Legend of the Werewolf (1975)
Roy’s final feature is a super British horror in the Hammer mould (written by Anthony Hinds and directed by Freddie Francis, who also directed Dr Terror, by the way) about a werewolf in 19th century Paris. Peter Cushing is again the star – this time as an investigative surgeon with the city police, who finds the culprit after examining the corpses of his victims.
He enlists Roy – a brilliant cameo as a nervous photographer – to help the investigation, despite his reluctance to get involved.
Roy Castle was an incredibly energetic performer who was rarely far from our TV screens. In a sense, it’s a shame he didn’t make more movies, but if his film work lacked quantity, it certainly had quality.
These four films make a great legacy and so does the lung cancer charity which bears his name. There’s more about the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation here.
Picture shows a young me, hamming it up with the great man.
You may also like this review of a Peter Cushing film that didn’t feature Roy Castle – The Blood Beast Terror.