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Jackson, Gordon (1923-1990)


Main image of Jackson, Gordon (1923-1990)

Even though he saw himself as insecure, fearful of unemployment, shaking when handling props, forgetting his lines, and even refusing to watch his own screen performances, Gordon Jackson, with his familiar soft, rich, Scottish burr was a character actor equally at home in films, theatre and television.

He was born on 19 December 1923 in Glasgow, the son of a printer. His interest in acting came early, when he was among a group of pupils who visited the BBC Drama department in Glasgow. From there, he would make many broadcasts as a teenager, including playing a young Robbie Burns. On leaving school he became an apprentice engineering draughtsman at the Rolls-Royce Factory. Requiring a young Scottish actor for The Foreman Went to France (d. Charles Frend, 1942), producer Michael Balcon wrote to BBC Scotland, after which Jackson was successfully screen tested at Ealing Studios.

He continued working at the factory, and though his reserved occupation meant that he wasn't called up in real life, he frequently wore a uniform on screen; Nine Men (d. Harry Watt, 1943), Millions Like Us (d. Frank Launder/Sidney Gilliat, 1943) and San Demetrio London (d. Charles Frend, 1943). After the war he continued with his 'peppercorn' contract at Ealing with small character parts in Pink String and Sealing Wax (d. Robert Hamer, 1946), The Captive Heart (d. Basil Dearden, 1946) and as the schoolteacher George Campbell in Whisky Galore (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1949). On the set of Floodtide (dir: Frederick Wilson, 1949) he met his future wife, actress Rona Anderson.

He juggled films with the stage, most notably playing Ishmael in Orson Welles' famous 1955 production of Moby-Dick. In the 1960s his film career moved into its international phase with Tunes of Glory (d. Ronald Neame, 1960), Mutiny on the Bounty (d. Lewis Milestone, 1962), and The Great Escape (d. John Sturges, 1963) in which his verbal blunder leads to his own death. He was also Maggie Smith's illicit lover in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (d. Ronald Neame, 1969). Unnerved by the rushes of Tunes of Glory, he never watched another one of his own performances.

Jackson had already made the occasional foray into television in episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood (ITV, 1955-60) and The Avengers (ITV. 1961-69), but inn 1971 he was offered the leading role of the austere butler Angus Hudson in the Edwardian drama Upstairs, Downstairs (ITV, 1971-75). Still insecure about employment, he accepted the part because it guaranteed six months' work. Four years later he was named the Royal Television Society's Best Actor and the following year he received an Emmy.

A change of pace saw a gun-toting Jackson playing George Cowley, the tough CI5 commander, in the popular action crime series The Professionals (ITV, 1977-83). He continued to alternate between the stage, films and television: distinguished late roles included The Shooting Party (d. Alan Bridges, 1985) and The Winslow Boy (ITV, 1990). After a short illness, Jackson died from cancer of the spine on January, 14th, 1990.

Graham Rinaldi

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bitter Springs (1950)Bitter Springs (1950)

Confused but interesting drama about the plight of Australian Aborigines

Thumbnail image of Captive Heart, The (1946)Captive Heart, The (1946)

Ealing POW drama, made only a few months after the end of WWII

Thumbnail image of Foreman Went to France, The (1942)Foreman Went to France, The (1942)

Ealing propaganda film about a factory foreman's rescue of vital machinery

Thumbnail image of Hell Drivers (1957)Hell Drivers (1957)

Uncompromising B movie set in the macho world of ballast truck drivers

Thumbnail image of Ipcress File, The (1965)Ipcress File, The (1965)

Michael Caine's first outing as Len Deighton's secret agent Harry Palmer

Thumbnail image of Millions Like Us (1943)Millions Like Us (1943)

Launder & Gilliat film about the lives of women during World War II

Thumbnail image of Nine Men (1943)Nine Men (1943)

WWII drama: a handful of British men hold off an Italian battalion

Thumbnail image of Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)

Family and class conflict, murder and blackmail in Victorian Brighton

Thumbnail image of San Demetrio London (1943)San Demetrio London (1943)

Inspiring tale of wartime heroism based on a true story

Thumbnail image of Whisky Galore! (1949)Whisky Galore! (1949)

Gently subversive Ealing comedy about whisky smuggling in the Hebrides

Thumbnail image of Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75)Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75)

Hugely popular drama about life in an early 20th Century London household

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Thumbnail image of Who's Who at EalingWho's Who at Ealing

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