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Slater, John (1916-1975)


Main image of Slater, John (1916-1975)

Despite a career frequently hampered by ill health, John Slater was a widely-recognised big-screen character actor before his long, expressive face became one of the most familiar on British television screens in the late 1960s and early 70s as Detective Sergeant Stone in Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78); in the 1960s his rich, deep tones were regularly heard narrating the National Coal Board's Mining Review (1947-83).

Born in London on 22 August 1916, he began his acting career in farces at the Whitehall Theatre. His film debut came in 1938 with an uncredited role in the Crazy Gang comedy Alf's Button Afloat (d. Marcel Varnel); he worked his way up through minor roles during the 1940s. At this time he was typically cast as soldiers of assorted nationalities: a US officer in Candlelight in Algeria (d. George King, 1944), a paratrooper in I Live in Grosvenor Square (d. Herbert Wilcox, 1945) and a Russian major in Teheran (d. William Freshman and Giacomo Gentilomo, 1946).

In 1946 he took the lead in David McKane's 45-minute version of Othello, but his career might have been cut short when he was involved in a serious air crash. Instead his profile grew, and with it the diversity of his roles: Ealing melodrama It Always Rains on Sunday (d. Robert Hamer, 1947) gave him one of his most fascinating as charismatic but shady Jewish businessman Lou Hyams. In Noose (d. Edmond T. Gréville, 1948), he was the avenging manager of a boxing gym, while back at Ealing he was a fish-fixated chip shop owner yearning for the wrong woman in the first of the studio's celebrated comedies, Passport to Pimlico (d. Henry Cornelius, 1949).

Film work continued through the 1950s, with notable appearances in Hammer thriller The Flanagan Boy (d. Reginald le Borg, 1953) and crime drama Violent Playground (d. Basil Dearden, 1958). By this time he was working regularly in television, in play strands such as Sunday Night Theatre (BBC, 1950-59). Ted Willis's 'Hot Summer Night' (Armchair Theatre, ITV, tx. 1/2/1959) gave him a particularly striking role as a trade union leader facing up to his wife's racism. In 1958 he played Nat Goldberg in the infamous London stage debut of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, which closed after just eight performances.

Guest TV roles continued through the early 1960s: as the prime minister in the Danger Man episode 'The Mercenaries' (ITV, tx. 4/11/1965); as Papa Luigi, culinary expert and straight man to porcine puppets Pinky and Perky (BBC, 1957-73). In 1967 he joined the cast of Z Cars, remaining until 1974 and becoming one of the longest-serving cast members. His realistic playing of Stone's heart attack mirrored the health problems that by now plagued the actor, and he retired from the series less than a year before succumbing to a fatal seizure in 1975 - an event that, following just two days after the sudden death of another television copper, John Gregson of Gideon's Way (ITV, 1964-67), made national news headlines. His final television performance, in Dickens of London (ITV, 1976), was broadcast posthumously.

Richard Hewett

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Canterbury Tale, A (1944)Canterbury Tale, A (1944)

Weird and fascinating tale of modern-day pilgrims in WWII

Thumbnail image of Common Touch, The (1941)Common Touch, The (1941)

A suddenly-orphaned 18-year-old finds himself in charge of a large business

Thumbnail image of It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)

Robert Hamer's bleak portrait of life in London's East End

Thumbnail image of Love on the Dole (1941)Love on the Dole (1941)

Melodrama of unemployment and poverty in 1930s Salford

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 New Lot, The (1943)New Lot, The (1943)

Propaganda short that became the model for The Way Ahead

Thumbnail image of Noose (1948)Noose (1948)

Stylish 'B' thriller in which a fashion journalist takes on a Soho gangster

Thumbnail image of Passport to Pimlico (1949)Passport to Pimlico (1949)

Cherished comedy in which a Pimlico street declares its independence

Thumbnail image of Public Opinion (1945)Public Opinion (1945)

Documentary about the factors influencing public opinion

Thumbnail image of Tower, The (1953)Tower, The (1953)

The operation of a distillation unit on the Isle of Grain

Thumbnail image of Violent Playground (1958)Violent Playground (1958)

Powerful drama with Stanley Baker as a juvenile liaison officer

Thumbnail image of We Dive At Dawn (1943)We Dive At Dawn (1943)

Tense, claustrophobic WWII submarine drama starring John Mills

Thumbnail image of Hot Summer Night (1959)Hot Summer Night (1959)

Intense drama about the impact of a black-white relationship on a family

Thumbnail image of Z Cars (1962-78)Z Cars (1962-78)

Groundbreaking cop drama introducing new grit and realism

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Mining Review (1947-83)Mining Review (1947-83)

Monthly film magazine for the coal industry and mining communities

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

Meet the team at 'the studio with team spirit'

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